The Honda CR-V is among the best of the compact SUVs. The CR-V offers a smooth ride and responsive handling. The four-cylinder engine employs variable intake valve timing to optimize horsepower and torque for acceleration and cruising speeds and it's paired with a five-speed automatic transmission.
Inside is a nicely designed cabin, comfortable and convenient. Everything by way of instruments, controls and storage is, respectively, logically arrayed, properly placed, and reasonably plentiful. Buyers choose from three models: the basic LX, mid-range EX, or leather-upholstered EX-L, which can be fitted with an optional navigation system that incorporates a rearview video camera for safe and easy backing.
The CR-V features one of the nicest cargo compartments in this class. The back seats fold perfectly flat and without the holes that can be hazardous to dogs.
Real Time 4WD is offered on all three models. The 2009 fuel economy figures from the U.S. government's EPA rate the front-wheel-drive CR-V at 20/27 miles per gallon City/Highway, and the four-wheel-drive version at 20/26 mpg.
This latest-generation CR-V was completely redesigned and re-engineered for the 2007 model year and is more powerful and more comfortable than the previous-generation models. For 2009, the only changes are three new exterior colors. Built on a unit-body structure, the CR-V is considered a crossover. All have four doors and seat five.
Head on, the Honda CR-V's low, jutting jaw-like front bumper suggests a rugged skid plate while pulling the vehicle's visual mass downwards, reducing its perceived height. Large, sharply angled headlight housings crowd the upper grille and blend down into the lower air intake. Stout fender flares stretch out to wrap tightly around the tires, giving the new CR-V a sturdy, planted stance.
The side aspect shows most clearly the CR-V's departure from the boxy, mini-SUV look. Starting from the gently rounded hood, the relatively fast windshield flows into a roofline that drops ever so slightly as it passes over the sharply tapered glasshouse, ending at the tailgate's top edge, which itself is pulled forward to a point almost directly above the rear wheel well. A strong character line runs from the top of the front wheel well back beneath the full-round door handles to bifurcate the side marker lens of the rear taillight. To us, it looks a little like the Mercedes-Benz R-Class in the overall outline.
The rear view presents more of the classic SUV look, with a trapezoidal backlight bookended by the trademark CR-V high taillights and atop a fairly tall and relatively broad, high-relief tailgate panel. The oversize license plate recess will accommodate almost any country's registration telltale. A repeat of the front end's skid plate look masks the rear bumper's mass and draws the eye to tires pushed out to the edges of the CR-V's side panels.
The interior of the Honda CR-V focuses on function with a bit of style tossed in to make things interesting. Everything is in its place for the most part, and everything feels the way it should. Quality of materials and fit and finish overall live up to Honda's standards; some trim pieces, however, showed traces of flash, those little flat bits of plastic left over from the seams of the original molds.
The grippy, waffle-textured, fabric upholstery feels durable. The EX-L's optional leather upholstery is richer looking and likely more durable, but no more comfortable. The front seats seem a little short on thigh support. But to the limited extent the CR-V lends itself to sporty driving, the seatbacks' side bolsters do an adequate job of keeping occupants' upper bodies in place. Not so the seat bottom's bolsters, those being clearly shaped more for ease of entry and exit than for restraining occupants' posteriors. There is, however, a most welcome dead pedal against which drivers may brace a left leg as necessary and appropriate.
The rear seat is more moderately contoured, the better to allow it to fold and pivot forward against the backs of the front seats. The seat bottom splits 60/40, with the shorter piece on the left side; the seat backs, however, divide 40/20/40, into three sections, meaning you can fold the right or left side, the center section or any combination of the three. It’s a nice touch.
Dashboard and instrument cluster are classic Honda, as in, friendly to eye and hand, with the only mildly discordant note the placement of the shift lever, sprouting from a pod suspended from the center of the dash. While neither as ergonomic as a floor-mounted lever nor as natural, in an archaic sort of way, as one mounted on the steering column, it is consistent with the emphasis on flexibility in the front seat area. In the LX and EX, the space between the front seats that might otherwise host a console and floor-mounted shift lever is dedicated to a unique, multi-use tray that when not needed folds down against the side of the passenger seat, opening a walk-through access to the rear seat. The EX-L gets a more traditional, fixed center console, with cup holders and storage space for up to 24 CD's; although some of this storage space is lost on EX-L's with navigation, where the console must house the CD changer as well. As if in compensation, a digital audio-card reader is still exclusive to the navigation model.
Most drivers will find the six-way adjustable seat and two-way adjustable steering give them the best of all worlds: a comfortable posture without compromising outward visibility. A low cowl keeps the edges of the hood in view. Rearward vision, however, sets no new standard and actually suffers some from the stylishly shaped C-pillars. The rearview video cam that comes with the optional nav system helps and is an added safety feature because it can help the driver spot children behind the vehicle, though it lacks the guiding grid lines some others offer to help when backing into parking spaces and garages.
Audio and climate controls on the LX and EX border on retro in their simplicity and arrangement. Large, rotary knobs control the functions that vary by degrees. Buttons are used for on/off or simple selections. However, when in Park, the shift lever obstructs buttons for air conditioning functions and mirror heaters. And by operational necessity, the optional nav system layers audio and map display controls.
Comparing cargo space, the new CR-V ranks in the top half, regardless of the competitor's seating capacity. It also features one of the nicest cargo compartments, flat and without the holes that can be hazardous to big dogs.
However, the CR-V does not offer a third-row seat, as does the Toyota RAV4 and other competitors, which expand seating to seven or even eight people. Even this latest CR-V stays with seating for five.
Incidental storage is routine. All four doors have fixed map pockets with molded-in beverage can separators. Both the foldable tray and fixed center console boast two cup holders. The centerpiece below the shift pod holds a couple of bins. And (something that's becoming increasingly popular) a bi-level glove box fills the middle and lower sections of the passenger-side dash.
The Honda CR-V's four-cylinder engine delivers competitive power. While hitting the gas in the CR-V won't snap any necks, it delivers what most drivers need. And it does so reasonably smoothly, too, with less ruckus than the Toyota RAV4. There is more power available from the turbocharged Mazda CX-7 and the V6 engines in some other compact SUVs, but the CR-V’s performance is more than just adequate.
The V6s pay a price in fuel economy, but not as much as you might think: Against the 2WD CR-V EX-L's EPA-estimated 20/27 mpg, the V6-powered 2WD RAV4 manages 19/27. Four-wheel-drive versions of the CR-V and RAV4 V6 are rated at the same 26 mpg Highway.
The CR-V's five-speed automatic transmission is a good match for the engine. It's not best in class but well above average in smoothness of shifts, in controlling hunting for the right gear when climbing grades, and in holding a lower gear when helpful on downgrades.
Honda's Real Time 4WD is actually a car-style all-wheel-drive system, not a true off-highway truck-type four-wheel drive, as it incorporates no lockable transfer case or ultra-low, off-road gearing. As such, however, it works seamlessly, invisibly allocating power to the tires slipping the least, although always favoring the front wheels by default.
The Vehicle Stability Assist includes traction control. Coupled with four-wheel disc brakes (vented in front and solid in the rear), ABS, brake assist and electronic brake-force distribution, VSA helps drivers maintain control in emergency maneuvers or in bad weather.
The CR-V handles well, with relatively little body lean in cornering. There's also relatively little head toss over rough and uneven pavement, helping to keep your passengers comfortable. Traversing aged railroad crossings at mildly elevated speeds produced no threatening sounds or gyrations. Steering assist could be backed off a notch or two, closer to that of the RAV4, which might improve directional stability and lessen the need for minor corrections in corners and long sweepers.
Noise levels were minimal. Tire noise correlated with pavement type and conditions. The EX-L version did the best job of insulating occupants from outside irritants. Sounds from under the hood, although low key, left no doubt the engine is a fairly big four-cylinder. Moderate wind whistle leaked into the cabin from the outside mirrors and around the A-pillars.
The Honda CR-V is probably the best vehicle in this class. Its interior is packaged the best, with seats that fold down to provide a completely flat cargo area.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Tom Lankard filed this report from Vancouver, British Columbia, after his test drive of the CR-V.