The current Honda CR-V is the fourth generation of Honda's popular and widely acclaimed compact SUV. Completely redesigned for 2012, the Honda CR-V carries over unchanged for 2013. First introduced in Japan in 1995, the CR-V was Honda's first SUV and, according to lore, is an acronym for Comfortable Runabout Vehicle. A four-door, five-passenger crossover, the CR-V is indeed comfortable and is quite useful for running about.
The Honda CR-V comes with many technology features that consumers expect nowadays, such as Bluetooth-enabled hands-free capability and streaming audio. The rearview camera is a multi-angle system that lets the driver choose between a top view and either a 130-degree or a 180-degree view. Automatic climate control, leather, heated front seats and a premium, 328-watt audio system with subwoofer and XM satellite radio are available. Optional on the top-of-the-line model is a GPS-based navigation system with turn-by-turn directions.
The Honda CR-V's 2.4-liter four-cylinder delivers 185 horsepower and 163 pound-feet of torque. Fuel economy is mid-pack for the class, with an EPA-estimated 23/31 mpg City/Highway on front-wheel drive models, and 22/30 mpg with all-wheel drive. An Eco-Assist setting helps with efficiency, which adjusts transmissions shift points and manages acceleration to save fuel. When a little more oomph is desired, Eco-Assist can be switched off.
Convenience features include hill-start assist, which applies the brakes when the car is stopped on an incline and releases them when the driver touches the accelerator. The clutch that sends power to the rear wheels on the AWD models has a pre-load function that prevents any initial slippage when moving off from a stop. On freeways and surface streets, the ride and handling is solid without being overly firm and stable with little body lean in corners even at elevated speeds.
Inside, pleasantly styled panels and trim pieces complement each other and show a consistent theme. Hard plastic surfaces are everywhere, however. Controls are functional and for the most part intuitive. The screen on the optional navigation system is large and easy to read, though the system takes a long time to start up. The low roofline reduces headroom. The rear cargo compartment is not perfectly flat with the rear seats folded.
Alternatives to the 2013 Honda CR-V include other small crossovers such as the Chevrolet Equinox, the recently redesigned Ford Escape, the Hyundai Santa Fe Sport, the sporty Mazda CX-5 and the Toyota RAV4.
Honda CR-V retains styling cues from older generations, after an evolutionary redesign for 2012 that brought marginal adjustments to dimensions.
The front view is sleek and round, with a rakish shape to the headlights and a grille with three horizontal bars. The lower valance is pronounced, and includes fog lights. The hood sculpting is convex, and the fender blisters are bold, giving the CR-V a strong stance.
From the side, the sculpting across door lowers recessed, with a slight Coke bottle-ness. Wheel arches are full and sharply defined. The rearmost side window pinches down to a tapered trailing edge, accenting the rear taillight and backup cluster that wraps around into the rear quarter, somewhat breaking up somewhat sheet metal in the C-pillar (the post between the roof and lower body behind the rearmost side window). Oval recesses behind the door handles easily accommodate large or gloved hands.
In the rear, proportions are right, with the rear window fully integrated into the liftgate's lower half. A thin strip of brightwork tops the license plate recess that itself snugs into the upper half of a scalloped recess spanning the liftgate from one fender to the other. The vertical taillights each look to be a single piece, and are inclusive of the backup and running lights. Tires properly positioned relative to the rear fenders match the front end's solid stance. The matte-finished lower valance masks all but the beefiest of the rear suspension underpinnings.
At first blush, the Honda CR-V interior comes across as elegant. Some buyers might be disappointed, however, when they get in touch with some of the materials used to keep costs down. Nearly all surfaces are hard plastic. They are visually pleasing, with upscale-looking graining and metallic-like finishes, but the feel is clearly low-cost.
Seats are comfortable, with adequate, if not remarkable, thigh support. The leather is a little short of luxurious, but comparable to that of other vehicles in this class and price range. Door armrests are padded. Door-mounted map pockets are molded to hold a beverage can or water bottle, but aren't especially deep, so cups must be fitted with sipper caps.
The lower roofline of the CR-V means less headroom than the Toyota RAV4, Hyundai Tucson Ford Escape or Chevrolet Equinox. Legroom is more plentiful in the Honda than these others, however, except for the Equinox, which bests the CR-V by about an inch.
The center console extends forward all the way under the pod holding the shift lever, creating usable storage space in the form of a long, deep covered storage bin, which can conceal a medium-sized handbag or other valuables. Small trays are tucked into each side of the lower part of that extended console. The lower portion of the dash curves outward from the shift lever pod in graceful arcs toward the doors, which themselves repeat the arc cues.
The screen that serves either as the control panel for the audio or the nav display parks front and center in the upper dash directly below a deeply recessed, smaller screen that handles the duties of the onboard computer and the rearview camera on the EX-L with the nav system. The rearview camera is a multi-angle unit that lets users choose between a top view, a 130-degree, or a 180-degree view. All have superimposed guidelines to aid the driver when backing up, although they are fixed and don't bend to indicate track at the current steering wheel angle as they do on some systems.
On each side of the large circular speedometer that dominates the instrument cluster is a thin light strip that glows green to signal when the engine is optimizing fuel economy. It's attractive, and looks like a giant parentheses around the speedometer. Mostly intuitive knobs, buttons and rocker switches on the dash and steering wheel manage audio and climate control functions. The automatic climate control system on the EX-L works well.
The cargo area, which holds more foot-square boxes than all the competitors but the RAV4, sports four tie-downs and a thoughtful, molded-in bracket for storing the retractable cargo cover when it's not in use. The backs of the rear seats are also beveled on the outboard edges, so the shoulder straps on the seatbelts naturally slip around the seatbacks when they're raised from their folded positions. Honda also managed to give the rear seats true, one-step fold-down systems, activated by pulling either a lever on the sides of the cargo area or a strap on the outboard side of the rear seat bottoms. However, the cargo floor is not perfectly flat with the rear seats folded down, unlike the previous-generation model.
Honda doesn't push the performance envelope with the CR-V, but the powertrain is competent and efficient. Shifts are smooth, and one barely notices that there are only five gears, while most of the competition has moved up to 6-speed transmissions. Road and tire noise are decently muted, although pavement type plays a huge role in this gauge.
The 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine benefits from dual overhead cams and four valves per cylinder to generate 185 horsepower at 7000 rpm and 163 pound-feet of torque at 4400 rpm. Fuel economy is an EPA-estimated 23/32 mpg City/Highway. Regular gasoline is recommended, so there's no need to buy more-expensive Premium.
Ride quality is well controlled, with pavement irregularities mostly masked and minimal body lean in corners, even at speeds that activate the electronic stability control system. Honda credits this in part to its Motion-Adaptive Electric Power Steering, a system shared with the Honda Civic. This system complements the electronic stability control by helping stabilize the CR-V during heavy braking and introducing a degree of corrective steering input to mitigate understeer (when the vehicle tends to go straight instead of turn, plowing) or oversteer (when the vehicle wants to turn more than the driver intends, fish-tailing or spinning).
Hill-start assist engages the brakes when it senses the CR-V is stopped on an incline, then releases them as the driver presses the gas pedal. The AWD system also knows when the vehicle is stopped and primes the hydraulics that send power to the rear wheels to quicken response by lessening slippage during engagement when the driver accelerates.
An Econ mode, which drivers can select by pressing a green button emblazoned with a leaf, imposes a more restrained shift pattern on the transmission and a less aggressive acceleration mode. We felt the difference on the test drive at the launch. Honda won't say how much of an improvement driver's can expect in fuel economy with the system activated, only that it's noticeable. In other words, your mileage may vary.
The Honda CR-V is a solid and competent compact SUV. It's smooth and comfortable underway, and it can carry a lot of cargo.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Tom Lankard filed this report from Carlsbad, California, with Laura Burstein reporting from Los Angeles.