Substantially revised for 2015, Honda CR-V is a functional, compact four-door crossover with room for four adults and plenty of cargo. It comes with a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, continuously variable transmission and a choice of front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. Five trim packages are offered with no options, and a new top-of-the-line Touring model.
The 2015 CR-V has a new engine, the same size but stronger and more efficient than before, and a new continuously variable transmission for a noteworthy 3-4 mpg lift in EPA fuel economy ratings. Suspension has been modified with a wider track and the body structure reinforced to maintain top safety status. The dashboard and console have been revised and the rear seat gets air conditioning vents. A side camera is added to most models. And the new CR-V Touring model adds a suite of active safety assists, power tailgate and 18-inch wheels among other things.
Honda CR-V arrives ready to use, with useful storage areas, simple controls, a split-folding rear seat with a clever system for folding it, and generous 35 cubic feet of cargo space behind the seats. A backup camera, Bluetooth hands-free phone and streaming internet radio connectivity, SMS text message alert and a juvenile-monitor mirror are standard on each one. The Touring model comes with lane keeping assist, forward collision warning/mitigation braking, navigation, leather trim, and a 328-watt sound system with HD radio.
The CR-V’s new 2.4-liter engine delivers 185 horsepower and 181 pound-feet of torque, all at lower revs than its predecessor. Fuel economy is near the best in class, with an EPA-estimated 27/34 mpg City/Highway on front-wheel drive models, and 26/33 mpg with all-wheel drive, on Regular Unleaded. A driver-enabled Eco-Assist feature intended to save fuel adjusts powertrain operation but still delivers full power when you ask for it.
Ride quality and noise levels are controlled so the CR-V can handle road trips as well as school-zone grands prix and restocking at the big-box stores. Handling is predictable and benign without riding as firmly as sportier crossovers do. All-wheel drive operates as front-wheel drive until slip is detected and more traction needed whereupon power is sent to the rear wheels. Although its 8 inches of ground clearance exceeds that of some four-wheel-drive vehicles, the CR-V is not designed for extended off-highway travel.
There’s nothing daring in interior design, unless you think proven, simple, pleasing to the eye and functional are daring concepts. Most upper trim is soft-touch with hard plastic dominant below, but texturing avoids any industrial look. Rear seats fold easily if not flat with the cargo floor with the pull of a lever, and the cargo cover can be removed and stowed on the floor so large items don’t require leaving it behind.
Safety features include electronic stability control, six airbags and a predictive rearview camera on all but base models. The 2015 Honda CR-V has not yet been tested but its precursor earned a 5-star overall crash-test score from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, as well as a Top Safety Pick designation from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
Alternatives to the 2015 Honda CR-V include other small crossovers such as the Ford Escape, Chevrolet Equinox, GMC Terrain, Toyota RAV4, Mazda CX-5, Nissan Rogue, Hyundai Santa Fe Sport or Tucson, Jeep Cherokee, Kia Sportage, Mitsubishi Outlander, Subaru Forester, and Volkswagen Tiguan. Some offer more than one engine, the Outlander a V6. Rogue and Outlander offer a small third-row seat.
The 2015 CR-V grafts new nose and tail sections on the ends, the only changes betwixt them new wheels and paint colors. It still looks like a CR-V and a Honda, but removing badges would make some people have to think about it. The front fascia freshens its appearance. The rear fascia looks different than before, though whether it looks better we are not sure.
A narrow painted section bisects the front, the lower center fitted with a contrast-color insert like a bulldog’s lower lip. The upper section replaces the old three-bar grille with a brawnier split-bar arrangement, giving an angrier look to the cute-ute face. Fog lamps are now rectangular elements, and headlights vary by trim with mid-level and up using LED position lights and the Touring getting HID low-beam projector headlights.
At the other end the black strip at window-bottom that gave the impression of tall glass has been swapped to a chrome swath that carries through the taillights. Along with rear bumper sculpting and high reflectors this makes the CR-V appear taller, the look more painted bodywork and less glass reminiscent of early BMW X5. The tailpipe isn’t prominent as on some sporty crossovers, nor is it hidden beneath the bumper.
In profile the window line remains unchanged, the light scoop in the doors disappearing into minor hips around the rear wheels. The entire lower edge of the body all around, including the wheel openings, has dark plastic to fend off stone chips, and the rear bumper panel drops forward form the tail lights to near the top of the rear wheel which should save repairing more than one panel in corner scrapes. The tailgate lift is easy to find, low enough for kids to reach and the gate is powered on Touring. Most versions now have smart entry and pushbutton start so the key can stay in your pocket.
First and foremost the CR-V interior is about livability, from how simple it is to lower a rear seat to the speedometer back-seat drivers will read easily. Although upper trims get leather upholstery, steering wheel and shifter, armrests have sufficient padding and the cloth seats are temperature-resistant, you’ll not find the luxury of a more expensive Audi Q3, BMW X3, Infiniti QX50 or Mercedes-Benz GLC-Class. Minimal scuffing and easy-to-clean materials have their place, and this is it.
Front seats have adequate room and comfort, the relatively flat cushion easing entry/egress while the contoured backrest keeps you in place. They’re heated on all but LX. Door pockets are reasonably accommodating and will handle a super-size cup or 750 ml wine bottle but they aren’t deep so top securely or corner slowly.
By strict measures most interior dimensions are within an inch of the competition, the rated 38 inches of front headroom (with moonroof) less than average but not an issue for our test dummies to 6-foot, 3 inches. We found the rear seat quite livable too, with a single-notch recline, center armrest and useful headrests.
Outward visibility is quite good with a tall windshield and reasonable windshield pillars. A rearview camera is standard and from CR-V EX up has predictive guidelines that show where the car will go based on where the steering wheel is turned. Also on the CR-V EX model is LaneWatch, a camera in the right-side mirror that displays an image on the dash screen or the area right and rear. It activates only with the right turn signal so you get no benefit if you’re lazy, and it can be manually switched on, say to see if there is something in an intended lane change or parallel parking spot, and off, should you be waiting at a light and want to look at the navigation map, find a new tune or dial a number.
With rear seats folded or upright, cargo area matches that of the Nissan Rogue (which offers a small third-row seat) and is just slightly less than Toyota RAV4, but ahead of Chevrolet Equinox, Ford Escape, GMC Terrain and larger than a Jeep Cherokee by a mid-size sedan trunk. Dropping the rear seats is a one-tug affair and doesn’t require removing headrests. It’s a clever system that is all-mechanical, though it acts as if it’s a power system. The resulting floor is a little higher than the trunk deck. The trunk has tie-down rings and a dedicated place to stow the cargo cover at the floor’s back edge, out of the way but still in the car.
The Honda CR-V isn’t about performance but it has nothing to be sorry for. In this cute-ute class filled with 2.5-liter four-cylinder engines, the CR-V offers very good power and is among the lightest. A Ford Escape or Subaru Forester turbo will be faster, but you’ll pay extra to get it and more at the pump.
The 2015 CR-V engine is more sophisticated than the 2014 version, so it makes the same 185 horsepower but at lower revs. The new engine delivers 10-percent more torque, also at lower revs. It is just as smooth and refined as the old one, though in the absence of ambient noise it may sound louder at idle.
The continuously variable transmission is also new (like the engine, new to CR-V, not Honda). As the name implies it has no specific gears but varies the ratio as needed over a very broad range, making the engine produce only the power required. Drive off slowly and it runs barely above idle, but give it the boot to merge and it runs high up the rev band until you lift off the throttle. It lacks the feel of immediate response that a traditional automatic transmission offers. However, fuel economy is improved by four miles per gallon in the city and there isn’t such a large disparity between city and highway consumption.
A semi-corona around the big speedometer varies blue to green as a subtle economy indicator. A sizable green ECON button switches operation to more fuel saving means, primarily in response to the gas pedal and air conditioning operation. It will still stay cool inside but power will feel dull; its biggest benefit will be to drivers with a heavy foot and/or jerky driving style and passengers will appreciate the smoother ride. As usual, your mileage will vary, driving style a much larger factor than the econ button.
Although the wheels are slightly wider and farther apart on the 2015 CR-V, most owners may not notice the subtle recalibration. The CR-V reacts to extreme inputs with a bit more precision and otherwise rides as comfortably as the 2014. It doesn’t lean much when pushed hard and the electric steering assist and electronic stability control work together to keep it going where you point it even under heavy braking. Just remember to steer.
Even that gets some assistance on the Touring model, which adds lane departure warning (defeatable) and lane keeping assist (works from 45-90 mph) to help keep the CR-V in its lane if your brain wanders. The Touring model adds forward collision warning and collision-mitigation braking so if you fail to acknowledge the visual and audible warnings by changing course and/or applying the brake, the CR-V brakes automatically.
The Honda CR-V is an efficient, capable, safe compact crossover that carries five people and considerable cargo without complaint. Other cute-utes could be faster, offer more sport handling or third-row kid seat, and maybe match CR-V’s economy, but few balance them all better.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Tom Lankard filed this report from Carlsbad, California, with Laura Burstein reporting from Los Angeles, and G.R. Whale reporting from Huntington Beach, California.