They say when you want something done right you should do it yourself, and for me that includes shifting gears. Manually.Here's my latest case in point: The new optional, five-speed manual transmission in Honda's CR-V sport-utility.To me, it's an option that elevates this handy little hauler to the top of its class.The CR-V was introduced for the '97 model year with one powertrain: a 126-horsepower, 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine mated to a four-speed automatic and all-wheel drive.It had a lot of nifty features, plus more interior room than its key competitors, but the automatic, in my opinion, was a weak point.I don't mean to imply that automatic transmissions are unpleasant to live with. For anyone who's spent an hour inching down the ramp to New York's Lincoln Tunnel or lurching along in the mind-numbing stop-and-go of rush hour, automatics look very attractive.But automatics invariably retard performance and take a bite out of efficiency, even if it doesn't show up in the fuel economy ratings. This is particularly true of vehicles with small engines, such as this one.Beyond that, the CR-V automatic, with its column-mounted shifter, is not the best of its breed. Shift quality is average, and the detents in the selector aren't very precise -- it's far too easy to get 3 when you want D, for example. 1998 Honda CR-V interior The five-speed manual, in contrast, has crisp, positive engagements. And it also lends significantly more urgency to the CR-V's forward progress, with significantly less indication of strain. Add the higher fun-to-drive index that goes with shifting for yourself to the CR-V's other strengths, and you've got a package that's hard to beat.A couple of provisos. First, the sport part of the equation here has to do with the gear you bring with you -- footballs, rubber rafts, bats, gloves, surfboards -- rather than the vehicle itself.This little four-door wagon wasn't designed for the sport of difficult off-road driving. I don't see that as much of a drawback, since most sport-utilities rarely leave the pavement, and fewer still venture into really rough stuff.The second proviso, universal in this class, is modest towing capacity. It can't pull anything heavier than 1,000 pounds. Nevertheless, for most of us, a little extra ground clearance (8.1 inches, in this case) and four-wheel traction are enough to satisfy our needs. The CR-V is all about lots of utility, all-wheel-drive traction, car-like drivability. If you hear minivan in this, you're hearing accurately. The CR-V combines sport-utility style and image -- including the all-important high seating position sport-utility owners treasure -- with minivan usefulness.Honda targets the CR-V squarely against Toyota's spectacularly successful RAV4, a strategy that's both appropriate and canny.It's logical, because the CR-V is similar in concept and execution. Like the RAV4, which is an amalgam of pieces from the Camry, Corolla , and Celica, the CR-V is based on passenger car components from the subcompact, front-drive Civic line.It's canny, because the CR-V is considerably bigger and roomier than the RAV4. In fact, its dimensions are close to those of the four-door Jeep Cherokee, and it packs similar cargo capacity.Although it has the familiar Honda grille and a fairly steep rake to its windshield, the CR-V's exterior design is otherwise classic sport-utility, which is to say boxy.That's the way we like them, and it maximizes interior volume.Like the RAV4, the CR-V carries its spare tire on an external rack mounted on the tailgate. Unlike the RAV4 and a lot of other external mounts, the CR-V's spare is low enough so that it doesn't interfere with vision to the rear. But the two-piece tailgate could use some improvement. The glass upper portion lifts up, while the lower portion swings open like a do or.Both functions are operated by the key, and it's not very handy.Like many all-whee l-drive setups, the Honda Real-Time system provides power to two wheels most of the time -- the front ones in the case of the CR-V. If they begin to slip, the system feeds torque, via hydraulic pumps, to the rear wheels until proper grip is restored.There's no low-range four-wheel-drive feature, and no limited-slip option for the rear differential, which limits the CR-V's effectiveness in stuff like mud or deep sand, but it does a workmanlike job in snow and wet conditions.Incidentally, another CR-V change for 1998 includes a two-wheel-drive version, with a base price, including Honda's standard $395 destination charge, of $18,745.But the front-drive version is automatic only. Why? Dont know. No one at Honda was able to tell me. Smooth rideSuspension, Honda's effective four-wheel, double-wishbone system, is independent at all four corners, another rarity in sport-utilities. At 103.2 inches, the CR-V's wheelbase is long for its overall size -- a little longer than the Cherokee, 8.3 inches longer than the four-door RAV4. That's typical of Honda designs, and it's the key to the CR-V's good ride quality.It's supple enough to iron out crumbly pavement without excessive compromise in handling response.The CR-V isn't quite as quick on its feet as the RAV4 or the Subaru Forester, but it's thoroughly competent, and its steering is precise, with excellent feedback.Overall, the CR-V drives like a small station wagon, which is precisely what it is, with a higher seating position, something that's conspicuously absent in the Forester.Like all Hondas, the CR-V's interior is subdued, comfortable, thoughtfully designed, and nicely finished, affording excellent driver sight lines.The front bucket seats are well contoured and spacious, and the split-folding rear seat backs can be reclined, a rare feature in any vehicle.Instrumentation is straightforward, with secondary controls that are easy to find and operate, particularly to anyone who's ever driven a Honda.There's just one asterisk. The power window switches are located on the dashboard, to the left of the steering wheel, and they're awkward to get at when the vehicle is moving.On the plus side, Honda was able to preserve the CR-V's distinctive minivan-style pass-through between the front seats, something I thought would disappear with the addition of the manual transmission.Similarly, the five-speed model retains the useful removable tray, with integrated cup holders, that flips up between the front seats. Two more cup holders slide out below the climate controls, and the interior has an abundance of storage pockets and bins, another typical Honda touch. Room to moveFor all its engaging details, the most endearing trait of this interior is roominess. Lots of front legroom, which is common enough, and adult-size rear legroom, which isn't. Headroom is also plentiful, fore and aft, a nd there's a sizeable cargo space behind the rear seats. The rear seat backs flip and fold individually to expand cargo cargo capacity.And for wilderness gourmets: a picnic table that stows in the rear floor.Like most Hondas, the CR-V's standard equipment list is comprehensive, including air conditioning, an AM/FM/cassette sound system, cruise control, tilt steering, map lights, a rear window washer-wiper, and power windows, mirrors, and locks.Most of these items are extras on the RAV4.The only CR-V options are aluminum alloy wheels and antilock brakes, which distinguished my $21,013 EX tester from the $19,145 LX five-speed.All things considered, a CR-V with a manual transmission is tough to beat. It's not quite the best performer in the class -- that distinction belongs t o the Forester -- but it's much roomier than its competitors, has all sorts of nifty features, excellent quality, much better fuel economy than anything in the compact class, and a respectable array of comfort and convenience features. SPECS Rating: 4 wheelsVehicle type: Front-engine, all-wheel-drive, four-door, compact sport-utilityKey competitors: Chevy Tracker, Isuzu Amigo, Kia Sportage, Subaru Forester, Suzuki Sidekick, Toyota RAV4Base price: $18,745Price as tested: $21,013Standard equipment: Dual air bags, air-conditioning, AM-FM-cassette audio, power windows, power mirrors, power locks, keyless remote entry, cruise control, tilt steering, rear wiper-washer-defogger, removable picnic table, rear power outlet, spare tire coverSpecifications:(manufacturer's data)Engine 126-horsepower, 2-liter, 4-cyl.EPA fuel econ. 22 m.p.g. city25 hwy.Curb weight 3,217 poundsWheelbase 103.2 inchesLength 177.6 inchesWidth 68.9 inchesHeight 65.9 inchesWhere assembled Sayama, Japan
|Tom Strongman||KansasCity.com||September 1, 1998|
|Richard Truett||Orlando Sentinel||August 20, 1998|
|Warren Brown||washingtonpost.com||May 22, 1998|
|Tony Swan||Detroit Newspapers||April 16, 1998|
|Bob Golfen||AZCentral.com||December 6, 1997|
|Tom Strongman||KansasCity.com||December 5, 1997|
|Larry Printz||The Morning Call and Mcall.com||August 16, 1997|
|Tony Swan||Detroit Newspapers||March 6, 1997|
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