Settling into the cockpit of the 2005 Honda CR-V 4WD SE, something didn't feel quite right. The five-passenger sport-utility vehicle started right up and ... Holy cow, there's no gearshift!
No, wait, there it is - way up high on the dashboard, within easy reach of my right hand. OK, I'll put it in gear and back out of this parking spot. Release the parking brake.
Parking brake ... where's the parking brake? ... Holy cow, there's no parking brake! The SUV is still not moving but ... Wait, there's the parking brake, a funky little handle right below the gear shifter. Silly me ... I thought it was part of the dash architecture.
You get the picture. The CR-V is a little different from other compact, five-passenger sport-utes on the market.
The tested SE - short for Special Edition - is a new addition to the CR-V model lineup this year - the fifth and most expensive trim level in the group with a starting price of $25,250. A two-wheel-drive CR-V with a five-speed automatic starts at $20,195 but, if you want to spoil yourself for an extra five-grand, the SE still stacks up as a pretty good deal.
The list of SE standard features is incredibly long.
On the mechanical side, you get electronic brake distribution, a drive-by-wire electronic throttle system, traction control and a 110,000-mile first tuneup recommendation (although I'd suggest changing those spark plugs well before that, lest they become permanently attached).
Standard safety features include front, side and side-curtain air bags; a rollover-sensing system; vehicle stability assist; side-impact door beams and front/rear crumple zones.
The interior no-extra-cost list is especially lengthy, with steering wheel audio controls, a six-CD audio system, an air-filtration system, leather-trimmed seats with heating and a complete power package that covers windows, door locks and exterior mirrors.
The SE also gets a power moonroof and SE-specific body-colored bumpers, side molding, door handles and hard spare tire cover.
That's a lot for $25,000 and change. No wonder the CR-V has won a handful of "best overall value" awards among compact SUVs.
The placement of the gear shifter and parking brake can be chalked up to convenience, particularly for female drivers. I'm 6'-4", so reaching a floor-mounted shifter and parking brake is no big deal. For a 5'-4" driver, however, those close-at-hand controls are likely a godsend.
After sweeping my hand to a gearshift-lacking floor and steering wheel for perhaps a day, I finally got used to the high-right placement of the gear shifter.
I never got used to the parking brake. It took a certain mixture of hand-and-thumb pressure to work, and it still felt clumsy. I can understand hard-to-reach gear shifters, but I'm not aware of a groundswell for dash-mounted parking brakes in America.
I would have put the parking brake in the driver's side footwell.
The tested CR-V was a capable performer with its 2.4-liter, 160-horsepower, in-line 4-cylinder engine with 16 valves. The peppy power plant matched up with real-time four-wheel drive to handle almost all driving conditions with gusto.
On steep hill climbs, the engine struggled just a little bit, with its noisy complaints registering just short of the annoying level inside the cabin.
For a small SUV, cargo-carrying capacity is impressive - 72 cubic feet with the seats folded -and the rear door opens wide to receive odd-shaped cargo.
Alas, the CR-V is not what I would characterize as a prime-time off-road performer. It can handle some mud and slowly move over low-level obstacles in pedestrian SUV fashion, but this is not the vehicle to tackle the Rubicon Trail.
For that matter, why would anybody think of beating up a CR-V in the wilderness? It's built to be a practical-sized transporter of people and light cargo. And the gas mileage feels pretty good at 22 miles per gallon in city driving and 27 mpg on the highway.
Four people will have no problem handling a long road trip in the Honda but three in the rear seat might be a problem. If the middle-seat passenger is an adult, he or she is going to be uncomfortably pressing the flesh with the passengers on either side.
You might remember that federal regulators were looking at 2003-04 CR-Vs after reports of engine fires following oil changes. Federal officials linked those to dealerships or others who improperly installed oil filters; Honda said it has since instituted a fix and has issued plenty of bulletins to alert auto technicians.
About the writer: The Bee's Mark Glover can be reached at (916) 321-1184 or email@example.com.