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Expert Reviews 1 of 3
By Bill Jackson
November 19, 2009
The compact crossover field is one of the most competitive segments in the market, with many automakers — both luxury and non-luxury — playing in that field. Against that backdrop, saying the Honda CR-V belongs on your "must test-drive" list no matter what small SUV you're considering would be strong praise. So, here it is: You owe it to yourself to try out the CR-V.
The CR-V is available in LX, EX and EX-L trim levels, each with available all-wheel drive. I tested a front-wheel-drive EX and found it to be very capable and easy to live with.
There are some small flaws (and one big one) that may keep you from putting your money down on a CR-V, but I don't think you'll regret checking it out. CR-V in the City The city is where the CR-V is at its best. The car itself is very small and has excellent visibility, so it easily squeezes through narrow streets. It doesn't stand very tall, but you feel like you're sitting high up. That's a good thing that contributes to the excellent visibility.
In stop-and-go city driving, the CR-V moves away from lights well, and its steering is precise. Overall, it makes you comfortable, and a comfortable driver is a confident driver. That's good, because if you've ever had to deal with the random lane closings, aggressive taxicabs and wayward urban pedestrians, you know you need confidence.
An odd drawback to our test model was the lack of covered storage space in the interior — just a glove box and a small storage area above it in the dash. If you're the type to leave your cell phone, MP3 player or other small, expensive item in the car, chances are it'll be out where someone can see it and might be tempted to smash-and-grab. If you're willing to spend a bit more for an EX-L model, you get a center console. CR-V on the Highway The CR-V's biggest flaw is its performance when passing on the highway. In most small crossovers with automatic transmissions, passing around 50 mph means flooring the gas pedal, waiting for the transmission to kick down a gear, then getting enough acceleration to make your move. The CR-V is no different — it's just that you don't get a lot of acceleration. In short, it's light on guts. Unlike its major competitors, the Toyota RAV4 and Ford Escape, the CR-V does not offer a V-6 engine.
It's not that the CR-V is dangerously slow — it's better than some other small crossovers I've driven — but it is far from the segment's best. It's also worth noting that I drove a front-wheel-drive version, and the problem could be worse with all-wheel drive, which adds 121 pounds to the CR-V EX. In any event, try passing on the highway before you decide.
On the flip side, gas mileage is pretty decent. I averaged nearly 32 mpg on two long highway drives. That's within the range of 23 mpg to 33 mpg that the EPA says is attainable, but what's significant is that I made no special effort to wring out the best mileage. Those figures came driving as I normally do. Utility & Passengers One of the nice things you get with any small SUV is a good cargo area, and Honda's is no exception, though it too comes with a caveat.
The plus side of the cargo area is that it's a good size with the second-row seats up. Also, Honda has one of the better-designed cargo shelves going: Its hard-plastic construction can accommodate up to 20 pounds on top — most mesh shelves won't take anything — or you can take it out and lock it in place on the cargo floor. It's great for me: I hate cargo shades/covers, and the first thing I do in any car is take the thing out and stow it in my apartment. With the CR-V, it just sat there, locked at the bottom of the cargo area.
The issue with the cargo area is that if you have to carry something large, the CR-V uses an older-style second-row seat. You have to fold the seatback down, then flop the entire seat forward. You get a flat, fairly large cargo area when you do that, but it can be awkward if you're in a hurry. Competitors like the RAV4, Nissan Rogue and Subaru Forester have seats that fold down in one step. (The Ford Escape has a two-step process, similar to the CR-V.)
If you carry people rather than things, the second-row seats recline, but one of my regular passengers commented on how firm the seats were. I didn't notice that, but I did notice that the second row had decent room, and I'm a bit more than 6 feet tall. I'm not saying it'd be the most comfortable car to carry a basketball team in, but it's OK. Check out both the space and comfort for yourself, though — unless your nickname is "Stubby" or "Ole Iron Buns." Interior I'm not a fan of Honda's new interior design. I can't quite put my finger on why, I just don't like the look of it. The gauges are fine; it's mostly the center section of audio and climate controls that bothers me. While it's a little thing, it's hard to find and read the clock, and the center stack manages to look both bland and cluttered to my eye. Still, the controls are where you'd want them to be, and the gauges are easy to read and give you the information you need most. While I can't score the interior high on form, it gets outstanding marks for function.
The driver's seat was the most comfortable one I've sat in for a long, long time. Our test car had cloth seats, but if you upgrade to the EX-L trim, you get leather. There was plenty of length to the bottom of the seat, which gave me great thigh support, and the seatback provided outstanding bolstering to my sides. It literally felt like the seat was built to give my body a gentle hug. I never got tired of sitting in the CR-V. If I could sit in that seat right now and write this review, I would. Safety, Reliability & Updates Consumer Reports rates the Honda CR-V as having much better than average reliability, and the 2010 model gets the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's highest rating, Good, for front- and side-impact crash tests.
The Honda CR-V was restyled for 2010, with elements like the front and rear bumpers, grille, and hood getting slight changes. The changes aren't extreme, and you can see the differences between the 2010 and 2009 for yourself here. CR-V in the Market The compact SUV field is crowded these days, with nearly every automaker offering something. If you only have eyes for the luxury makes, the CR-V isn't for you. Otherwise, it's something you should consider.
I test-drove one of its competitors — the RAV4 — over the summer, and while it was more powerful on the highway and felt like it had a slightly larger cargo area, I didn't like it as much as I did the CR-V. Honda similarly beats the Escape when it comes to securing my affections. Even though I'm not wild about the CR-V's interior, it's not horrible, and the CR-V is comfortable and does just what I need a car to do. From the outside, the CR-V looks really good, and while it's smaller on the inside than some competitors, there's enough room to do what I needed to do.
It's important to note that my analysis comes from a city-dweller who doesn't do much driving on the highway. I also don't carry a family with me wherever I go. Families who spend lots of time on the highway have some homework to do before buying a CR-V. Check out the performance; sit in the seats. I don't think you'll feel you wasted your time.