Since the current generation arrived in late 2006, I've driven the Honda CR-V during four model years in four states on six occasions. If reviewing cars were like doing laundry, the CR-V would be my well-worn pair of jeans. Honda still has a few things to iron out — chief among them being the CR-V's jittery ride — but to call foul on the market's best-selling crossover over a few loose threads would be to ignore the whole closet's worth of things the CR-V gets right.
The Honda CR-V may not be the most handsome or capable model in its class, but it delivers precisely the qualities a small crossover ought to.
This time around, I evaluated two EX-L models: one with front-wheel drive and one with all-wheel drive. The EX-L caps off a lineup that also includes, in ascending order, LX, SE and EX trims. The SE is new for 2011; click here to compare all four trims or here to compare the 2011 and 2010 CR-Vs.
Sufficient Power, Firm Ride
Paired with a standard five-speed automatic transmission, Honda's 2.4-liter four-cylinder pulls the CR-V up to speed with sufficient power. The automatic kicks down to 4th or 3rd gear on the highway aggressively and with little delay — which is necessary given that, characteristic of a Honda four-cylinder, the CR-V has modest low-end torque. With just me on board, our front-drive tester droned loudly in the passing lane, but overall power for such maneuvers was ample.
In contrast, I put four adults in an EX-L already burdened by an extra 124 pounds of all-wheel drive. Loaded up, the CR-V doesn't have much oomph to spare: It reaches highway speeds soon enough, but passing requires planning and effort. If you want enough power to pass on a whim — or if you need to tow more than what's allowed by the CR-V's meager 1,500-pound rating — consider the Toyota RAV4 or Ford Escape, both of which can be had with a V-6 engine. (The Chevy Equinox also offers a V-6, but it's pretty underwhelming.) The CR-V comes only with its four-cylinder, which makes 180 horsepower.
EPA combined gas mileage with front-wheel drive is 24 mpg; all-wheel-drive models are rated 23 mpg. That's near the top of the segment. In Cars.com's recent $29,000 SUV Shootout, the CR-V's 28.8 mpg tied for top honors among nine crossovers in a 145-mile highway loop.
If outright power isn't a strength, handling is. The CR-V's reflexes are generally sharp, with good braking linearity, relatively flat cornering and sharp steering. Though it falls short of a Subaru Forester or Kia Sportage when it comes to outright driving fun, the CR-V's maneuvering confidence puts it in the upper half of its class. That said, some drivers may wish for more power steering assist at low speeds, such as in parking lots.
The CR-V handles larger bumps well enough, but small road imperfections will be felt over long stretches of interstate. The CR-V settled in better and bounced less on the highway when loaded with extra passengers, but Honda has work to do on the suspension.
Though the five-seat cabin wasn't particularly well-insulated from tire noise (with Bridgestone Dueler P225/65R17 all-season tires) at highway speeds, it's comfortable overall. The CR-V's upright front seats, tall windows and open lower dash recall a minivan or large SUV. You sit up in there, which is exactly the driving position a proper crossover ought to have. In the name of more carlike interiors, too many competitors strand you down in a sea of wraparound cockpit furniture.
The most important controls operate with precision, and it's nice to see chrome door handles and textured silver trim in places where other Hondas employ duller gray plastics. A couple of areas are less excusable, including sheets of molded plastic as door inserts and a navigation system whose graphics rival the original "Oregon Trail" maps. All told, however, the CR-V's cabin ranks above average. It may be a 5-year-old design, but it's aging well.
Both rows of seats sit high enough off the floor to afford excellent thigh support, though the rear seat's bottom cushion could be a bit longer. Still, legroom is good. Taller adults may want more headroom, which trails off as you lean back. Conversely, you can't find much more versatility than you get in the backseat of a CR-V. The standard 40/20/40-split second row offers reclining and forward/backward adjustments.
Cargo room behind the second row is an impressive 35.7 cubic feet. Tumbling and securing the second-row seats is an onerous process, but it helps create an equally impressive 72.9 cubic feet of maximum space.
Safety, Features & Pricing
In crash tests by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the CR-V earned the top score, Good, in front-, rear- and side-impact tests. The CR-V's roof-strength score of Marginal, however, is a concern. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration awarded the CR-V an overall score of four stars (out of five) in its revamped 2011 crash tests.
Standard safety features include rollover-sensing curtain airbags, antilock brakes, active front head restraints and an electronic stability system. Click here for a full list, and here to see our evaluation of the crossover's child-seat accommodations.
Small crossovers are generally a dependable group, but the CR-V's excellent reliability stands out even in that crowd. The LX's $21,695 starting price is relatively affordable, as small crossovers go. Standard features include power windows and locks, an automatic transmission, air conditioning, cruise control and a CD stereo with an auxiliary MP3 jack. All-wheel drive on any trim runs a reasonable $1,250. Move up the ladder, and you can get a power driver's seat, dual-zone automatic climate control, USB/iPod compatibility, heated leather upholstery, a navigation system and a moonroof. A loaded EX-L tops out just under $30,000.
CR-V in the Market
Of the nine crossovers in Cars.com's SUV shootout, the CR-V placed sixth. Aesthetic issues played a large part – the car has always looked quirky. In comparison, up-and-coming competitors like the redesigned Hyundai Tucson and Kia Sportage offer scads of fresh appeal. No doubt they'll eat away at the CR-V's sales lead this year.
Still, Honda has done well with the current generation. This CR-V is a competent choice: comfortable, spacious, efficient and reliable. We're due for another CR-V within the next few years, but if you're shopping a small crossover today, the existing car is very much worth a look.
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