Versus the competiton:
It’s amazing the difference a gearbox makes. Honda’s CR-V mini-sport-ute is transformed by the 5-speed manual transmission that is now available. It is livelier, friendlier and a whole lot more fun.
Until this year, the CR-V was offered exclusively with an automatic transmission. For me, the automatic just seemed to sap too much power and enthusiasm from the 2.0-liter, 4-cylinder, 126-horsepower engine. Acceleration, especially when merging into freeway traffic, was too tedious.
The 5-speed remedies that. Nipping through city traffic is a breeze. Because of the tall seating position, visibility is excellent. Slipping the shift lever through the gears is easy because the linkage is direct and the clutch action is light and smooth. A round, nicely textured knob tops the shift lever and makes each shift enjoyable.
While the engine doesn’t exactly burst with power, it keeps up with traffic easily. Take it on the highway and it buzzes right along. At 70 mph in fifth gear the engine sounds pretty busy, but it is far from intrusive.
CR-Vs are available in front-wheel drive or four-wheel drive, in LX or EX trim versions. Prices begin at $18,745 and range up to $21,445.
Our test vehicle was an EX equipped with Honda’s Real Time 4WD system, which drives the front wheels the majority of the time. The more the front wheels slip, the more power goes to the rear wheels. This system is simple and requires no action on the part of the driver.
The only drawback to this system is the lack of an extra-low range for off-road use, but then this vehicle is not really intended to be driven that way.
The CR-V’s new-found energy is an ideal complement to its spunky personality. Small SUVs are extremely practical, especially for city use, and this one follows suit. The interior is loaded with clever touches, such as a tiny table with cupholders that flips up between the front seats. Two more cupholders slide out of the dash. Back in the cargo area a 12-volt power outlet is conveniently next to the tailgate. A waterproof well in the floor can be used as a cooler, or for out-of-sight storage. A section of the load floor lifts out and unfolds to form a small picnic table.
In keeping with its utilitarian nature, the CR-V’s interior has colorful, tweed-like upholstery. Front seats are firmer than some folks like, but I found them comfortable. The back seat, too, is firm, and the seatback is quite upright. Folding the split-folding seat forward can be done one-handed. With the back seat folded down, the total cargo space is greater than Toyota’s RAV4 and about the same as the Jeep Cherokee.
The instrument panel resembles that of the Civic sedan. Rotary dials for heating/cooling glide smoothly, and the fan has almost infinite settings.
The two-piece tailgate is cumbersome because the glass window has to be flipped up before the side-opening tailgate can be unlatched.
Our test vehicle was a 4WD EX with a base price of $20,645. Standard equipment included anti-lock brakes, tilt steering wheel, AM/FM stereo with CD player, power steering, power windows, power locks with remote keyless entry and alloy wheels.
The only options were floor mats and roof rack, which brought the sticker price to $21,013.
The standard warranty is for three years or 36,000 miles.
Vehicles for The Star’s week-long test drives are supplied by the auto manufacturers.
Point: With the addition of a 5-speed manual gearbox, Honda’s CR-V gets a more vigorous personality that better matches its appearance. Inside, thoughtful gadgets enhance its utilitarianism.
Counterpoint: The two-piece tailgate takes a couple of steps to open, and that can be tricky when you’re holding a couple bags of groceries.
ENGINE: 2.0-liter, 4-cyl.
WHEELBASE: 103.2 inches
CURB WEIGHT: 3,217 lbs.
BASE PRICE: $20,645
PRICE AS DRIVEN: $21,013
MPG RATING: 22 city, 25 hwy.