When I first sat in the new Honda CRV, I had a flashback.
My mind raced back to my grandmother’s Chevrolet Corvair, which had an automatic transmission lever that stuck straight out from the dashboard. The new Honda CRV has a similar sort of shifter, sticking out yet managing to stay out of the way.
Just as artful, yet failing to inspire flashbacks, is the parking brake. It disguises itself as part of the dashboard, yet one yank pulls it away from the dash.
Such design is novel and inspired, and highlights how well Honda upgraded and refined its popular pseudo-SUV.
Honda was among the first automakers to introduce an SUV with car-based running gear in 1997. The CRV is basically a Honda Civic wagon on growth hormones.
It comes in front-wheel-drive LX, four-wheel-drive LX and four-wheel-drive EX. Honda supplied an EX for testing.
Typical of Honda, the vehicle still retains its 4-cylinder engine. While the first-generation CRV felt underpowered, the new CRV boasts 20 more horsepower and feels much more lively.
The extra ponies are courtesy of a new 2.4-liter 16-valve, dual overhead-cam 4-cylinder engine. It has decent pep to keep up with traffic.
Honda’s ”Real Time” four-wheel-drive system furnishes the extra grip when needed. That means most of the time, you’re running in front-wheel-drive. Four-wheel-drive kicks in when things get hairy (or rainy for that matter). That translates into an SUV with some torque steer when accelerating hard from a standstill. While it’s not as pronounced as in the Saturn Vue crossover SUV, it is noticeable.
A five-speed manual is available on four-wheel-drive models, with a four-speed automatic available on all models. The test vehicle had the automatic, which always seemed to be in the right gear.
Handling holds no surprises. It’s very much like that of a Civic, but a bit firmer. Road, highway and tire noise leak through to the cabin.
Braking from the front disc/rear drum brakes requires lots of effort to slow the vehicle. Anti-lock brakes are standard on the EX.
The interior is Honda’s usual excellent job. There’s an amazing number of places to stow things, be it money or audio CDs or Big Gulps. The fabrics and plastics are all tastefully done and the instrument panel is easy to understand and operate from the minute you set eyes on it.
The seats are high and comfortable, both front and rear. The 60/40 split-folding rear seats fold down and tumble forward, revealing an impressive 72 cubic feet of cargo space.
Speaking of cargo space, the cargo hold is large and square, with a power point for tailgating. The rear cargo floor still converts to a folding table. But the rear gate itself swings out rather than up, which is inconvenient when the rain starts while tailgating. The spare tire is mounted to the rear door. That spare adds to the visual clutter of the rear o f the vehicle. The rest of the vehicle has a clean, crisp, angular look that updates the look of the previous CRV.
The EPA rates the CRV at 22 mpg city, 26 mpg highway. A mix of highway and city driving returned 21 mpg.
Overall, the new CRV is another admirable job from Honda. Evolution, not revolution is the word here, with a larger, refined, grown-up feel that puts the new CRV at the top of the crossover SUV market — the market it started in 1997.