The third-generation Honda CR-V has grown in sophistication while retaining its mission as an economical yet well-equipped compact SUV. There's plenty of competition in these waters nowadays, including arch-rival Toyota RAV4, so Honda set out to redesign its crossover wagon with sleeker styling, interior upgrades and a load of standard features, including advanced safety protection, without breaking the bank for consumers. The all-new CR-V has received plenty of accolades, with praise for its new look, comfort and interior. My reaction was not so glowing. While I appreciated the upgrade in appearance, I missed the distinctive style of previous models. The new version looks pretty much like the common run of compact SUVs. I found the ride to be harsh on rough pavement, with too much tire thump over expansion joints and minor road imperfections. Handling was above par, but CR-V felt skittish when the pavement was less than ideal. The interior is spacious and well-appointed, but the driving position was awkward for this extra-tall driver. A tad more seat travel would work wonders. And the seat bottom was too short and lacking in support. Despite my issues, the CR-V remains a pretty good package for the money. The midlevel EX model I tested is priced under $23,000 with a full collection of convenience and comfort enhancements, plus advanced safety features. And you can add to that CR-V's enviable reputation for reliability.
PERFORMANCE: Powered by a 166-horsepower four-cylinder, CR-V has enough power for decent acceleration and highway driving, while delivering good gas mileage. Honda is known for its smooth, powerful small engines, and the !2.4-liter four with variable-valve timing illustrates the point. The competition has moved ahead, however, with such compacts as RAV4, Ford Escape, Suzuki Grand Vitara and Mitsubishi Outlander, each offering V-6 engines as standard or optional equipment. The five-speed automatic works flawlessly. The manual transmission option has been dropped for lack of sales.
DRIVABILITY: I expected the CR-V suspension to be more compliant, as in most Honda products, so I was surprised by its stiffness. Now, I like a firm suspension, but there was too much thump and buffeting on rough asphalt or highway seams. Otherwise, the front-wheel-drive CR-V handles nicely, with responsive steering and strong brakes. All-wheel drive is a $1,200 option. Cornering is stable without too much body sway. Standard electronic enhancements include a stability system, traction control, antilock and other brake functions. Side-curtain air bags with rollover sensors come standard.
STYLING: As noted, something was lost in CR-V's move to a more mainstream appearance. With a profile akin to BMW X3, the Honda looks more substantial and modern, but it loses the quirky charm of its former self.
INTERIOR: Simple and appealing, the no-nonsense cabin feels solid and well-finished, and roomier than one would expect. As noted, tall drivers won't fit comfortably. A nice new feature is a double-deck rear storage area that boosts stowage space. Simple and smart.
BOTTOM LINE: Revamping a successful product is fraught with risk, sometimes losing the essence of the original. For its price, though, CR-V remains an attractive value for a fundamentally good vehicle.
Vehicle type: Five-passenger, four-door crossover SUV, front-wheel drive. Engine: 2.4-liter inline 4, 166 horsepower at 5,800 rpm, 161 pound-feet torque at 4,200 rpm. Transmission: Five-speed automatic. Wheelbase: 103.1 inches. Overall length: 178 inches. Curb weight: 3,415 pounds. EPA rating: 23 city, 30 highway.
HIGHS: Engine refinement, good handling, roomy interior. LOWS: Harsh ride, uncomfortable seats, generic styling.
Pricing Base price: $22,850. Price as tested: $23,445.
OPTIONS - Honda CR-V comes in three trim levels, with the midlevel EX including alloy wheels; power moonroof; power windows, door locks and mirrors; and upgraded audio with six-disc CD and MP3. Advanced safety features include electronic stability control; antilock brakes, brake distribution and brake assist; traction control; and side-curtain air bags with rollover sensor. - Shipping, $595.