Honda listens well.

The Japanese automaker brought out the CR-V sport-utility vehicle in the 1997 model year. Basically the CR-V was no more than a Civic station wagon offering all-wheel-drive just like the real sport-utes to take advantage of a growing market for small SUVs.

To be a little different, the CR-V offered such novelties as a folding table that lifted out of the cargo floor.

But the CR-V was basically a Civic wagon that needed a nip here, a tuck there and a bit of refinement–inside and out.

For 2002 the next generation CR-V responds to customer pleas for nips, tucks and refinement–as well as more cabin room, a bit more pleasant styling, a 4-cylinder with a little more oomph and a bigger, more sturdy folding table.

For 2001 Honda redesigned the Civic, which prompted a remake for ’02 of the CR-V derived from that platform. By making some simple changes to the suspension front and rear (that also allowed for a smaller engine compartment), Honda has a slightly wider (3 inches front, 1 inch rear), longer (1 inch) and far roomier CR-V with room to stretch the legs, spread the arms and wiggle the head without bumping into doors, seats, ceiling or other occupants.

The look still hints at a wagon, but the sheet metal has been tweaked enough to look like a ute.

We tested the ’02 4WD EX version, a package so complete you need add only freight, tax, title and license fees to drive away without need or desire to check off any options.

The previous CR-V came up short in several respects, one of them being an underpowered 2-liter, 140-horsepower 4-cylinder. For ’02 a 2.4-liter, 160-h.p. 4 takes its place. The 2.4 is still designed to deliver good mileage (22 m.p.g. city/26 m.p.g. highway with 4WD and automatic), but you move more quickly from the light with less hesitation and far less engine commotion than with the feeble 2-liter.

The four-wheel-drive system is one of those on-demand types, meaning the CR-V operates in front-wheel-drive until wheel slippage is detected and then all four wheels go to work without you having to push a button or twist a dial.

You wouldn’t want to ford rivers, climb mountains or trek through a desert in a CR-V, but you shouldn’t have any qualms taking it on snowy or rain-drenched roads, which are more common on the commute to work than are rivers, mountains or deserts. CR-V ride and handling is car-like, thanks to its Civic heritage.

What makes CR-V stand out in the crowded small SUV market are the amenities and attention to detail inside. Dash, doors, walls, floor, ceiling and tailgate come with compartments to store, carry or hide things. The new folding table, which is bigger and far more solid, slips under the cargo mat in back, for example.

Coins, cups, sandwiches, cellphones. All have designated areas in the cabin. And under the cargo floor there’s a plastic lined “tub” resembling a spare tire compartment that can be filled with ice to cool the pop you’ll put on the table.

Other changes are significant as well. The spare tire rests lower and more to the right on the swing-out tailgate. The tire used to sit high in the middle of the tailgate, blocking rear view.

And you used to have to open the rear window before opening the tailgate. Now you can open the tailgate on its own.

Another appreciated change finds that the second-row seats flip and fold against the front seat backs without having to remove the headrests. Nice touch.

Upfront, a tray pops up into place between driver and passenger with space for cups, lunch and pen, pencil or cellphone.

But two items on the CR-V may leave you shaking your head in despair.

The gearshift lever has been positioned near the top of the instrument panel. And rather than extending at a right angle to the steering wheel, the lever points back at you. Honda says moving the lever to such a nontraditional location free re cabin space.

More space is also the reason that the emergency brake lever is flush in the center of the dash instead of along the floor. Grab the handle and tug it toward you to engage. Different, but not delightful.

Base price of the ’02 CR-V 4WD EX is $21,500, which includes everything–four-wheel disc brakes, dual front and side-impact air bags, four-wheel anti-lock brakes, remote keyless entry, air conditioning, AM/FM stereo with cassette and in-dash, six-disc CD changer, power windows/door locks/mirrors, tilt steering, cruise control, split folding rear seats, floor mats, power moonroof, heat-rejecting window glass and rear window wiper/washer.

CR-V sales through October were off 5 percent, to 105,184 units, the decline resulting from folks waiting for the all-new model. In November, when it bowed, sales rose 57 percent.

As for sales, Honda boasts that through November its Accord sedan has a 28,000 unit lead over the Toyota Camry for best-selling car.

Should Accord maintain that lead, it will regain the title it lost in 1992 to the Ford Taurus, which was displaced by Camry in 1997.