Honda’s CR-V rides a fine line: It drives like a car, looks like a sport-utility vehicle (SUV) and has an interior loaded with user-friendly gadgets such as a flip-up mini-table between the front seats and a cargo load floor that doubles as a picnic table. Think of it as an urban utility vehicle.

Its do-anything personality is perfect for a vehicle aimed at folks who want the look and function of a sport-utility vehicle plus the economy of a small sedan, at a price that hovers around $21,000.

The 1997 model carries over until next February, when there will be new models with more variations.

The CR-V is the first sport-utility designed solely by Honda (the Passport is essentially a rebadged Isuzu Rodeo) and it is intended primarily for urban use, which is why it is built on a car chassis and has a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine. It is only available with an automatic transmission but Real Time 4WD is standard.

The advantage of the four-cylinder engine is much better gas mileage than a bigger SUV, and the disadvantage is the inability to tow or haul as much. Horsepower is 126, again about the same as a compact sedan, but the engine is designed to deliver extra torque, or pulling power, so that it feels bigger. In city driving it had adequate power, but blending into freeway traffic occasionally made me wish for more power. The engine is smooth and willing throughout its rev range, but a lot of engine noise filters into the cabin.

A manual transmission, if one were available, would help city performance as well as making it more capable of moderate off-roading.

The Real Time 4WD is a clever solution to providing the traction of all-wheel drive. If the front wheels slip or spin, hydraulic pumps connected to each axle determine that power needs to be sent to the rear wheels, and a clutch is engaged to do so. The more the front wheels slip, the more power goes to the back. Simple and elegant, always in action, this system does not rely on electronics or the driver. Honda says the only maintenance is a fluid change at 90,000 miles.

Anti-lock brakes are part of a $1,000 option package that also includes alloy wheels.

After sliding behind the wheel I found the front seat to be quite comfortable, with a command-of-the-road view. I didn’t like the power window switches mounted up on the instrument panel to the left of the steering wheel.

The back seat is less comfortable because the seat back seemed unusually upright. With the back seat folded down, the total cargo space is greater than the RAV4 and about the same as the Cherokee.

It’s clear that a lot thinking has gone into making the CR-V’s interior a functional place. The herring-bone, cloth fabric looks lively without being gaudy. In addition to the cupholders molded into the little table between the seats, another pair slides out of the dash. There is a 12-volt power outlet by the back door, and various hooks for securing items in back.

As mentioned, the cargo load floor lifts out to form a small picnic table, and a waterproof well under it can be used as a cooler or for extra storage.

The two-piece tailgate has glass that pivots at the top and a side-opening door.

So far, the CR-V has been an unqualified sales success. Look for it to only get better when the 1998 in announced in February.


The base price of the CR-V is $19,400 and our test car was equipped with the anti-lock brake, alloy wheel package, floor mats and roof rack, which brought the sticker price to $21,156 including destination charges.


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: The CR-V is an urban utility vehicle. It sits tall, rides well and has an interior full of thoughtful gadgets that active folks will appreciate.

Counterpoint: The engine i fairly loud, no manual transmission is offered and the back seat is not the most inviting place. It does have four-wheel drive but no extra low gear.


ENGINE: 2.0-liter, 4-cyl.


WHEELBASE: 103.2 inches

CURB WEIGHT: 3,164 lbs.

BASE PRICE: $19,400


MPG RATING: 22 city, 25 hwy.

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