Honda’s second-generation CR-V is bigger, has more power and challenges for leadership in the small SUV segment with significantly improved refinement. The first CR-V was introduced in 1997. The 2002 is an improvement in nearly every area. It drives better, performs better and has more room for people and things. Prices start at $18,800, just $50 more than the 2001. It comes in front-wheel- or four-wheel-drive models. A four-wheel-drive LX begins at $19,200 and the top four-wheel-drive EX with automatic transmission starts at $22,300. A five-speed manual is offered on all models except the two-wheel-drive LX. The test car was the top-of-the-line EX with automatic transmission. The EX also comes standard with a power sunroof and a six-disc CD changer with six speakers.

The CR-V’s new styling is clean and angular, with pronounced headlights and sharp edges. The taillights are mounted up high alongside the rear tailgate, and they blend into ridges that curve over the top to form the edge of the roof rack. The design is a nice balance between being recognizable as a CR-V and being different enough to look new.

One of the key developments for the 2002 is a larger engine. The 2.0-liter, four-cylinder has been enlarged to 2.4-liters. The larger displacement and the use of the “intelligent” i-VTEC variable valve timing system bumps horsepower to 160, an increase of 10 percent. Most importantly, however, torque is up by 22 percent, and that gives the CR-V more around-town pep. Some competitors in this segment have optional V-6 engines with 200 horsepower, and while the CR-V can’t match that, it scoots around quite nicely. The automatic transmission, with dash-mounted shift lever, is a new design that shifts with uncanny smoothness. Plus, it senses grades and holds the vehicle in gear for better climbing and descending. Overall noise level has been reduced considerably.

Although the 2002 CR-V rides on a chassis with the same 103.2-inch wheelbase as the previous model, it is fractionally taller and longer than the previous model. The cabin is roughly 8 percent larger. I had no complaints about legroom in either the front or rear seat, and the extra width of the passenger compartment adds a feeling of spaciousness. The fold-down center table between the front seats functions as a cupholder and a place to store sunglasses and the like. When the table is folded out of the way, a person can walk through to the rear seats, which is handy if you need to attend to a youngster in a car seat.

Ease of use is crucial if the split-folding rear seat is to be truly practical, and this one folds up without having to remove the headrests. It reclines and slides, too. When the seats are folded, there is enough room to store two bicycles upright with their front wheels off. Access to the cargo area is through a side-hinged tailgate. There are 21 storage areas throughout the interior, including a rear cargo bucket for wet or very dirty items and a small f lat table with folding legs. The general level of fit and finish throughout the interior is excellent. The CR-V’s instrument panel has been reworked with new gauges and controls for the heating/cooling system. The parking brake is activated by pulling a handle that is part of the instrument panel. It looks a little weird but functions nicely.

The cloth and vinyl covering on the EX seats was quite handsome. A inboard armrest is handy for long drives. Side airbags are standard on the EX and optional on the LX. The CR-V was awarded a five-star crash rating, with or without side airbags, for front and side impacts by the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration.

Price The base price of the test vehicle was $22,300. Freight brought the sticker price to $22,740.

Warranty Three years or 36,000 miles. {Point:} The 2002 CR-V has numerous improvements that place it near the top of its segment. Not only does it have more room inside, but the engine gets a small bu p in power. The seats are comfortable and it handles with ease. The side-opening rear door and easy-folding rear seat enhance its cargo carrying.

{Counterpoint:} The placement of the parking brake is a little unusual. The removable table in the cargo area is not likely to see much use, but itUs a nice thought.

Engine: 2.4-liter, 160-hp 4-cyl.
Transmission: automatic All-wheel drive
Wheelbase: 103.1 inches
Curb weight: 3,347 lbs.
Base price: $22,300
As driven: $22,740
Mpg rating: 22 city, 26 hwy.
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