With each generation, Honda's CR-V takes a leap forward. Generation three, released last fall, amplifies the values of the previous model while lessening the negatives.

The CR-V's evolution reflects the trend for crossover vehicles to become more like tall station wagons and less like tiny trucks. The little Honda's softer styling and coupelike window line is more sporty and less utilitarian.

The spare tire has moved from its outside mounting on the tailgate to a location inside under the cargo floor. The side-opening tailgate has been replaced with one hinged at the top. Folks who loved the previous CR-V for its tall and boxy cargo space will find that while the new model's cargo hold looks smaller, a tape measure indicates that its height is surprisingly close to the old model. The sloping roof reduces the size of the hatch opening by a couple of inches. Honda said that the new model's overall cargo volume is slightly greater than last year's model.

There are three models: LX, EX and EX-L. Prices start at $20,600 for a front-wheel-drive LX and top out at $26,000 for an all-wheel-drive EX-L with heated outside mirrors, vehicle stability control with rollover sensor, anti-lock brakes, heated leather seats and a sunroof. The voice-activated navigation system and backup camera are a $2,000 option on the EX-L. That is the model that I drove.

The CR-V has front, side and side-curtain airbags. It received a five-star crash rating for both front and side impacts from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety said the CR-V was one of two small SUVs to receive a Top Safety Pick designation.

Aside from looks, one of the biggest differences between the 2006 and 2007 models is a higher level of refinement. The cabin is much quieter at highway speeds, the fit and finish of interior materials is excellent and more equipment is standard.

The front seats have excellent lower lumbar support and inboard fold-down armrests. The cockpit feels spacious, in part because of the deep dash and sloping windshield. The gear is now on a small center console instead of on the dash as before. The gauges have white letters and blue backlighting, and small LEDs provide just-visible light on the dash and console at night. A digital panel between the gauges gives readouts for the trip odometer, fuel mileage, miles-to-empty reading and, on the EX-L, an exterior temperature display.

The center console of the EX and EX-L has a power outlet and auxiliary audio jack for plugging in an iPod. The CD changer is located in the console.

The EX and EX-L have steering-wheel buttons for audio, cruise and the voice-activated navigation system.

Honda's voice-activated navigation system is one of the best on the market. It recognizes a large number of verbal commands. For example, you can ask it to list the nearest Chinese restaurant and it gives a listing. Select the restaurant of your choice and the navigation system will direct you there.

The backup camera is a welcome accessory for any vehicle with reduced rear vision. The screen image was often hard to see in daylight, however.

The latest generation of the navigation system also has a digital audio card reader that can play MP3 and WMA files from a Compact Flash card.

Improved safety features include side-curtain airbags with a rollover sensor, anti-lock brakes with brake assist and electronic brake force distribution, and vehicle stability control. A tire pressure monitor is standard as well.

The CR-V has seating for five. The split-folding rear seat slides forward and back. When folded forward, it has to be secured with an extra strap, and that's awkward. The EX and EX-L have a two-deck cargo cover that can hold up to 20 pounds while leaving room underneath for grocery bags or a folded stroller.

The engine remains a 2.4-liter, four-cylinder, but the horsepower has been bumped from 156 to 166. This four-valve, i-VTEC engine responds with good muscle at low rpm because it has a wide power band.

The transmission is a five-speed automatic. Front-wheel drive is standard, and all-wheel drive is optional. The all-wheel-drive system has been enhanced for 2007 to provide improved torque transfer to the rear wheels in slippery conditions.

Price

The test car's base price was $28,000. Destination charges brought the sticker to $28,595.

Warranty

Three years or 36,000 miles, with a five-year, 60,000-mile powertrain warranty.