One of the country's best-selling compact SUVs has been redesigned for 2007. Since its introduction in 1996, the Honda CR-V has always been a nondescript player in the segment, quietly providing a reliable and utilitarian ride but never setting the world afire in the engine or design department. The 2007 will definitely turn heads, and while it grew on me during a recent day with a few test vehicles, it's not an instant stunner.
This new Honda CR-V hopes to spur the soul with a stylish design that is indeed bold, but no one should overlook the quiet and refined engine and transmission, nor the slick interior. Has Honda finally busted out of the "just above-average" mold it made for itself in past generations?
There's no escaping it: The new Honda CR-V has an underbite. I don't know where designers are getting the idea that this is a good look, but the new Jeep Compass has a similar bumper treatment. It's truly "unfortunate," as a colleague of mine said when he first saw it, because from every other angle the CR-V's design shines.
Before I get too negative about the front end, it does look better on the road and from a dead-on perspective. It's when you stray to the left or right that it shows off some of the oddity going on. I think most CR-V buyers will get past it, especially since the last two designs spoke to absolutely no one.
Around back, the CR-V has finally lost the rear-mounted spare tire and side-hinged, side-swinging cargo door, replaced by a true hatchback that lifts easily. Vertical brake lights also deliver a classy feel. I've now seen a number of exterior colors in the flesh and think darker hues like Royal Blue Metallic are more attractive than lighter ones like Glacier Blue Metallic. There's also an odd Green Tea color that — similar to the front end — will generate strong opinions.
Honda has really found its stride with interiors lately. The CR-V shares its look in part with the new Civic compact car lineup and Ridgeline pickup truck.
The dash is perfectly executed. Did I just say that? Where the Civic went a bit funky with a two-tiered layout for the gauge cluster, the Honda CR-V opts for a more straightforward side-by-side setup with an informative digital display wedged between the speedometer and tachometer.
The steering wheel was a bit on the small side for me, but considering Honda expects 60 percent of CR-V buyers to be women, that won't be a real negative. Radio controls and the center-mounted shifter are surrounded by small cubbies, including a hidden upper glove box with a metal door. There's also a standard glove box below. A trio of center-mounted A/C knobs felt a bit cheap when turning, but they were the lone setback in an overall splendid dash.
The moonroof in the LX model seemed small, even for the body type. Rooftop glass is only getting bigger these days, and the Honda CR-V's small sliver doesn't deliver as a must-have option.
Leather-equipped LX models should be the preferred choice, as I found the standard cloth fabric in both the EX and LX trims a bit too soft to the touch to be durable. I also didn't think the straps used to flip the rear seats down would last over the long haul. They felt strong for the most part, but oether automakers use sturdy buttons for such operations instead. There's also no way to flip the seats down from the rear cargo area.
Going & Stopping
The CR-V sports Honda's new 166-horsepower DOHC four-cylinder engine mated to a standard five-speed automatic transmission and alloy wheels. It's a capable unit that won't stir the souls of sports enthusiasts, but it isn't meant to. Shoppers instead will consider the mileage: 23/30 mpg city/highway in front-wheel-drive models and 22/28 for four-wheel-drive. That's an average of one additional mpg for the 2007 models.
The standard five-speed offered smooth shifts between gears, and engine noise only intruded when I tried to hammer the accelerator. I quickly learned that wasn't the right way to go about driving this compact SUV, and for the rest of the ride I barely heard a whisper from the engine.
Braking was precise and will instill a lot of confidence in people going for a test drive.
Ride & Handling
Again I find myself praising the Honda CR-V, this time for the absolute quiet the cabin provides, totally blocking out road and wind noise. The funky exterior must be aerodynamic as well.
The CR-V shines in handling. Steering was sprung tight on the four-wheel-drive EX-L I tested. It felt like a super-size rubber band was snapping the wheel back in my hands. Move the steering wheel slightly and the Honda CR-V EX-L reacts with an intuitive feel that's rare in non-luxury cars. The EX-L also comes with the option for on-board navigation system.
Cargo & Towing
The first thing designers and journalists care about when discussing utility vehicles like this one is cargo size. Sometimes I think they get so caught up in the size they forget about the utility. The CR-V measures 35.7 cubic feet with the second-row seats intact and 72.9 cubic feet with them folded flat; that's up from 33.5 cubic feet and 72 cubic feet, respectively, in the outgoing model.
Folding the seats themselves isn't hard, but it's not the best setup either. There are two straps to pull, and neither felt that sturdy. One flips the rear seat bottom forward, against the back of the front seats, and the second strap, next to the integrated headrests, flips the second row down, creating a flat load floor — another must when designing utility vehicles.
There's a folding shelf that fits into two molded slots in the rear, meaning you could store groceries underneath and dry cleaning on top. The shelf didn't seem all that useful, and according to a warning sticker can only support 20 pounds. I'd prefer a standard cargo cover to simply hide what I'm hauling.
The CR-V can tow 1,500 pounds, but I don't expect many buyers will haul more than a load of groceries.
Honda offers side curtain airbags with rollover sensors, front side-impact airbags, active front head restraints, an electronic stability system, antilock brakes and a tire pressure monitoring system, all standard. The 2007 CR-V was named a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the organization's best rating. It earned top scores in frontal and side crash tests.
CR-V in the Market
The aging Jeep Liberty is still the best-selling compact SUV on the market; the outgoing Honda CR-V was third. With this new CR-V on the market, only the Toyota RAV4 manages to be a true competitor, and it adds an optional V-6 engine. Still, the Honda CR-V brings its own distinct exterior and enough interior refinement and driving pleasure to compete with any compact SUV.
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