I’m a suburban husband, father of two who owns a large dog. I commute 19.5 miles to work five days a week and spend my weekends shuttling between home and Home Depot. I take the family on a road trip twice a year. And even with gas back to two bucks and change per gallon, I’m tired of pouring my hard-earned money into my SUV’s jumbo-sized gas tank. Honda made the all-new 2007 Honda CR-V for me. Whether I want it or not is another question.
At first glance, Honda’s cute ute has donned a German suit. Honda’s ditched the boxy shapes and hard angles that defined the CR-V in favor of Bimmeresque curved sheetmetal and an Audi-like rear sloping triangular back window. Dark under-cladding adds pseudo-macho appeal to the Germanic pastiche, while the spare-tireless rear door (which now swings upwards hatchback style) takes it away. Although the Chrysler Aspen has a lock on the worst snout of the year, the CR-V’s squashed dual grills and square plastic warts offer stiff competition. Aside from the nose, the CR-V’s design is a deeply, suitably, fashionably bland.
Fortunately, Honda has resisted the urge to super-size the CR-V. Thanks to the subversion of the aforementioned spare tire, the new model is actually some three inches shorter than its predecessor and, even better, only 70 pounds heavier (despite improved crash protection). The CR-V also sits three-quarters of an inch lower to the ground, eliminating any remaining illusions that Honda’s baby SUV is anything more than a tall hatchback that’s either good or very good in the snow– depending on your tires and whether or not you stump-up the extra grand or so for full-time four-wheel drive.
Enter the CR-V and experience the joys of ergonomic correctness. All the trucklette’s switchgear and controls are intuitive enough for the cognitively challenged, with dials that are more legible than the top line of a DMV eye chart. Washable plastics cover all major surfaces and buttons– except the leather wrapped gear selector, steering wheel and cruise compatible seats. The center stack is a vast improvement over the previous effort (file under faint praise), with the rich-sounding MP3-ready radio finally assuming its rightful place below the air vents.
Despite being butched-up with a touch of chrome, there’s no escaping the minivan/bread van stigma engendered by the gear selector’s dashboard placement. At least passengers can snigger in comfort. While putting three abreast in the back is almost as kinky (and kink inducing) as it sounds, four full-size adults enjoy plenty of head, leg and elbow room. The CR-V’s cargo capacity is more than merely adequate, with a new, removable shelf forming a “trunk.” But the tumble forward rear seats can’t quite get out of the way for serious schlepping. If Honda had found a way to stow them under the floor a la Odyssey, they would have had a killer ap.
The CR-V’s main advantage over a “proper” SUV is fuel efficiency. The front-wheel drive base version gets 23 EPA miles per gallon in the city, 30 on the open, unimpeded road. That’s because the 3389 pound machine is motivated by a normally aspirated 2.4-liter i-VTEC four cylinder engine– a derivative of the Acura RDX’ turbocharged 2.3-liter engine. While the CR-V’s erstwhile powerplant is free from the turbo lag bedeviling its big brother, the CR-V’s engine is also free from turbo boost. Is it slow? In a race between the CR-V and North America, my money’s on continental drift. Zero to sixty takes ten seconds.
The CR-V’s fully independent front strut/rear multilink suspension and quicker turning steering rack are tuned for stop-and-go traffic, strip mall parking lots, speed bumps, grade school drop-off lanes and moderate highway cruising. In other words, the CR-V puts the soft into soft roader. Sure it’s quiet, refined and comfortable; with safe, progressive body lean and seriously capable brakes. But you’d never mistake the CR-V for anything other than a fuel efficient people carrier.
How exciting is that? Not very. But both Honda and I know that no one in their right mind ever bought a CR-V for its dynamic brilliance. Honda created the cute ute or “crossover” genre because its customers want to sit tall, look butch (in an inoffensive kinda way) and not waste any money at any stage of the ownership arc. Mission accomplished.
The CR-V offers its loyal fan base more of everything they want for not much more money (the CR-V is still hanging out in its twenties). While pistonheads like me might hanker for something with a little more oomph like, say, a V6 RAV4, the truth is Honda's cute ute buyers have their eyes firmly focused on the bottom line. And the bottom line here is that the CR-V is still the best buy bar none.