In a very small way, my family was involved in bringing the Honda CR-V to North America. As Honda hemmed and hawed about bringing their first in-house SUV to the continent, they quietly shipped over a few right-hand drive examples in late 1995 for employees to evaluate. As a car guy with two kids, my father, who was Honda’s in-house attorney at the time, was a perfect candidate, and got the bright blue CR-V for a few days. Festooned with chrome accents, graffiti-like graphics, a JDM fender mirror and brush bars, the right-hand drive CR-V got lots of attention. The CR-V finally came to North America two years later, without all the awful acoutrements that Japanese versions had in spades.
12 years have passed, and the CR-V really isn’t that much different from its first iteration, a rare quality in a segment where everyone from Ford to Kia to Mazda is trying to re-invent the segment. Avant-garde styling, high-tech engines and motion-activated tailgate sensors are all well and good, but the CR-V continues to be the sell strongly, despite its utterly utilitarian packaging.
The CR-V has neither a fancy Ecoboost engine or Laguna Seca-capable handling. Instead, it proudly boasts the segment’s lowest loading floor – a dubious accomplishment among the “CUVs drool, wagons rule” segment, but a brilliant feature for doing normal people things like grocery shopping or going to IKEA. My family bought a CR-V in 2003 – 6 months prior to that, my mother was bedridden for 6 months due to a severe gastrointestinal illness – while she was able to drive, she wasn’t strong enough to load groceries into the CR-V, and I had to accompany her. Hardly an arduous task for a teenage boy, but the low loading floor would have been a help for her at that time. Rather than lift objects up and into the cargo compartment, the floor sits at about knee height, eliminating the lifting motion. For anyone who has to load and unload something like a stroller or suitcases, it’s a wonderfully thoughtful touch. If more room is required, a pull-tab located on the rear seatback will let the rear bench fold with just one pull. No fiddling with headrests and levels – it’s easily accessible from the cargo compartment and takes two seconds. The cherry on top for the CR-V’s triad of useful gadgets is a backup camera, which was integrated with the navigation unit on our EX-L test car. The backup camera has three modes; a standard view, a wide-angle lens and a 90 degree downward view, akin to a periscope, that gives the driver a better view of protruding objects (pillars, poles and the like) that can cause expensive bumper damage with only light contact.
In motion, the CR-V drives how you would expect it to. Not remarkable in any area, but hardly the porridge pile that most car guys expect from a small crossover. The 2.4L 4-cylinder makes 185 horsepower, an adequate amount of power for a vehicle this size. Why didn’t Honda opt for a more powerful engine, along with something more advanced than the 5-speed automatic transmission? Simple – customers don’t care how many forward gears it has. On the road, the combination works seamlessly and delivers 22 mpg in town and 31 mpg on the highway. The all-wheel drive system has been revised to always send a nominal amount of torque to the rear wheels – again, this wasn’t noticeable on the road, but a CR-V conquering anything more severe than a light dusting of snow on a paved road would surprise me. Steering feel is no longer the lifeless “oars in a bowl of yogurt” feel that was present in my mother’s 2003 model, but it doesn’t provide much feedback. Really, the only extreme driving that happened on the entire drive was a panic stop, and the CR-V’s brakes helped prevent a Honda/Corolla sandwich from occurring.
The interesting thing about the CR-V is that when everyone else is trying to advance the game to new levels of equipment, technology and gadgets, the CR-V is making incremental improvements to a formula that has proved successful. In a sense, Honda is placing a bet that consumers don’t care that the drive to Costco is more important than driving with Ecoboost or SKYACTIV technology. Honda made a similar bet with the Civic – and while sales are strong, Honda is throwing a lot of cash on the hood as it clears out the current car before a refreshed design debuts in 2013. Nevertheless, I am confident that Honda got it right here. The CR-V was tops in small SUV sales last month – don’t look for that to stop any time soon.
Brendan McAleer previously review the CR-V here