I’ve spent a fair amount of time driving and writing about crossovers. It’s not exactly the way I wanted things to work out, but we can’t all be Chris Harris. Having spent the last few months behind the wheel of the segment’s big players, I’ve come to a conclusion that seems to be a frequent theme of my automotive recommendations: what I’d pick for myself is not what I’d recommend to anyone else.
Having just had seat time with an Ecoboost-powered Escape and a Mazda CX-5, I am pretty sure that if I ever needed some kind of two-box vehicle, those would be at the top of my list. Both the Escape and the CX-5 are the only entrants that could be called “fun to drive” with a straight face. The Ecoboost powered versions of the Escape have plenty of power and decent chassis dynamics, while the Mazda trades some of that grunt for a much better chassis, and an overall car-like feeling. The Escape gets pretty awful fuel economy, while both are hobbled by frustrating infotainment systems – the Mazda’s looks like something from the 32-bit era of video gaming, while the Escape’s options range from “unusable” to “distracted driving hazard waiting to happen”.
I could find a way to cope with their respective quirks, but that’s because I value some kind of driver engagement, no matter what kind of car it is. The CX-5 would make a great daily driver for someone like me. But I am not most people. Most people don’t care about how a crossover drives. If they’re asking for advice on any car, it likely means that they need the simplest, most trouble-free experience possible. If they’re asking for advice on a crossover, it’s probably somebody in Daniel Latini’s shoes, who has a young family, and is looking for something that makes their life easier.
This is where the Honda CR-V comes in. I’ve driven the CR-V plenty of times. It’s about as exciting to drive as eating Bran Flakes. The interior looks like a more contemporary version of 1990′s Honda fare (lots of hard plastic, plenty of buttons). It’s a little noisy and a little down on power, like most Hondas tend to be. But it’s one of the most brilliantly packaged CUVs ever created.
Rather than lift objects up and into the cargo compartment, the floor sits at about knee height, eliminating the much of the strenuous motion required to put strollers and suitcases into the cargo area. 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 levers – 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.
Instead of going for the Ford or Mazda route with fancy tech or engaging dynamics, Honda chose to focus on little incremental improvements, things that will sell the car on the showroom floor during the dealer’s sales pitch. It seems to be working. The CR-V was the best-selling crossover last year, with over 300,000 units moving off showroom floors. I don’t expect that lead to evaporate any time soon. As long as people like Daniel come knocking for advice, my recommendation will stay the same.