11/14/05 — Honda CR-V still a favorite

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Honda CR-V still a favorite

Honda CR-V (2006)

It’s been 10 years since the CR-V first reached the public, Honda’s immediate answer to the Toyota RAV4.

We had a Toyota experience before the little Honda appeared in showrooms, and we felt Toyota had hit another vein of gold in introducing the car-based mini-sport utility in the U.S.

Honda CR-V, 2006

Even a decade later we still have vivid memories of driving the RAV4 on sandy back roads in northern Florida.

Honda was not to be outdone and missed Toyota’s launch date by only a few months. Shortly after the CR-V reached Honda stores in 1996 as a 1997 model, we spent a week behind the wheel.

The small SUV segment was obviously a good idea just waiting to happen.

Since the launch of the RAV4 and the CR-V, the entry-level sport utility segment has grown to more than a dozen vehicles including the Ford Escape, Mercury Mariner, Mitsubishi Outlander, Hyundai Tucson, Jeep Liberty, Kia Sportage and Subaru Forester.

The CR-V has gone through evolutionary changes over the years and continues to be one the best selling small vehicles in the country. Honda can count on sales of 140,000 to 150,000 CR-Vs a year, and for calendar year 2005 it’s selling at a 150,000-unit pace.

When it introduced the CR-V, Honda successfully set its sights on the RAV4 and it now outsells the small Toyota about 2-to-1 annually. Only the Ford Escape and Jeep Liberty best the CR-V in annual sales.

While many competitors offer 6-cylinder engines in their compact sport utilities, Honda has for the most part resisted the trend to add horsepower with each model year.

And perhaps now that gas prices have reached historic highs, Honda’s decision to keep a frugal four in its small sport utility will pay added dividends.

The CR-V was redesigned for the 2002 model year, and continual styling and mechanical updates have kept it near the top of the best seller list.

Since its inception 10 years ago, it has grown four inches in length and about an inch-and-a-half in width. Curb weight is up 330 pounds, but horsepower has also increased by 34, from 126 to 160, to more than compensate for the weight gain.

A footnote here about horsepower. While the engine output remains the same for 2006, the actual horsepower rating has been reduced by four to 156 to incorporate revised Society of Automotive Engineers’ net calculations that went into effect in January 2005. These new calculations reflect a number of significant changes in the way horsepower and torque are measured.

The addition of a 5-speed automatic transmission in 2005, together with the extra horses, give the new CR-V a bit more urgency than preceding models.

But more urgency does not translate into quick, fast or speedy. While the CR-V has adequate performance, it lags behind much of the competition, most of which have 6-cylinder options.

On the plus side, however, the CR-V leads most of the competition in frugality.

Honda has managed to pull off the power and weight increases without sacrificing gas mileage. In fact, the new CR-V with a 2.4-liter 4-cylinder is rated at 22 miles to the gallon in city driving and 27 highway. Ten years ago, the rating for a 2.0-liter engine with much less horsepower was 22/25.

Perhaps next to gas mileage, safety is most on the minds of Americans these days, especially those Americans who carry young family members to school and baseball and soccer practice.

Honda should be applauded for including a large number of safety features as standard equipment. Honda calls it the “Safety for Everyone” initiative. Standard are front airbags, side airbags for the driver and front passenger, side curtain airbags for both rows, Vehicle Stability Assist with traction control and antilock brakes.

The CR-V stands tall in real-world safety, too, gaining a perfect five-star score for protection in front and side impacts from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Perhaps as important particularly in northern climates, all CR-Vs with the exception of the base LX model, which starts at $20,945, come with all-wheel drive as standard equipment.

The CR-V received a facelift for the 2005 model year and it carries over with no changes for 2006. All models got redesigned headlamps and front fascias.

Also, beginning with the 2005 model, the EX received new alloy wheels, and all models now wear 16-inch wheels. A Special Edition trim debuted in 2005 that includes heated leather seats, heated mirrors, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, as well as body-color bumpers, side molding, door handles and hard spare tire cover.

So what has made the CR-V such a hit through the years?

Perhaps it is in the ease of driving.

Turn the key and the CR-V noiselessly moves into action with lightness of foot and the agility of a gold-medal gymnast. The switchgear is so user friendly you feel like you’ve been behind the wheel for as long as you’ve been driving. Its maneuverability and close-quarters dexterity are pleasing. You feel good in the driver’s seat.

Not the kind of feel good that a rumbling V-8 induces. But the kind of feel good you get when you know that all is right with the world.

Perhaps you can think of the CR-V as a tall station wagon.

And it shines in that area with a cargo volume of 33.5 cubic feet behind the second-row seat and 72 cubic feet with the rear seat folded. That’s better than virtually every competitor including the popular Ford Escape (65 cubic feet), Saturn Vue (63 cubic feet), Toyota RAV4 (68 cubic feet) and the Nissan Xterra (66 cubic feet). Only the Hyundai Santa Fe has more cargo space with 78 cubic feet.

Honda says two full-sized mountain bikes can be stored in the cargo area with the rear seats folded.

Passenger room is as impressive as cargo space. Honda somehow managed to avoid stealing inches from the front to put them in back.

The front seats are comfortable with armrests and a good view outward. Back-seaters have ample leg and hip room. This space is enhanced with seats that can be moved fore or aft 6.7 inches. And the seatbacks recline to 45 degrees to aid in long-distance comfort.

The well-designed dashboard has several storage areas including a partitioned tray over the glovebox. The gauges are clear and easy to read and the three climate control knobs have a luxury-car feel.

The CR-V comes in three trim levels for 2006, LX , EX and Special Edition (SE). The LX comes in either 2-wheel or all-wheel drive configuration and with a 5-speed manual or a 5-speed automatic transmission. The EX and SE come with all-wheel drive as standard equipment. The all-wheel drive system powers the front wheels unless slippage is detected, then torque is moved to the rear wheels.

The Honda is well priced with the LX 2-wheel-drive model starting at $20,945. That price buys 4-wheel disc brakes with ABS, power windows and locks, air conditioning, cruise control and a stereo with cassette and CD player.

Move up to the EX and all-wheel drive is standard along with keyless entry, alloy wheels, a moonroof, steering wheel controls and an outside temperature gauge. Base price is $23,400.

Our test vehicle was the Special Edition with a base price of $26,000.

The 2006 CR-V has a lot going for it including a peppy 4-cylinder that feels more like a V-6 under normal loads, excellent interior space, a fun-to-drive nature and superb fit and finish.

And when it come times to trade, you’ll be smiling at the CR-V’s exceptional resale value.

By Jim Meachen
Published in Car Reviews on November 14, 2005 1:39 PM