Japanese manufacturers introduced their home-market "soft-roaders" to the U.S. almost a decade ago, quickly creating a burgeoning market for car-based sport/utility vehicles that combined adventurous spirit, interior flexibility, and all-weather performance with wagon-like road manners and fuel economy. The Honda CR-V
and Toyota RAV4
seeded this market, offering cheap tickets into the tragically hip active-lifestyle vehicles. Now in its second-generation Stateside, the CR-V maintains its basic four-cylinder, Civic-underpinnings formula, though it continues its maturation beyond the "entry-level" label. For 2005, the CR-V attempts to leave the true budget market to Hyundai
, aiming instead at the likes of Ford
's Escape, a set of GM offerings, and Toyota
's increasingly premium RAV4. For this year, EX and LX models are joined by a new SE, with a more luxurious presence and standard amenities like leather-trimmed and heated seats.
Signifying Honda's up-market intentions is freshened, more dignified exterior styling. Unfortunately, LX and EX models still sport the Tonka-like black bumpers and trim plastic that also continues to plague the lower-level Jeep Liberty trims and the CR-V's outlandish brother, the Honda Element. The SE, however, is much more presentable, with its body-color trim that evokes the larger Honda Pilot. Body lines are simple and crisp in the way Honda does best, and the distinct tall rear taillights are both functional and stylish. Three new colors-Silver Moss, Redondo Red Pearl, and Sahara Sand-also brighten up the CR-V this year.
Interior changes for 2005 amount to minor tweaks-appropriate enough, as we've found little to complain about with the functional interior. The chief issue has been that the materials feel just a bit cheaper than those used in the Toyota RAV4, and this doesn't change for '05.The most notable features inside this five-place sport/ute are related to storage. There's a convenient box in the center console for phones, chargers, change, and whatever else may need to be tucked away while driving. If that's not enough space for all your stuff, above the glovebox is a shallow shelf. Two cup holders reside in a small table that folds up between the front seats, and one more folds out from beneath the climate-control dials. Also clever are the grocery-bag hooks peppered throughout the class-leading 33.5 cubic-feet of cargo space (72.0 cubic-feet with the seats folded down). We especially enjoy the removable picnic table (stored under the rear floor), which makes the CR-V a great football-tailgating command post. Both EX and SE models boast a moonroof, cruise control, a six-disc CD changer, and new-for-2005 steering-wheel-mounted audio controls, while top-level SE models come standard with a cornucopia of amenities including heated mirrors and a leather-trimmed steering wheel and shift knob.
Faced with pressure from Korean market-share munchers, Honda has thrown every safety feature imaginable onto the CR-V's standard equipment list. Electronic stability control and traction control are now included on every CR-V, as are anti-lock brakes, front seatbelt pretensioners, and front and side airbags. Even side curtain airbags, which are lucky to make many manufacturers' options lists, come standard. A new, smarter, cam-driven 4WD system replaces the outgoing hydraulic pump-type mechanism, and although the system is an improvement, there's still a discernable pulsing as it shifts power from one set of wheels to the other.
Positioned beneath the six-cylinder Pilot in the Honda pecking order, the CR-V offers only one engine, a 2.4-literL/160-horse inline-four bolted to a smooth and responsive five-speed automatic transmission, which replaces last year's four-speed box. An eager, even relatively torquey powerplant, the I-4 challenges the RAV4 engine for best fuel economy in the segment. The CR-V's tow capacity, however, is a meager 1,500 pounds.
Behind the Wheel
Beyond the features and styling, drivability is what really makes the CR-V a class-leading vehicle. Unlike the video-game-like feel of the electric steering of the Chevrolet Equinox and Saturn Vue, the Honda's steering is communicative and feels neither numb nor overly sensitive. Handling is secure and capable, although the more stiffly sprung RAV4 feels nimbler. The payoff here is the CR-V has a relatively smooth ride for a compact vehicle. And while it may not be the quickest or most muscular vehicle in the class, its four-cylinder is quiet and smooth, unlike the gritty V-6 found in the Ford Escape-we don't mind sacrificing a little grunt for a little serenity, especially in this segment. The CR-V's rectangular shape makes visibility through the rear and side windows refreshingly easy, and the easy-to-read controls and the driver seat are all expertly positioned. While the RAV4 may be a bit cuter and sportier, the Honda's smoothness, space, and comfort are hard to ignore.
Target drivers of this type of vehicle tend to be young, active, and intelligent, but the CR-V can appeal to many different ages and lifestyles. Those seeking off-road or towing performance should head for a Nissan Xterra or Jeep Liberty, but the CR-V is perfectly suited to anyone else looking for a roomy, economical, and unpretentious transportation. Gas mileage is not quite as high as that of a few small sedans, but it's on par with most mid-size cars-impressive for a vehicle with this much cargo space. The CR-V sits at the carlike end of the sport-ute spectrum, with available all-wheel-drive, easy visibility, comfort, and gobs of safety features.
A 2005 IntelliChoice Best Overall Value of the Year, the roomy and comfortable Honda CR-V eliminates the compromises from small-SUV ownership.
Exterior and interior freshening, the Special Edition trim level, standard stability and traction control, and side and side-curtain air-bags are new for 2005.
The SE comes standard with everything you could ask for at this price, and as with all Hondas, there are very few options. XM satellite radio is offered on EX and SE models.
Others to Consider
Ford Escape,Kia Sportage,Toyota RAV4