Can you guess the question I get asked most often? Sure I get plenty of queries about best supercars ever driven and safest cars for university-aged daughters, but more often than not people want to know which compact SUV they should buy. Whether I’m at home in the Pacific Northwest, across an ocean at my second home in the Philippines, or traveling somewhere else, the theme never changes. Compact SUVs are popular everywhere, and making life easier the answer given most often is found on every continent too, Honda’s CR-V.
The CR-V was the most popular SUV in the world last year, selling a total of 752,670 units compared to 711,571 in 2015, which represented growth of 5.8 percent and a new all-time high for the SUV sector. Likewise it was number one in the U.S. with 357,335 unit sales, its 3.4-percent growth improving on 345,647 deliveries last year.
Of course, as good as the CR-V is I’m not going to recommend it to an off-road enthusiast, Jeep’s Cherokee (good for 295,081 global sales last year, 199,736 of which were in the U.S. due to a localized loss of 9.5 percent) a better bet within the directly competitive mainstream volume sector (hardcore Wrangler fans don’t need to ask—they bought 255,283 around the world in 2016, and 191,774 in the U.S. after suffering a 5.2-percent reduction in sales), while performance SUV buyers looking for a premium brand might get sent to an Audi, Jaguar, Land Rover, Mercedes, or Porsche dealer, depending on budget and practical requirements. Those willing to forgo some performance and prestige yet still wanting a superb compact SUV for great value are recommended to visit their local Honda retailer to try out a CR-V.
When you arrive you’ll find a completely redesigned 2017 model facing you, and I for one think the updates are wholly positive. With respect to styling, Honda adds key visual elements from other recently redesigned models like the Civic, including a blunter more distinctively aggressive nose filled with uniquely jeweled signature LED headlamps in top-tier Touring trim, plus a strong chrome-enhanced grille that strikes right through those headlights, a bold lower fascia with integrated LED fog lamps, and very original looking taillights that combine both horizontal and vertical elements for increased visibility. Again, a classy chrome trim piece slashes through the rear lamps, while satin silver details out the lower bumper that’s now filled with sporty dual stainless exhaust pipes. Yet more bright metal enhances the look from front to back, the glimmering rocker moldings making the SUV look longer and leaner than it would otherwise.
This fifth-generation CR-V rides on a totally new lightweight platform shared with the 10th-gen Civic, while one of its available powertrains is also pulled from Honda’s bestselling model. Base models get the slightly reworked but mostly carryover 2.4-liter four, which has been nominally downgraded to 184 horsepower and 180 lb-ft of torque from 185 and 181 respectively, while the optional 1.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder comes standard in EX-T, EX-L and Touring trims. The more advanced engine makes 190 horsepower and 179 lb-ft of torque in the CR-V, resulting in spirited yet fuel-efficient performance, while its standard continuously variable transmission (CVT) is especially helpful for achieving the latter dynamic with an estimated EPA fuel economy rating of 28 mpg city, 34 highway and 30 combined in FWD, or 27, 33 and 29 respectively in as-tested AWD. Of note, the base engine is rated at 26 mpg city, 32 highway and 28 combined in FWD guise, or 25 city, 31 highway and 27 combined with AWD. With pump savings like this it’s hard to believe the smaller yet more potent turbocharged powertrain is one of the strongest performers in its compact crossover SUV class.
We also need to factor in the CR-V’s many other attributes, like its ideally balanced ride quality and road-holding, both improved over the previous generation that was already good, but I’ll need to get back to driving dynamics in a moment, because the new SUV’s roomier and more refined interior needs to be dealt with first.
Suffice to say Honda has enhanced the CR-V’s interior design and quality to similar levels as its superb new Civic, while the more comfortable SUV will fit larger occupants and more cargo. The entire vehicle has grown, with an extra 1.4 inches of width, height and wheelbase length, the latter increasing the rear seating area by two inches, which results in greater rear legroom. The added height comes via significantly more ground clearance, the all-wheel drive CR-V raised from 6.7 inches to 8.2 inches. While this makes it a better soft roader that’s more capable of traversing rocky or stump-strewn trails and snowy ski resort parking lots, it more importantly improves visibility while driving around town.
I’ve long praised the CR-V for a low lift-over height into the cargo area, which continues, as well as its auto-folding 60/40-split rear seatbacks that only need a tug on cargo area sidewall-mounted levers to lower, but the innovative convenience advantage seemed to encroach on rear luggage capacity in the outgoing model, leaving a reclining hump where the load floor met up with the base of those seats that made it difficult for some cargo to remain upright. This issue is resolved for 2017, with the handy levers remaining yet a completely flat and therefore much more utile load floor added, which is almost 10 inches longer than before and certainly much higher. By volume, cargo space behind the rear seats grows by about 2 cubic feet to 39.2 cubic feet, and by approximately 5 cubic feet to 75.8 cubic feet when tumbled flat, resulting in best-in-class capacity. This would be my key reason for trading in the old CR-V for the new one, but if I left its many improvements there I’d be doing it an injustice.
You can now power its hands-free liftgate open via waving your foot under the rear bumper, a new available feature for Honda if not the industry, while the Touring model also includes full LED headlights, unique machine-finished 18-inch alloy wheels with black painted pockets, additional chrome trim including dual exhaust pipes, roof rails, rain-sensing wipers, accurate navigation with detailed mapping and turn-by-turn directions, voice recognition, great sounding 330-watt, nine-speaker audio (thanks to a subwoofer), HD radio, and more.
Touring trim incorporates most everything that comes with mid-range EX trim too, including standard fog lamps, body-color door handles, turn signals on the upgraded body-color side mirror housings, a body-color rooftop spoiler, heated side mirrors, remote start, proximity keyless access, pushbutton ignition, white LED interior lighting, a 12-way powered driver’s seat with four-way powered lumbar support, heatable front seats, dual-zone auto climate control, a high resolution 7.0-inch color infotainment touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone connectivity, gesture controls like tap, pinch and swipe, dynamic guidelines for the rearview camera, etcetera, SMS texting/email read and respond, satellite radio, extra USB charge points in back, the HondaLink Assist automatic emergency response system, a large sunroof, a retractable cargo cover, and a host of Honda Sensing active safety features such as auto high beams, adaptive cruise control with low-speed follow, forward collision warning with autonomous collision mitigation braking, lane departure warning with lane keeping assist and road departure mitigation, and blindspot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert (which unfortunately replaces Honda’s fabulous and exclusive LaneWatch passenger-side blindspot monitoring camera). All of this advanced technology gets added to the usual assortment of active and passive safety features, combining with an especially strong body structure for a best-possible IIHS Top Safety Pick Plus rating.
Next in line, EX-L trim adds an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a HomeLink garage door opener, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, perforated leather upholstery, driver’s seat memory, a four-way powered front passenger seat, and the powered liftgate.
Other notable features found on the base model that still get used in the top-tier Touring include LED taillights, power-adjustable side mirrors, an electromechanical parking brake, a mostly configurable color TFT primary gauge package, auto climate control, a multi-angle backup camera with guidelines, Bluetooth phone and streaming audio, Wi-Fi tethering, an analog volume knob (missing from the previous system), a more accommodating lower center console, and more. Lastly AWD is available with all trims for an additional $1,300.
Strangely a heatable steering wheel rim and heatable rear outboard seats are not offered with the CR-V despite being available in other markets like Canada, and winters are much colder in the Midwest or eastern seaboard than they are in Vancouver.
Just the same, all of this goodness comes in a CR-V that’s much more refined than the outgoing model, with Touring trim raised to near premium territory. Seriously, Honda has even gone so far as to cover the top of the dash and door uppers in a beautiful padded and stitched leatherette, the rest of the dash top, upper half of the instrument panel, and most of the door panels done out in a high-quality soft touch synthetic. Other interior details worth noting include beautiful matte woodgrain inlays that look and feel like the real thing, plus plenty of satin silver metallic surfacing. All switchgear is very well made too, featuring high-grade composite materials, nice tight fitment, and good damping. The steering wheel controls, for example, are easily best in class—even better than many premium brands.
The CR-V’s larger size really enhances interior roominess and comfort, especially noticeable from side to side. The front seats are good for almost any body type, with the driver’s especially adjustable, while there’s room for three average sized adults in back.
In spite of its increased dimensions and considerably more accommodating interior, the new CR-V actually feels lighter, nimbler, and more fun to drive than the outgoing version. While Honda utilized more high-strength steel and alloys to increase structural rigidity, this allowing for a more compliant suspension setup yet better handling, the steering has been tuned for sharper turn-in as well, making it feel more responsive. The SUV’s enhanced solidity also makes it feel more substantive and quieter all-round, with more of that premium-like presence I spoke of earlier. The redesigned CR-V feels more planted at high speeds too, its steering requiring fewer corrections for a much more relaxing road trip experience, and the updated dynamic cruise control works a lot better than the old version as well. When activated it even helps keep you within your chosen lane, not only by the aforementioned autonomous driving technologies, but also by automatically adjusting for crowned road surfaces. It’s as if Honda has thought of everything, but of course that’s what it takes to remain number one in the auto industry’s hottest segment.
So here I am again, recommending you purchase a CR-V. At $24,045 plus freight and fees it should be affordable for most families, while my $32,495 Touring trimmed example is certainly competitive with its fully loaded peers while considerably less expensive than anything in the premium sector with similar utility and features. Then factor in that it’s more affordable on an ongoing basis than any competitor, a claim backed up by being top of its class in the latest Vincentric Best CPO Value in America Awards, a model-by-model cost of ownership analysis that factors in depreciation, fees and taxes, financing, fuel, insurance (with the lowest costs in the class), maintenance, opportunity cost, and repairs in all 50 states plus DC.
The Honda CR-V’s overall value proposition is unparalleled. So what are you waiting for?
Story credits: Trevor Hofmann, American Auto Press Photo credits: Karen Tuggay, American Auto Press Copyright: American Auto Press