All you fourth generation CR-V haters can breath a lot easier now. Honda has gone the extra mile and fully redesigned America’s best-selling SUV to the point where we are genuinely excited about driving one. Yes, that’s right: We are excited about driving a vehicle that is about as commonplace as mispronouncing the word “saké.”
After 20 years of wearing the American SUV sales crown, the CR-V has been bought by nearly 4 million people on our continent alone and has experienced six straight years of growth as the entry-level CUV segment continues to expand. Honda knows that it cannot afford to relinquish its seat atop the CUV herd, and with many taking the current CR-V to task about its touch-exclusive infotainment screen, choppy lines, and unexciting driving characteristics, it was time for an overhaul.
Trim-wise, Honda has retained the typical LX, EX, EX-L, and Touring badges, with the lowest grade holding on to the old 2.4-liter i-VTEC engine. But it has also upgraded even its most base model with things like a standard multi-view rearview camera, Bluetooth compatibility, an electronic e-brake, and a nice array of exterior updates. All this and a whole lot more can be had for just $24,045, but since the smaller HR-V still holds the keys to the palace for Honda CUV affordability, we turn toward the $32,395 Touring trim line as it allows us to cover every bell and whistle available.
While Honda expects only 15% of CR-V buyers will opt for the upper echelon Touring trim, after driving one down northern California’s coastal highways and along roads typically reserved for performance sports cars, we can offer two strong statements: First of all, this is a way nicer car than one might expect, and it drives like a dream. Honda has been listening closely to consumer and critic complaints, and has absolved many of the issues we encountered with previous generations by benchmarking this version against luxury SUV offerings like the BMW X3.
Secondly, Honda hasn’t struck perfection with the CR-V just yet. For as clever and agile as it has become, we found a handful of things its competition has on-board that it could benefit from. Some of these oversights may be deal breakers for prospective buyers, others will not. But regardless of what buyers think of Honda’s latest SUV, one thing is certain: This segment is only going to get more heated as time goes on, and this generation of the CR-V stands an excellent chance of helping Honda preserve its place at the top.
1. It carves hard … to a point
The all-new CR-V corners better than you would ever expect, and to stress this point, Honda put us on the kinds of scenic mountain roads typically reserved for testing cars like the new Civic Type-R.
In order to understand why this latest model handles so damn well, we spoke with the CR-V’s chief chassis engineer, Koji Nakajo. Nakajo lives in Tokyo, and has been commuting to work every day for the past 20 years in a first-generation Integra Type-R. Any time you put someone who drives a street-legal race car to work every day in charge of chassis development, you’re bound to get some interesting results, and in the case of the CR-V, that means fun for almost everyone.
Pros: Sharply retuned MacPherson front/multi-link rear suspension features a floating rear sub-frame and liquid-filled bushings for smoother driving characteristics and sharper performance handling. The redesigned rack and pinion is also variable and only takes 2.3 turns to reach lock-to-lock over the old 3.1 standard, and Honda’s Agile Handling Assist (AHA) works well with stability assist to keep you in control.
Cons: Buyers can’t opt for a version with tighter lowering springs or wider wheels with stickier tires like on Toyota’s RAV4 SE. We also found issue with the H-rated 235/60 R18 Hankook Kinergy tires, which are great for efficiency gains, but are anything but confidence-inspiring in the corners due to being so hard.
2. Power and fuel gains are up, but come at a cost
Anything above the LX line gets a beefed-up version of the turbocharged Civic’s 1.5-liter Earth Dreams engine, which translates to 16 more horsepower over the smaller car, for a total of 190 prancing ponies and the ability to put 57% of all torque to the rear wheels. It may not be a firecracker of an engine like the turbo 2.0-liter in the Santa Fe Sport, but it does offer a very nice 179-foot-pound torque curve that tapers into a flexible boost system for more rapid combustion and increased performance.
Pros: The revised, small diameter turbine features nine fans instead of the 11 found on the Civic, which translates to more power and fewer fill-ups. Once combined with a water-cooled turbo manifold, sodium-filled exhaust valves, better intake ports, and a free-flowing intercooler, fuel economy hits 27/33 (estimated) on all-wheel drive models.
Cons: If you want the best MPG numbers, premium fuel will be required, and even then this 1.5-liter motor still won’t give you the same zippy experience as a Santa Fe Sport or a 2.0-liter EcoBoost Ford Escape. Sport mode also doesn’t seem to do much, even though on paper it should. And you can tell that this drivetrain targets efficiency more than fun.
3. Sharply restyled shell is smart but polarizing
We love the look Honda has given its award-winning small SUV, and the Touring version turns everything up a notch, starting with those signature LED headlights, running lights, tails, turn signals, and brake lamps. It also comes with an integrated aluminum gray set of roof rails, a streamlined undertray, and a wider, bolder stance that makes it look a lot more agile.
Pros: Bulging fenders, a sleek dual port exhaust, restyled front and rear fascias, and a liftgate that is height programmable are all winners in our book. Honda was wise to not go overboard in the unpainted lower plastic trim department, which offers a more refined, finished product.
Cons: Just by perusing what people are saying about the CR-V on social media, you can tell that Honda fans are either up in arms over this update or are completely in love with how the blunt nose and hooked back of the CR-V look.
4. Is Honda “Beautility” really a thing?
The CR-V’s development leader, Takaaki Nagadome, has his own term for the way in which the cabin of this vehicle has been re-crafted, and it’s called “beautility.” Looking to take a “wild and modern” approach to interior design, Honda has made upgrading decorative and touch-focused surface materials the star of the show, with both tactile and visual updates scoring major points with us over the course of our day-long drive. The volume control knob is back on the Garmin head unit, buttons and switches are all sturdy and sharply styled/positioned, and both front and rear seats are horizontally lined, fully adjustable, and quite comfortable. Both the digital driver display and protruding touchscreen are also vibrant, easy to read, and responsive.
Pros: This cabin is quiet, comfortable, and incredibly dynamic. We love that the rear bench gets a duo of USB ports along with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support, materials look and feel amazing, seats heat faster than an Audi A8, and everything is easily accessible, both physically and digitally.
Cons: The center stack could use some contrasting colors like door inserts, seats are not two-tone or ventilated, the steering wheel doesn’t telescope all that far, and even the Touring model’s nine-speaker stereo upgrade sounds weak.
5. Space and storage for days, but still missing some key touches
The cabin of the CR-V is designed for more storage and passenger space than ever before, and by utilizing the SUV’s new-found dimension gains, it can offer a lot of versatility over the old model. The rear stow space is now height adjustable, so you can lower it for more vertical wiggle room, or raise it for a completely flat cargo area, giving you 9.8-inches of depth and 1.4-inches of extra height for top-class interior space. Door pockets and cup holders have also been redrawn to hold a variety of drinking vessels, and the center console offers all the configurations of the new Civic.
Pros: Rear bench legroom has been improved by 2.1 inches, stow space is almost 10 inches longer and is reconfigurable, and storage pockets are larger and more customizable than ever before.
Cons: No in-seat storage bins or under-floor hiding places like some Fiat-Chrysler vehicles, and no smart lower center stack cubbies like in the Civic. The absence of 40/20/40 split rear bench also limits cargo space capabilities.
6. Honda Sensing is still amazing on the right car
Targeting an IIHS Top Safety Pick+ rating means the new CR-V is loaded with crash safety features, and the technology to prevent collisions from ever happening in the first place. Honda Sensing now comes standard on all models from the EX and up, and Touring models get a lot of outstanding upgrades, including road departure mitigation, adaptive cruise with low speed following capabilities, and cross-traffic alerts.
Pros: We were impressed with how well the CR-V followed cars when the adaptive cruise control was engaged, as both acceleration and slow-down speeds were quite smooth. Toss in blind spot monitoring and the clever cross-traffic alert, and let the multi-view rear camera cover the rest.
Cons: Lane keep assistance doesn’t work as well as in the Accord, and there’s no LaneWatch passenger side camera and no surround view capabilities like some of the competition.