I spent a week in Honda’s CR-V, which has been one of my most recommended buys for small families. Let me show you why.
The CR-V starts at $25,990 but my review sample came in the Touring trim level, which is essentially loaded. It rings in at CDN $36,780 including the $1,640 freight and destination.
Under The Hood
The CR-V brings what seems like an antiquated drivetrain to the game. It’s a 2.4-Litre, inline-4. Naturally aspirated. Nothing really special going on. It puts out 185 HP @ 7000 RPM and 163 lb.ft of torque @ 4400 RPM. It lumps this together with a 5-speed automatic transmission – no sport mode, no manual shifting – it’s really starting to sound old-school here.
Chuckle all you want though – the CR-V puts up some great fuel economy numbers, rating at 9.2 L/100 km (25.8 mpg) in the city, 6.6 L/100 km (35.6 mpg) on the highway and 8.1 L/100 km (29 mpg) over the combined cycle. I saw a decent 10.1 L/100 km (23 mpg) in almost purely city driving, with no attempt at being economical. The tank holds 58 Litres of regular fuel – no premium required here.
The CR-V was an all-new offering for the 2012 model year, and has carried over for 2013. Honda has done a great job at letting the CR-V grow up. The styling is bigger, yet the vehicle isn’t. It has the same wheelbase and basic dimensions, and it is essentially an evolutionary model with a very similar silhouette, yet it comes across more mature and bigger than it was, and certainly has some interesting changes.
Up front you’ll find Honda’s new corporate face, which is handsome, if a bit boring, and there are subtle but effective changes at the back as well. The biggest change is the kinked angle of the rear pillar – it’s a nice style element and it actually helps with rearward visibility.
The Touring has nice 17″ rims, as well as fog lights and roof rails. All in all, the CR-V looks like it’s trying to stretch toward a higher-than-entry-level class, and although it won’t turn many heads, it’s a nice-looking ride.
The CR-V has a nice interior, and it certainly feels more refined than previous generations. With that said, it’s still not fancy or upscale-feeling, and you’re surrounded by hard plastics everywhere, except for a little padding on the door panels. I credit Honda for trying to sculpt some nice shapes and for adding some textures and color contrasts but the materials need to start catching up with the competition. This trim also has some eye-catching grey faux-wood grain across the dash. Of course it looks fake, but it’s a handsome addition.
I liked the small diameter and the thick rim of the steering wheel. It has controls for media, hands-free, phone and cruise control and is manually adjustable for height and reach.
The CR-V’s seats look great and are very comfortable. They’re upholstered in real leather with nice contrasting stitching. I’d appreciate more bolstering but most buyers won’t care. The driver’s seat is fully powered, and the passenger’s seat is manually adjustable. Both are heated, and have built-in flip-down armrests, which I liked very much!
In terms of space, I found good head room for my 5’10” frame, even with the sunroof. The CR-V’s sunroof has power tilt and slide functions.
The layout of the CR-V dash has some new twists. In front of you, you’ll find a bin of gauges with a visual stack of circles in the middle – a big speedo with a round driver information screen in the center.
The CR-V’s driver information screen, while useful, is a bit too small and a bit too busy in its circular form. It always shows instant fuel economy and outside temperature, and lets you access 2 trip meters, oil life, average mileage, odometer and fuel range. There are two “bracket” light bars surrounding the speedometer – they change from white to green when you’re driving economically.
The center stack gives you an additional information screen in the upper dash area and a bigger touch-screen below that.
That upper screen, which is showing up in other Honda products, can display average fuel consumption and fuel range, a compass and a clock, media – what’s playing, wallpaper (any picture you want to upload – seriously though, who does that?!) or it can just be turned off.
The touchscreen below it is bigger, and serves a lot of functions – it controls media, navigation, the phone and is the monitor for the back-up camera. Sadly, as in other applications, the user interface and the fonts were designed by people who hate design. It’s not pretty to look at with those crunchy graphics and text, and the user experience isn’t particularly wonderful. You get used to it though. A neat touch – the back-up camera offers you three different view angles, and I liked that.
The media system feeds off of AM, FM, satellite, auxiliary, CD, USB and Bluetooth streaming sources, and all of them worked well. The auxiliary and USB plugs are in the console bin, along with a 12V plug. The system plays through 7 speakers, including a subwoofer – it sounds alright for a factory system.
Underneath the touchscreen is a dual-zone automatic climate control system, and a pod sticking out of the stack which houses the shift lever. The center console is home to the seat heater buttons, a 12V outlet and some cupholders.
Of course you get power windows, door locks and mirrors – all on the driver’s door.
The CR-V’s doors open very wide, making for easy ingress – that includes loading or unloading kids. The seats are very comfortable and recline. The leg room and foot room are exceptionally good – almost shocking. Headroom was pretty good as well.
You’ve got 3 seats, with 3 headrests and 3 seat belts back there. I’d consider it a great space for 2 adults. Though the middle seating position is narrow and hard, it would be manageable for a third adult if you’re looking at short distances – this is aided by a nearly flat floor. Irritatingly, the middle seatbelt comes down out of the ceiling, mini-van style. Thankfully, when it’s not in use, it can be stored up there to keep it out of the way.
We transported our three kids, including a full child seat and a butt-booster and they were very comfortable back there. Width-wise, it’s surprisingly roomy. There are 2 sets of LATCH anchors for kids’ seats.
Convenience-wise, you get two seatback map pockets, small but usable door bins, a ceiling-mounted reading light and the middle seatback folds down to become an armrest with two integrated cupholders. That’s it. No plugs, no vents, nothing else.
There are a bunch of little storage options – small door bins, a neat little tray in the door panel underneath the grab handle, a small (basically useless) bin under the left side of the dash, two long shallow bins on either side of the center console in the footwells, and a small-ish glovebox.
Here’s the kicker. Moving the shift lever up to the center stack allows for a very roomy console, and Honda hasn’t wasted the opportunity. They decided to make the whole thing (short of a couple of cupholders) into a single massive storage compartment with a retractable, scrolling lid. It’s about 16″ long and about 8″ wide, and very deep. To call it useful and flexible is an understatement, considering it’s big enough to smuggle a couple of baby pandas in there. Not that you’d ever do that.
Speaking of huge, the CR-V’s cargo space also feels cavernous. It is much bigger than the outside of the vehicle leads you to believe. You have a very substantial 1054 litres back there, which ramps up to an almost ridiculous 2007 litres with the back seats folded. Nice. A side note – the rear seats don’t fold flat. It’s close, but they do angle up a bit.
The lift-over height and load floor are both quite low – Honda boasts the lowest in the industry – making the space easily accessible and highly usable, even for the vertically-challenged. They throw in a little mesh pocket on the side, as well as a removable, retractable soft tonneau cover. Another innovative touch – Honda has placed a small lever on either side of the trunk – give either of them a quick yank, and the corresponding rear seat (they split 60/40) will quickly fold forward, using a brilliant combination of physics, and mechanics. No electronics that can die on you, and it’s faster than those systems anyway. This set-up should be a lesson to ALL manufacturers. I absolutely loved it, and so did everyone I showed it to. It’s useful. It’s simple. It’s fast. Bravo.
Driving the CR-V makes for an overall good experience. I wouldn’t call it fun though. Now don’t get me wrong – offering a mostly bland drive can’t really be considered a strike against it. You’ll see that it does most things really well.
The low-end grunt of this engine is quite satisfying, and although it’s not a quick vehicle, it will jump off the line and it’s great for everyday driving. The engine revs smoothly. Yes, it gets a bit noisy under load and starts sounding a bit honky at higher RPMs but realistically, you’re not buying a CR-V for the sporty engine note and it remains smooth at all times.
The transmission, although missing a gear by today’s standards, is also smooth and very intelligent. I actually never found myself missing the extra gears, and I thought it did a great job.
The CR-V does quite well in terms of road noise, which is a major improvement over the last generation. Wind noise, while reasonable, does pick up quite a bit a highway speeds. Low-speed turns and parking are a breeze, thanks to the electronic steering. Unfortunately that same steering system is a bit of a turd on the road, where you’re left with little feedback and considerable on-center numbness. Too bad, since Honda knows how to do steering right.
The suspension was pleasant. I found the ride was firm and a bit jiggly – especially over things like expansion joints and potholes – but not too harsh. I also felt there was quite a bit of body roll into corners – throw it into a curve and you’ll always be reminded that you’re in a tall vehicle. With that said, the handling is fine and feels very competent around corners and in normal driving.
Honda’s all-wheel drive system is quiet and transparent, but now kicks in sooner than in the past – you no longer have to lose traction with the front wheels to engage the all-wheel drive. Its job is, of course, to maximize traction on crappy surfaces and it does a good job. I drove a 2012 CR-V during Edmonton’s biggest snowfall last winter, and it pulled through everything admirably.
Visibility out of the CR-V is good, and the brakes are powerful enough and effective when called upon.
A final note on the drive – the CR-V offers Honda’s ECON mode. It’s a dash-mounted button, and it’s meant to help you save fuel. Of course, in doing that, it dulls any driving fun there was to begin with, and the softened throttle response and whatever else happens behind the scenes aren’t worth the fractionally better fuel economy in my opinion.
The CR-V’s overhead sunglass holder has a 2nd position, allowing you to leave it partially open, and revealing a convex “conversation” mirror – we have the same thing in our Odyssey van, and it allows you to see EVERYone in the vehicle, which means you can finally see who really hit who in the back seat.
Speaking of mirrors, I like the “expanded view” mirror that Honda added to the driver’s side view mirror – it makes the left inch or so a convex mirror, allowing you to see significantly more than you could in a standard mirror. An old-school blind-spot monitoring system, if you will.
Aside from the grim-looking graphics and fonts, the less-than-perfect user interface and its susceptibility to sun glare, I have one more issue with that big touchscreen. EVERY SINGLE TIME you start the vehicle, you have to tap the “OK” button on the screen. Otherwise, it turns off. I can’t quite put into words how hemorrhoidal that became over the course of a week. Honda, please trust us to remember the conditions we agreed to once. We’ll be good, we promise.
For such a well though-out and roomy rear seat, it would have been nice to add at least a 12V plug, or better yet, a 110V house-hold plug.
As I mentioned at the beginning, the CR-V is a good vehicle. If you haven’t checked one out, you’ll be surprised at the utility and storage space. The rear seat space is impressive by any standards. The overall package is a smart one.
I give the Honda CR-V a very solid 7.5 out of 10.
WAF (Wife Acceptance Factor) was pretty high. She found the CR-V very easy to drive, and appreciated the ease of loading things into the cargo space. Also, the fact that she could shop for an entire day and not run out of room put a smile on her face. Of course, that ended up turning my smile upside-down.
I wouldn’t hesitate to add the CR-V to my own shopping list – Honda’s reliability, resale value, and smart packaging make it impossible to ignore this contender. And if this loaded-up Touring trim is more than you wanted to spend, you’ll find almost everything I talked about here in the lower-level cheaper trims. Many buyers, including smaller families, will find much to appreciate here, and there are plenty of reasons why you’re seeing so many CR-Vs on the road today.
Disclosure: Vehicle was provided by Wheaton Honda.
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