Are the masses always right? We give Congress the sort of approval ratings that would fire almost anyone in any job, then overwhelmingly reelect them all. We spent a reported $402 million at the box office on the unwatchable "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen." We like coffee with extra caffeine and reality TV with extra housewives.
Good thing there's the Honda CR-V, America's best-selling SUV in 2012 and 2013. This time, we made the right call.
The 2014 Honda CR-V trades some cabin quality for outright utility, but for small families, it remains a compelling choice.
Honda redesigned the CR-V two model years ago, and it soon beat five competitors in a 2012 Cars.com comparison (see it here). Little changed for 2013 and 2014 (see these model years compared here), but a bad showing in a new crash test should give safety-minded buyers pause. The five-seat SUV comes in LX, EX and EX-L trims with front- or all-wheel drive. Compare them here. All three have a four-cylinder engine and automatic transmission. I tested a loaded, all-wheel-drive CR-V EX-L.
How It Drives
The CR-V's 2.4-liter four-cylinder provides adequate oomph thanks in part to a responsive five-speed automatic transmission that picks the right gear and hangs on during a smooth revving process. The drivetrain makes 185 horsepower and 163 pounds-feet of torque, and that proved enough to motivate our all-wheel-drive tester even with four adults aboard. Credit the SUV's spry curb weight; it's anywhere from 65 to 472 pounds lighter than comparable base and well-equipped versions of the Toyota RAV4, Chevrolet Equinox and Ford Escape.
Steering is drama-free, with natural feedback and settled highway composure. The wheel directs the SUV through curves just enough, but on winding roads the CR-V feels less athletic than the Mazda CX-5 and Ford Escape. Throw it around, and the Honda's pitchy body roll exposes a limited fun factor.
Ride quality, which was a nagging issue in the prior-gen CR-V, now impresses. For this class, the CR-V isolates well on the highway and clomps through ruts and manholes with little disruption. It's not a particularly quiet experience, though. My test vehicle's tires — Bridgestone Dueler Sport P225/65R17 all-seasons — filtered little road noise. Similarly, the cabin did little to quell wind noise, which was pervasive throughout my time in the CR-V.
With front-wheel drive, EPA-estimated mileage is 23/31/26 mpg city/highway/combined. All-wheel drive loses 1 mpg across the board. The combined EPA figures are competitive in the field, and I averaged 28.1 mpg over some 610 mostly highway miles in my all-wheel-drive tester. That's decent, considering that mileage included hauling as many as four occupants and considerable time idling. Read more about my observed mileage here.
A driver-selectable Econ mode relaxes drivetrain response, cruise control and air conditioning to improve gas mileage. It introduces some sluggishness to the automatic's downshift response, but it didn't bog down much else.
Characteristic of Honda models, the CR-V's seats are supportive, with more generous cushioning than is the automaker's norm. Headroom and legroom up front should suit tall drivers thanks to an upright dash that frees up enough room to stretch out.
Indeed, space is one of the CR-V's biggest draws. The SUV boasts an impressive 104.1 cubic feet of passenger room (101.5 in my moonroof-equipped car). It's impressive for this group, and it shows. The low center console frees up hip and thigh room yet still packs generous storage space. The front seats afford a high driving position without sacrificing headroom, and the rear seats combine long cushions with legroom and headroom to spare. They recline a few degrees but don't adjust forward or backward.
Cabin quality is another story. Honda delivers on cabin fit, with nary a panel gap or flimsy fixture in my test car. Cabin finish, on the other hand, underwhelms. Cheap silver plastic covers the door handles and various trim sections. The woven headliner doesn't extend to the cut-rate sun visors, and hard plastics adorn the upper doors and entire dash in textures that range from respectable to bargain-bin. Look at the Escape, the CX-5 and the Subaru Forester, and it's clear the class is ahead; Honda needs to catch up.
Ergonomics & Electronics
As technology goes, even the CR-V's most affordable LX version comes well-equipped, with a USB/iPod/Pandora-compatible stereo and Bluetooth phone and audio streaming standard. EX and EX-L models add speakers and stereo wattage; the latter also gets satellite radio. A rear DVD entertainment system is optional on the EX-L.
Most controls fall within easy reach. My tester's dual-zone climate control employed dials rather than buttons, which enables easier temperature adjustments. Optional on the EX-L and included in my tester, the CR-V's navigation system has helpful physical zoom buttons and a map-scrolling joystick, but it ditches the all-important radio-tuning knob found on the non-navigation unit. Its outdated graphics, bizarre routing choices and misanthropic voice-recognition system made quick enemies of my passengers and me, too. Skip it.
Cargo & Storage
The CR-V has 37.2 cubic feet of cargo room behind the rear seats — about even with the RAV4 and a few cubic feet ahead of the Escape (34.3 cubic feet) and Equinox (31.5). Pull a strap in the backseat cushions or a handle in the cargo area and the seats collapse to the floor in a spring-loaded performance of tumbling seat cushions, ducking head restraints and folding seats. The result is 70.9 cubic feet of maximum cargo volume — again, near the RAV4 and ahead of the other two. The act plays out even if you have the front seats all the way back in their tracks. Marvelous.
In moderate-overlap frontal impact, side-impact, roof strength and head restraint and seating crash tests by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the CR-V earned the top score, good. However, the SUV scored marginal in IIHS' small-overlap frontal tests, which simulate hitting a narrow object, like a tree, from the front-left corner. (IIHS scores are good, acceptable, marginal and poor.) In the test, IIHS said the CR-V incurred major intrusion to the passenger compartment; the results barred the SUV from the agency's Top Safety Pick status, which now requires strong results in the small-overlap tests. Read more about it here.
The requisite airbags and electronic stability system are standard, but the CR-V lacks a lot of the advanced safety technology that's proliferated in the class. A backup camera is standard, but blind-spot, forward-collision and lane-departure warning systems are unavailable. Click here to see how child-safety seats fit in the CR-V in our Car Seat Check of a model from 2012, the first year for the current generation. Click here to see a full list of safety features.
Value in Its Class
LX trims start just below $24,000 including destination charge. Given the standard electronics, that's something of a bargain for this class. Move up the trims, and you can get a power driver's seat, heated leather upholstery and a moonroof. On any trim, all-wheel drive runs an affordable $1,250. EX-L models top out over $31,000 — again, below the stratosphere into which many competitors spiral – but lack features like a power liftgate, a power passenger seat, more muscle under the hood and additional safety tech. Many competitors offer one or more of those extras. Does the CR-V's one-size-fits-all packaging leave some shoppers wanting? It doesn't seem like it. Honda's small SUV outsold its entire class in 2013. It's a repeat winner of loyalty awards in its class from industry analysis firm Polk, and it's easy to see why. The fourth generation combines drivability and utility with strong reliability thus far. But for some better crash tests and more safety tech — neither of which may require a full redesign — the CR-V is compelling. If you're shopping this group, it's a must-drive.
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