For every model redesign, there is an expectation that the new version has naturally inherited the best traits of the previous generations while also continuing to push the design forward into the next era. It’s a simple formula in concept, however, it is not always easy to pull-off.
Older generations of the CR-V featured clever design details, spacious cabins, and were engaging to drive and that’s very much how one can describe this generation as well. However, now the CR-V design’s later years, it feels a step behind its rivals’ premium feel yet it can’t be beaten when it comes to ultimate utility and driver engagement.
Design that Impresses but Doesn’t Inspire
The overall shape of the best-selling Honda is instantly recognizable with its visually-heavy rear-end, high-positioned taillights, and a steeply sloped windshield, however, the front-end has morphed into something that’s too busy and gives the impression that the latest styling trends have simply been slapped on.
Case in point is the front bumper’s chrome strip which visually lowers and widens the front end feels misaligned with the body sides’ lower molding designs while simultaneously removing any notion of trail activity. Simply put, the CR-V is easier to appreciate when looking closer at the details.
The shapely high-positioned taillights feature crisp LED lighting while the interior features handsome matte-finished wood trim that is contrasted by a high-gloss black trim that stretches across the dashboard for a premium touch.
It may lack the styling verve of the Toyota RAV-4, however, the CR-V demonstrates many examples of clever engineering and excellent fit and finish. The center console is amazingly adaptable, the controls have a high high-quality feel and are logically arranged for easy one-glance operation, and the perforated leather seats are comfortably shaped for long drives.
But where the CR-V truly succeeds is in its ability to haul stuff. The interior feels far larger than even what the exterior suggests. The second-row seats slide, recline, and fold flat while the rear cargo shelf can be positioned for either a flat loading floor or a step lower to take full advantage of the available space. The low loading height makes it easy to swing bags into the cargo area instead of having to lift them up and over the bumper.
Strong Power but Feels Disconnected
Where Honda’s engaging driving experience has typically been matched with a direct-response relationship with its powertrain, the CR-V’s relatively small 1.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder feels a little over-whelmed when accelerating from a stop and the continuously variable transmission allows the engine to rev noisily until underway.
Once above ~15 mph, the CVT’s real skills are put on display and it enables strong acceleration without the need to hold the engine at high rev’s. During my time of mixed driving in fairly light traffic, the CR-V returned 28 mpg which seems good, considering the vehicle size, available power, and the always-at-the-ready all-wheel-drive system.
Ride and Handling
The CR-V is an amazingly easy car to drive once underway. The ride is a bit more firm than in the RAV-4 but body motions around curves is more controlled. The steering is nicely ratioed and clearly communicates the road surface below while the real treat is the way in which the lane keep assist system applies weight to the steering wheel without feeling overtly in charge. The brakes feel naturally progressive, are easy to modulate, and have good power when called upon. One of my favorite features is the brake hold system which frees one’s foot from having to maintain pressure on the brake pedal.
The mid-size crossover segment is one of the most competitive sets in the industry and while the CR-V nails the practical aspects – spacious, efficient, flexible – as it always has, it now feels a step behind the others in areas that are more difficult to measure such as premium feel and modern design.