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Honda CR-V does well in a crowded market

July 30, 2004|by DAN LYONS/Motor Matters

In the world of SUVs, the compact class is where you find the most diversity. There's everything from hard-core, rock-scrabbling 4x4s, to station wagons with plastic body cladding. One of the more popular members of this class is Honda's CR-V. Here, the accent is on "Utility."

CR-V is offered in LX and EX trim levels. The base LX is front-wheel drive, but Honda's Real Time 4-Wheel drive system is available in either LX or EX models. Real Time is all-wheel drive some of the time, front-wheel drive most of the time. Basically, a CR-V with AWD only pushes power to the rear wheels when needed to maintain optimal traction. The system works invisibly, requiring no input from the driver. The benefit of

an on-demand AWD system like this is that it provides a grip when needed, and when not required, it saves the driver the cost of hauling a traditional, dual-range, 4x4 chassis.

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The CR-V isn't meant for serious trailblazing, but light off-road is well within its capabilities. More to the point for most buyers, all-wheel drive works in all weather conditions. The added traction and low center of gravity (compared to big SUVs) make the Honda a reassuring driver on sloppy streets, and helps explain its popularity in snow belt states.

Snow or sun, CR-V is just plain practical. Swing the side-hinged rear gate open and you reveal a cargo hold with a generous, 33.5 cubic feet of capacity. It's expandable to a pack-rat approved 72 cubic feet when folding down the split rear seat. That's enough space to hold a pair of mountain bikes inside, without removing the wheels. The door opening is wide and the lift-over height in back is comfortably low. The rear window also opens independent of the door, as a swing-up hatch.

A popular feature that carried over from the last generation CR-V is a multi-tasking cargo floor. It can be removed easily to double as a picnic table with folding legs. In all, CR-V's cargo bay is a big space in a small place, and the only knock is the right swinging rear door. If you park curb-side, a left-hinged door would be more useful, allowing you to load/unload with less walk-around and requiring less clearance behind, when parking is tight.

Good for gear, good for people, CR-V has adult-sized room in both front and back rows. The rear space is particularly impressive for this class of vehicle. The 60/40 split seats have about 6-inch travel fore and aft, and they recline, too. Head and leg room are first-rate. As impressive as row two is, the front buckets don't take a back seat to the back seat.

Aisle one accommodates most any size passenger. There are loads of cubbyholes scattered about the cabin, and an ingenious, swing-down center console between the seats. Controls are a mixture of the curious and the conventional. Among the latter, the HVAC operates with a trio of rheostats - easy to reach and use. Among the former is a parking brake that masquerades as a support strut for the dashboard and, on automatic-equipped models, a gear selector that extends almost perpendicular to the dashboard. They're unusual, but they work. Driver visibility is good all around, though like most SUVs and wagons, your straight back view is over a trio of headrests. Popping them out when no one is sitting in back improves your look back.

CR-V has but one engine and it's hard to argue the point as it seems ideally suited to the vehicle. The 2.4-liter four-cylinder makes 160 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 162 lbs.-ft. of torque at 3,600 rpm. It's responsive and respectably frugal as well. An all-wheel-drive model with manual transmission returns 21 miles per gallon city and 25 mpg highway, according to EPA. Automatic equipped CR-V's are slightly better, at an estimated 22/26 mpg.

I've driven both stick and automatic and the engine works quite well with both, so it's strictly a matter of personal preference. On the road, CR-V is quiet and comfortable, and its "right-size" dimensions make it easy to grab a city parking space or thread your way through highway traffic.

The nicely equipped EX with all-wheel drive is $22,210, including destination. Well built and relentlessly logical, the CR-V demands a spot on the short list of anyone shopping for a compact class SUV.

Copyright Motor Matters, 2004

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