In CR-V, an SUV with crossover aspirations

Honda's redesigned 'cute-ute' earns plaudits for its populist appeal and fuel economy.

Some sweet, roomy rides have cycled through our garage lately, including a refined, tech-happy Volvo S80 and an Infiniti G35 S – two champs in the throttle-response department.

Still, when Honda's updated CR-V rolled up, it won the rights to this space with its pure populist appeal. Its redesign – bow-shaped window line, stowed-below spare, top-hinged rear door – moves CR-V (now 10 years old) closer to its car-based, crossover reality and away from cute-ute, small-SUV status. Leave the lockbox look to Hummer.

CR-V's powerplant: a VTECH 2.4-liter inline four-cylinder that makes 166 h.p. (up 10 from last year) and 161 lbs-per-ft. of torque at 4,200 r.p.m. That makes CR-V just sprightly enough (no whining, V6 fans), mated to a five-speed automatic. We did wish for a stick.

Handling is carlike. Rear seats have multiple fold-down configurations. Safety features are plentiful at all trim levels; front and side-curtain airbags, ABS, stability control, brake assist, tire-pressure monitoring. A two-wheel-drive version is base-priced at about $21,000; add $8,000 for the works, including navigation.

Big reason CR-V beat those hot sedans for our attention: Our mid-level, all-wheel-drive tester scored about 27 m.p.g. when driven to conserve – off peak and mostly on the highway. Populist, indeed.

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