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2017 Honda CR-V improves on the standard bearer for crossovers

The latest Honda CR-V redesign takes the best-selling crossover in America and improves on every attribute. 

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    The 2017 Honda CR-V, in Detroit. America's family car is no longer the Toyota Camry or some other midsize car. It's the Honda CR-V, a compact SUV, that's getting its first overhaul since 2012.
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Coming soon to just about every driveway on your block is the crossover you see here: Honda’s latest CR-V.

Yup, this latest redesign for the 2017 model year is that good. It takes what made the last CR-V the best-selling crossover in America and improves on every attribute. There’s more room inside for you, your loved ones, and your cargo. Advanced safety tech is standard on almost every model. Underhood sits a new engine with more power that manages to use less fuel.

For the way most people use their cars now, the 2017 Honda CR-V represents the best compact crossover value on dealer lots today. We’ll eat our words if we’re wrong.

Reinterpreting the CR-V

First, let’s have a look at what’s new. The compact crossover grows an inch and a half, give or take, in every nearly dimension—width, length, and wheelbase. Stretching 180.6 inches from bumper to bumper, the CR-V remains on the small end against its rivals like the Nissan Rogue, Subaru Forester, Ford Escape, and Toyota RAV4, but what’s perhaps most remarkable is that it’s only about 2 inches longer than the original CR-V.

Yet Honda has managed to squeeze out more interior room, especially in the crossover’s cargo area. With the second row folded, there’s more than 5 feet of flat cargo length; the entire cargo section stretches 10 inches longer than before. Yet Honda hasn’t cut into passenger space, which remains stellar for four or even five in a pinch.

Under the CR-V’s hood sits a choice of two engines. Base LX models carry over last year’s perfectly adequate 2.4-liter inline-4, rated at 184 horsepower and 180 pound-feet of torque. Opt for any other trim level (EX, EX-L, or Touring) as Honda expects three out of four shoppers will do and there’s a 1.5-liter turbocharged inline-4 rated at 190 hp and 170 pound-feet. That’s not a big improvement on paper, but the torque peaks at a fairly low 2,000 rpm. Honda claims that the turbo motor shaves about 1.5 seconds off of the CR-V’s 0-60 mph sprint.

Like the outgoing CR-V, the latest model uses of a CVT that can send power to the front or all four wheels. With the turbo, fuel economy is as high as 28 mpg city, 34 highway, 30 combined, according to the EPA's test. All-wheel-drive turbo CR-Vs come in at 27/33/29 mpg. The non-turbo model isn't as impressive, but it only loses a couple of mpg in each category. 

More than half of all buyers likely will select all-wheel drive, which Honda says can now send more torque rearward when needed. That's a reaction to criticism about the responsiveness of the outgoing model’s system.

Underneath the CR-V's more sculpted exterior sits fluid-filled suspension bushings and a floating rear subframe designed to better isolate the outside world. The crossover’s steering has been retuned to significantly reduce the number of turns lock-to-lock (from 3.1 to 2.3), and larger brake discs with an electric booster improve stopping performance.

But don’t think of the CR-V as a sporty crossover; that portion of the segment has largely been ceded to the Mazda CX-5 and the Subaru Forester XT. Instead, the CR-V shoots right for the heart of the market.

We put a range-topping CR-V Touring all-wheel drive through its paces around Santa Cruz, California, where the roads are delightfully curvy—but not exactly paved with precision. The CR-V’s structure is stiffer, which allows for its suspension to be tuned softer without descending into the pitfalls of slop. MacPherson struts up front and a multi-link setup out back aren’t exactly ground-breaking, yet they worked well to filter out road imperfections on some especially pockmarked pavement we encountered. The CR-V rides softly without tossing heads from side to side on a winding road; in our eyes, it strikes a better balance than even the entertaining CX-5, which will be new this year too.

Where comfort counts

Then again, more shoppers will likely be swayed by the comfort, interior flexibility, outward visibility, and roster of safety equipment available in the CR-V. Sure, it’s more refined than ever before, but this segment is about practicalities—and that’s where the CR-V really pulls ahead.

Front seat passengers are treated to chair-like thrones and a wide view out thanks to narrow roof pillars and a dashboard that’s a little lower than in the outgoing model. Controls are placed high for an easy reach, and Honda continues its quirky tradition of including digital gauges that are easy to see, but look a little childish. EX trim levels and above feature the company’s 7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system, which has been updated over previous Hondas thanks to the addition of a volume knob (reason enough to trade in your 2016 CR-V). The interface is simple enough to sort through, but we noticed some lagging as the processor thought through our taps to activate the Garmin-style navigation screen.

The second row delivers terrific space for outboard passengers and the cargo area is tall enough to store a bicycle upright with the front wheel removed—something few competitors can claim. An especially low load floor also helps matters. Honda doesn't put a third row in the CR-V, but the second row seatbacks fold in a single motion at the pull of a small handle.

Honda significantly upgraded the CR-V’s interior materials, too, although the only model we’ve seen so far is the range-topping Touring. Its leather trim felt appropriate and soft-touch trim lines its dashboard and door panels. Even the fake wood trim looks bucks-up, and that says something.

Packaged right

Our time was spent entirely in the range-topping Touring, which comes in at around $34,500 with all-wheel drive. At the opposite end of the spectrum sits the front-wheel drive LX at about $25,000. For that money, Honda includes 17-inch alloy wheels, automatic climate control, cruise control, a rearview camera, and Bluetooth streaming audio capability.

The EX is high value and will likely be the volume model at about $27,500 (front-wheel drive)—it adds the turbocharged engine, 18-inch wheels, heated front seats, a moonroof, a 7.0-inch infotainment system with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, a proximity key, a power driver’s seat, and a host of safety tech like automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, and a system that nudges the CR-V back into its lane if it begins to drift. Add in all-wheel drive, which runs $1,300 on any trim level, and you’re under $29,000.

That trim level undercuts equivalent rivals from Toyota, Mazda, and Ford, although the Subaru Forester 2.5i Premium is priced about the same. 

Opting for the EX-L raises those prices by $2,500 but brings leather trim, a power tailgate, a power passenger seat, memory for the driver’s seat, and SiriusXM satellite radio, with the option of navigation for another $1,000. The Touring that we photographed has LED headlamps, automatic windshield wipers, some styling touches, 330-watts of audio, and a tailgate that opens automatically with a kick under the rear bumper.

Spending more time behind the wheel of the 2017 CR-V may reveal more negatives, but as it stands this crossover has elevated expectations for its segment so high that it’ll be hard to recommend anything else. Sure, a dose of driving fun might help it, but with such a flexible and comfortable interior, plus improved performance, the CR-V should remain the segment’s leader—and our go-to crossover recommendation.

In the twisties, the CR-V’s faster steering responds accurately, but feedback is dull and lifeless. There’s little here to stoke an enthusiast’s passion, but that’s not the CR-V’s mission in life. Instead, it’s commendable for its composure even with the wick turned up a bit.

So far, Honda hasn’t let us sample the CR-V LX with its carried-over powertrain, but unless you’re on a firm budget, the turbo engine is probably going to be the way to go. The CVT does a decent job of keeping things in line, albeit with some hesitation immediately off the line and an uncouth growl near redline. The CVT keeps the engine within its power band during more aggressive driving, and its response is almost instantaneous. We haven’t had the opportunity to really measure fuel economy, but a reset of the on-board trip computer for a 30 mile stretch of highway driving resulted in an indicated 35 mpg.

The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best auto bloggers out there. Our guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. To contact us about a blogger, click here. To add or view a comment on a guest blog, please go to the blogger's own site by clicking on the link in the blog description box above.

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