New & Used Honda CR-V: In Depth
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The Honda CR-V is one of the best-selling compact crossovers on the market. A rival for the Toyota RAV4, Ford Escape, Nissan Rogue, and Chevy Equinox, the CR-V seats five and is powered by a four-cylinder engine, teamed to an automatic transmission and available with front- or all-wheel drive.
Sitting on underpinnings adapted from Honda's Civic, the current fourth-generation CR-V was new in 2012.
MORE: Read our 2014 Honda CR-V review
During its three prior generations, the CR-V evolved from a softer—but still very basic—alternative to truckier vehicles like the Suzuki Sidekick or Jeep Wrangler into more of a family-oriented people-mover.
The first CR-V (1997-2001) was like other early crossovers, a more plain-looking vehicle that bore a strong resemblance to the old Honda Wagovan. Equipped with a four-cylinder, the CR-V quickly earned a following for its great visibility and durability, if not necessarily for its visual appeal.
The second-generation CR-V, sold from 2002 on, was a significant improvement in nearly every way—much more refined, responsive, and comfortable. These models all have a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, making about 160 hp, with most of them hooked up to a four- or five-speed automatic transmission (a five-speed manual was also offered).
Safety has generally been a plus for the CR-V. In a mid-cycle refresh for 2005, Honda increased safety content, making side airbags and anti-lock brakes standard across the line, increasing that CR-V's IIHS side-impact results from a mediocre 'marginal' to the top 'good' result. The CR-V's results in federal government crash tests have been excellent.
For 2007, Honda completely redesigned the CR-V again, with this generation quite a bit more passenger-focused than the previous generation--giving it an interior feel that's more like that of a tall wagon or, gasp (to some), a minivan. One odd attribute of the first- and second-generation CR-V models it the externally mounted spare wheel and tire; for the 2007 redesign, Honda did finally move it away from the rear hatch. The interior design became more advanced and well-appointed.
The fourth-generation CR-V introduced in the 2012 model year is more evolutionary than previous generations, at least on the outside. Inside it feels a bit different, with upgraded materials and trims, along with an instrument panel that's in line with the latest Odyssey van, plus an even better rear-seat folding mechanism that allows you to fold the seats neatly forward with one arm--without the need for power systems.
The engine is carried over, but the five-speed automatic gets taller ratios, as well as better EPA gas-mileage ratings. Overall, the driving experience is nothing to get excited about, and while it rides well and is reasonably responsive, the new electric power steering system here fails to give the crisp, confident-handling feel it had in the last generation.
The latest CR-V achieved a five-star rating from the NHTSA, but has lost its former Top Safety Pick status from the IIHS over a low score in that agency's newest crash test.
Honda has updated the CR-V's connectivity in this generation. Bluetooth hands-free connectivity and Bluetooth streaming audio are at last standard across the entire model line, Pandora streaming is integrated with the system (if you have the right smartphone), and a new i-MID display can show personal pictures and is attached to a new Multi-Angle Rearview Camera system.
An updated CR-V is due for the 2015 model year; it's expected to adopt a continuously variable transmission (CVT) in the quest for better gas mileage.