New & Used Honda CR-V: In Depth
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The Honda CR-V is a five-passenger, compact crossover utility vehicle--and one of the top sellers in its niche. Powered by a four-cylinder engine alone, the current CR-V has good crash-test scores and reliability, making it a formidable rival for vehicles like the Ford Escape, Toyota RAV4, Nissan Rogue, and Chevy Equinox.
Adapted from the same running gear that underpins today's Honda Civic, the current CR-V was new in 2012 and received a thorough update for the 2015 model year.
MORE: Read our 2014 Honda CR-V review
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, and an even better rear-seat mechanism that allows you to fold the seats neatly forward with one arm--without the need for power systems.
The engine was carried over, but the five-speed automatic got 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.
Before its mid-cycle update, the latest CR-V achieved a five-star rating from the NHTSA, but 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.
The CR-V gets an extensive upgrade for 2015. Styling is updated, and there's a new four-cylinder Earth Dreams engine mated to a continuously variable transmission (CVT) borrowed from the Accord that replaces the five-sped automatic. The result is improved fuel economy and slightly better acceleration. The front end in particular has a much more modern, upscale look, while the rest of the exterior gets some other small touches. Honda also gave the interior a once-over, improving materials and modifying the layout slightly.
The new model has already been retested by the IIHS, earning the Top Safety Pick+ award for 2015 thanks to its top 'Good' scores across all categories, including the relatively new front small overlap test that it had trouble in before. Honda apparently made changes to the structure under the skin as part of the 2015 update. At the same time, however, its score in NHTSA testing dropped to four stars overall, with a four-star rating in front crash compared to the previous five.
Honda CR-V history
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, 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, which increased 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 is the externally mounted spare wheel and tire; for the 2007 redesign, Honda finally relocated the spare from its perch on the hatch. In the same generation, the interior design became more advanced and well-appointed.