New & Used Honda CR-V: In Depth
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The Honda CR-V is a compact crossover SUV with seating for five, and one of the best-selling vehicles in its class.
The CR-V is powered by an efficient four-cylinder engine. Its platform is adapted from the same running gear that underpins today's Honda Civic. With good crash-test scores and reliability, it is a formidable rival for vehicles such as the Ford Escape, Toyota RAV4, Nissan Rogue, and Chevy Equinox.
The current Honda CR-V made its debut in the 2012 model year, and received a thorough update for the 2015 model year. It's essentially unchanged for 2016, except for the addition of a Special Edition model.
MORE: Read our 2016 Honda CR-V review
The new Honda CR-V
The changes made to create the fourth-generation CR-V were more evolutionary than with 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's, and an even better rear-seat mechanism that allows you to fold the seats neatly forward with one hand—without the need for power systems.
The engine was carried over initially, but the five-speed automatic offered in 2012–2014 models received taller ratios, helping the model achieve better gas-mileage ratings, according to the EPA. Overall, the driving experience is nothing to get excited about, and while the CR-V rides well and is reasonably responsive, the new electric power steering system here fails to give the crisp, confident-handling feel the model had in the last generation.
Honda has updated the CR-V's connectivity in the most-current generation. Bluetooth hands-free connectivity and Bluetooth streaming audio are at least standard across the entire model line, Pandora streaming is integrated with the system (if you have the right smartphone), and a new multi-information display can show personal pictures as well as the feed from a new rearview camera system.
The CR-V received an extensive upgrade for 2015. Styling is tweaked, and there's a new four-cylinder engine mated to a continuously variable transmission (CVT) borrowed from the Accord that replaces the 5-speed automatic. The result is improved fuel economy and slightly better acceleration. The front end has a much more modern, upscale look, while the rest of the exterior received some other small touches. Honda also gave the interior a once-over, improving materials and modifying the layout slightly.
The latest CR-V retained its five-star rating from the NHTSA and kept its Top Safety Pick+ status from the IIHS, including "Superior" marks for front crash prevention when equipped with optional features.
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 and Jeep Wrangler into more of a family-oriented people-mover. It has seen great success with that transition, helping to kick-start the small crossover segment that continues to grow.
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. It was equipped with a four-cylinder engine then, like it has now. 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 selling point for the CR-V. In a mid-cycle refresh for 2005, Honda increased the CR-V's safety content, making side airbags and anti-lock brakes standard across the line, which improved that model's IIHS side-impact results from a mediocre "Marginal" to the top "Good" result. The CR-V's scores in federal government crash tests have generally been good.
For 2007, Honda completely redesigned the CR-V again, with that generation quite a bit more passenger-focused than the previous generation. That redesign gave it an interior feel that was more like that of a tall wagon or—gasp—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.