- Simple and tasteful, inside and out
- Cabin is refined, quiet
- Best seat-folding mechanism
- Styling isn't adventurous
- A bit plasticky inside
- Steering feel lacks proper feedback
The 2014 Honda CR-V isn't exactly sprightly, but it nails efficiency on a few levels and finally brings more features to the family-wagon fight.
It's easy to see why Honda's CR-V has been one of the top compact crossovers in America for most of the past decade. It caters to families with safety features and ratings above par, and ensures its passengers and cargo will all find enough room to coexist peacefully.
Essentially unchanged for the 2014 model year, the CR-V is aimed at buyers who need space, reliability, and safety and put a priority on them over dazzling styling or handling. With the Honda, you get a carefully edited set of trim levels and options, and a single drivetrain, with a choice of front- or all-wheel drive. It makes the shopping process quick and easy, at least.
With the CR-V, which was last fully redesigned for 2012, Honda has one of the best-selling compact crossovers, though its interior volume ventures near mid-size territory. That helps the CR-V deliver on the "utility" part of the title, offering more interior space and hauling capability for people and their possessions than the Civic, even than the Accord. It's the epitome of compact crossover versatility and space efficiency.
The raw space is laid out efficiently, and Honda fits it with the best rear seat-folding arrangement of any vehicle in the segment. And that's combined with impressive back-seat comfort and good ride comfort in general. Open one of the back doors, and with one arm and a simple pull of a strap, in a very fluid motion the lower cushion tumbles forward into the footwell, the headrest angles forward, and the rear seatback flips forward, all tucking nearly behind the front seat, to a completely flat position. Cargo loading is also a snap, as the liftover height is only 23.6 inches. And up front, there's a minivan-like selection of cupholders, cubbies, and cargo trays.
That cleverness doesn't translate to exterior styling, or to performance. The CR-V is fine for a family vehicle, but lacks design pizazz. Its exterior evolved slightly last year, with front and rear styling updated a bit and the front end made noticeably more like that of a car. The cargo floor was lowered a few inches, as was the seating, which opened up more space. Still, the net effect of these inside-out design changes is that the CR-V can appear homely from the outside against stylish, rakish (and space-compromised) entries like the Ford Escape or Kia Sportage.
Unlike earlier Hondas, the CR-V isn't any more rewarding to drive than its competitors--but that doesn't matter. The CR-V isn't about excitement as much as it's the choice of those who want a safe choice and reliable transportation, hold the dazzle. Compared to other vehicles in its class, the CR-V doesn't steer or handle with much verve. It retains a five-speed automatic at a time when most rivals have moved to six speeds, and its engine forgoes direct injection. What you get for performance is smooth and even--just not all that quick. The CR-V isn't the trail vehicle that some of the hardier crossovers like a Subaru Forester or Jeep Patriot are, but its available Real Time all-wheel drive is a good tool set for snow-covered roads, or even mud.
Part of the lackluster performance is due to Honda fitting taller gear ratios to boost fuel economy. Its EPA ratings land at 23 mpg city, 31 highway with front-wheel drive, or 22/30 mpg with all-wheel drive—making it the most-efficient all-wheel- or four-wheel-drive vehicle in this class. Just as in some of Honda's other models, there's a big green 'econ' button on the dash, to engage more frugal parameters for the powertrain and A/C.Safety is another high point for the CR-V. In National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the CR-V has earned five-star results overall, as well as in frontal and side impact testing. It's also earned top 'good' scores in all tests from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and is a Top Safety Pick (although it's missing the top-notch small-overlap score that the Civic sedan achieves). A Multi-Angle Rearview Camera is available and offers three different views (wide, normal, and top) to help you see obstacles (or children).
The CR-V keeps pace with the market in terms of connectivity, and it includes a well-rounded feature set. Inside, the simplified, streamlined center console serves it well, with climate controls just below audio controls, and a small, five-inch ‘i-MID’ trip-computer and audio screen just above it all. But note that if you want extras like a navigation system or satellite radio, you may have to move all the way up to the much more expensive EX-L model. There, you get upgraded interior trims, plus leather upholstery, a ten-way driver’s seat, heated front seats, automatic climate control, heated mirrors, and a higher-power (328-watt) audio system with subwoofer.