Review and photos by
Chris Chase, Autos.ca
When it comes to crossover vehicles, the compact category is where most of the action is, with just about every carmaker fielding an entry in order to grab a piece of this very popular pie.
The Honda CR-V, despite the polarizing styling it gained in its last redesign (2007), has remained a heavy hitter in a class where a number of up-and-comers – I’m thinking of the Kia Sportage and Hyundai Tucson, specifically – have easily upstaged it in appearance, but still can’t touch Honda in sales numbers.
For 2011, the CR-V carries on unchanged, using a 2.4-litre, four-cylinder engine and five-speed automatic transmission, and with either front- or all-wheel drive, depending on trim: the base LX and mid-level EX start as front-drivers that can be optioned to all-wheelers, and the top-line EX-L is all-wheel drive only. There are no options for the engine or transmission.
The CR-V got a mid-cycle refresh for 2010, which brought styling updates and a horsepower boost. The changes to the car’s appearance didn’t make much difference, but the extra power did: this CR-V, with its 180 horses, felt quicker than the last one I drove, a 2008 with its pre-refresh, 166-hp motor. All the extra power comes at high revs, and the 161 lb-ft torque rating was untouched by the engineers’ massaging in 2010, so to get the extra punch, you have to be in a hurry and wind the engine out.
Doing that’s not a hardship thanks to a motor that revs smoothly; the transmission is an easy target for being a gear down compared to the transmissions in many newer competitors, but it works well, bringing crisp shifts and reacting promptly to the loud pedal if passing power is called for.
Honda reserves its best all-wheel drive tech for its high-end Acura line, leaving the CR-V – among others – to make do with a slip-and-grip (it runs in front-wheel drive until they slip, and some power is routed rearward) system that’ll get you through bad weather, but isn’t as effective as a full-time all-wheel drive setup. A Subaru Forester in 2.5XT Limited trim brings similar convenience features as my CR-V EX-L tester, plus a more powerful engine and a better all-wheel drive system for about the same money. If the Honda is a good buy simply for the badge on its grille, the Subaru is a better value, to my eyes, for shoppers working on a features-per-dollar basis.
At the pumps, the CR-V with all-wheel drive is rated 10.1/7.5 L/100 km (city/highway); my tester returned 12.2 L/100 km in cold conditions and mostly city driving.
Honda tunes the ride firm here, but it’s comfortable so long as the roads aren’t terrible; rough pavement turns things harsh in a hurry. On the plus side, the CR-V handles well for what it is, with the decent steering and braking feel shared with other Honda models.
In CR-V speak, the EX-L model is top of the line; this is how my tester came, along with navigation, the only option available with this trim. So-equipped, the CR-V is a nice vehicle, with leather seats, heat for the front chairs, automatic dual-zone climate control, a six-CD stereo, steering wheel-mounted audio controls, satellite radio, power sunroof, eight-way power driver’s seat, chrome exterior trim and body-coloured door handles. A couple of quibbles, though: I wonder how many drivers actually use CD changers in cars anymore, what with just about everyone owning a portable music player, which can be connected via USB to many car stereos; and while navigation can obviously be handy, I don’t like Honda’s interface. The hard buttons lined up on either side of the screen are too small, as is the volume control knob. The rest of the dash is typical Honda: simple, streamlined and easy to figure out.
Space is the case for those inside the CR-V. There’s generous headroom front and rear, and rear-seat legroom is very good. I’d like to see Honda try to adapt its Fit’s trick folding rear seat into the CR-V. It would be quite a challenge, with the all-wheel drive equipment that lives under the centre console and cargo area. As it is now, the rear seat folds, but nowhere near flat; for a wrinkle-free load floor, you have to flip the folded rear seat forward against the fronts, which doesn’t take full advantage of what is otherwise a roomy cargo area. The bottom edge of the tailgate forms part of the contour of the back bumper, which makes for a low load-in height for heavy cargo, and the tailgate is easy to close with one hand. Less of a plus is how the exterior handle, mounted low on the door, gets easily covered in messy, wintry road grime.
Admission to the CR-V’s show is $26,290 for the LX front-wheel drive model. At the other end of the spectrum is the EX-L Navi I drove, which prices out at $35,590, plus freight.
Honda plays the middle ground in most ways with the CR-V, catering to mainstream crossover buyers who believe that bland is beautiful. And while it’s worthy of consideration in this class, there are a number of vehicles that bring something nifty to the segment, whether it’s the Forester’s sophisticated all-wheel drive system, or the Chevy Equinox/GMC Terrain’s huge interior, for examples. Don’t discount this Honda, but don’t assume it’s the best in the class just because of the name it wears.
Pricing: 2011 Honda CR-V EX-L Navi
Base price: $35,590
A/C tax: $100
Price as tested: $37,280
Crash test results