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2017 Honda CR-V Test Drive Review
With its redesigned 2017 CR-V, has Honda built the perfect compact crossover SUV? The answer, essentially, is yes.
Nobody wants to hear that their baby is ugly, which is why social norms require everyone to coo, and babble, and exclaim to new parents just how adorable their little bundle of joy is, even if he or she isn’t. Automotive engineers and designers don’t like for their “babies” to be called ugly, either, but the role of a credible automotive journalist is to poke and prod and uncover the sometimes messy truth behind the marketing and PR spin, to try and determine whether a pig lurks beneath the makeup. In the case of the redesigned 2017 Honda CR-V, there is no pig, nor a hint of a messy truth. This is a vehicle of substance and unconventional beauty, and you should buy one. Case closed.
Look and Feel
As you have no doubt noticed, Americans love small crossover SUVs. They are affordable, they are practical, they are efficient, and they offer optional all-wheel-drive (AWD) for when the weather is frightful instead of delightful.
Among them, the Honda CR-V is the overwhelming favorite in the segment, and for good reason. In addition to meeting these small crossover hallmark characteristics, CR-Vs are reliable and safe, and they hold their value well over time.
Honda’s 2017 CR-V will undoubtedly continue providing its owners everything they’ve come to expect, and thanks to a complete redesign it delivers even more. In my opinion, this is the new benchmark in the segment.
Four versions of the new CR-V are available, and the base LX starts at just under $25,000. Moving up from there, you’ve got the EX, the leather-equipped EX-L, and the top-of-the-line Touring. All three of these more expensive CR-Vs come with a turbocharged 4-cylinder engine and slightly psychedelic 18-inch aluminum wheels.
My test vehicle is the CR-V Touring equipped with optional AWD. It's painted Obsidian Blue, and it has gray leather seats. Its price is $34,635. That sounds expensive, but that is perfectly aligned with the average transaction price of a new car in 2016.
Styling has never been a CR-V strong suit, but Honda makes a valiant attempt at making the redesigned CR-V as attractive to the right hemisphere of your brain as it is to the left.
Front styling remains somewhat awkward, with the lower half of the grille appearing unfinished while silver trim draws attention to its low-hanging chin. Otherwise, Honda mixes traditional CR-V cues with modern sculpturing, and the rear end is particularly attractive, looking like nothing else on the road…and in a good way. Dual exhaust outlets even lend this SUV a hint of sex appeal, and while they wouldn’t be my first choice, even the trippy aluminum wheel design adds positive character.
Inside, the CR-V Touring easily passes for premium, and some people might consider it to be legitimately luxurious. The cabin exudes refinement and attention to detail, and while there is plenty of plastic covering various surfaces, it is of a substantial quality. Sincerely, it is hard to see how Acura is going to improve upon this when the RDX adopts the CR-V’s new platform and architecture.
The most affordable version of the CR-V has a 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine making 184 horsepower and 180 lb-ft of torque. All other trim levels get a turbocharged 1.5-liter 4-cylinder engine good for 190 horsepower and 179 lb-ft of torque.
Now, you might scratch your head and wonder what the point of this strategy is if the two engines essentially make about the same power. The difference is that the turbocharged engine delivers its power at lower revs and across a broader portion of the rev range, all while providing better fuel economy. Plus, as people who live at higher elevations can attest, turbocharged engines perform better in thinner atmosphere. So, win, win, win, and win.
A continuously variable transmission (CVT) powers the front wheels, unless you spend the extra $1,300 for the AWD system.
As far as performance is concerned, the new CR-V is sprightly. When you mash down on the gas pedal, like when making a risky left turn across traffic or when trying to squirt into a fast-moving flow, you’re going to notice some turbo lag. Also, when you’re accelerating at full throttle, the CVT drones a bit, despite the fact that Honda has programmed different ratios that are supposed to mimic the sound and feel of a traditional automatic. Otherwise, this is a satisfying powertrain.
Prepare for disappointment with regard to fuel economy, though. I got 26.1 miles per gallon on my test loop, and the EPA thinks a CR-V with AWD should get 29 mpg in combined driving.
As is true of most any Honda, the new CR-V is enjoyable to drive from a ride and handling standpoint. In fact, it handles corners and curves well enough that you might forget you’re driving an SUV. The ride quality is never too stiff, and at the same time the handling is never too sloppy. It is as though Honda waves a magic wand over the CR-V in order to perfect suspension tuning, though the reality is that it takes plenty of talent and attention to detail.
Beautifully weighted no matter the speed you’re traveling, the variable-ratio electric steering isn’t necessarily fast, but it is dead-on accurate. Honda does a good job with the braking system, too, though local weather wasn’t warm enough to test the brakes' stamina in the mountains. Stab the brake pedal suddenly, and it feels a little mushy, but it's otherwise easy to modulate for swift, smooth, predictable stops.
Speaking of the brakes, the CR-V is equipped with a new Brake Hold feature, which holds the SUV still when you’re waiting for a traffic light to change. The benefit is that you need not continuously press the brake pedal, though I frankly have never found this requirement to be a chore in the first place.
Also, when you get into the CR-V, choose Reverse gear, and first attempt to back up, the electronic emergency brake will supply momentary resistance before automatically releasing. This encourages an extra check of the reversing camera's display to make sure nobody is behind the vehicle.
Form and Function
When you get into a new CR-V, especially when it's decked out in Touring trim, the quality of the materials and the level of refinement are immediately noticeable. Honda has paid close attention to the details here, and the result is a cabin that comes across as upscale, almost luxurious.
While the interior’s control layout is similar to the outgoing CR-V's, there are a couple of important changes worth noting.
First, Honda has added a Volume knob to its infotainment system. That’s terrific. Now, if I could just get a matching Tuning knob.
Second, Honda has dropped LaneWatch from the CR-V, replacing it with a proper blind-spot warning system that works on both sides of the vehicle and also powers the handy new rear cross-traffic alert system.
Third, Honda has adopted digital instrumentation flanked by information bars that I find difficult to reference at a glance. But maybe that’s just me. In any case, I’d rather have the traditional gauges that were used in the previous CR-V.
Overall, though, the new CR-V’s control layout and infotainment system are easy to use. You can get into this new Honda, figure out how everything works without cracking open the owner’s manual, and get on the road.
When I’m sitting in the CR-V Touring’s driver’s seat, I’m a happy guy. It provides 12-way power adjustment, plenty of thigh support, and a perfect driving position. Add soft material on the upper door panel, a steering wheel that is a pleasure to grip, and a sliding center-console armrest with just enough padding, and the CR-V is quite comfortable. All that’s missing is a seat ventilation system for hot summer days.
Front-seat passengers might complain about the lack of a seat-height adjuster, but in my opinion the seat sits high enough off the floor. Plus, it provides the same soft, soothing, yet supportive comfort as the driver’s seat.
The rear seat is roomy, with lots of legroom and space for feet. A flat floor makes it easier to carry three people across, and if you’ve got a trio of kids, the CR-V can easily handle that assignment.
Cargo space is downright generous, and its numbers put the CR-V solidly into midsize SUV territory. You can cram 39.2 cubic feet of stuff in behind the rear seat, and if you fold those down, the CR-V can swallow 75.8 cubic feet of cargo. Note that the load floor is low and the cargo cover is high, providing maximum out-of-sight volume.
The interior is loaded with storage spots, too, from the huge glove box to this excellent center console with its multitude of trays, holders, and bins.
As far as the interior design and layout are concerned, Honda has hit a home run with the new CR-V.
Standard for all CR-V models except the LX trims, Honda’s latest HondaLink touchscreen infotainment system sits prominently upon the SUV’s dashboard. As mentioned previously, it now includes a Volume knob, which means it's halfway to making the driver’s life easier. All that remains missing is a Tuning knob.
Flush-mounted and nestled within a wide panel that makes the 7-inch electrostatic touchscreen display appear larger, HondaLink includes Bluetooth calling and music streaming, smartphone projection technology in the form of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and text-messaging support.
Four smartphone apps are available to access various connected services, including an extra-cost navigation app, and the system provides access to Pandora and Aha Internet radio, Siri Eyes Free capability, and an automatic collision-notification system called HondaLink Assist. Upgrades include an embedded navigation system and a 320-watt premium sound system.
Where HondaLink requires improvement is with regard to safe driving technologies, especially those aimed at households with teenage drivers. No matter how much money you have to spend, you cannot obtain the ability to program vehicle speed limits or alerts, to find the vehicle from a remote location, to identify when the vehicle has been away from home beyond a certain time or past a specific geographic boundary, or to get a report on how the CR-V was driven while in the hands of your precious offspring.
The system itself is easy and intuitive to use, supplies pleasing graphics and speedy response to inputs, and the screen resists the collection of fingerprints better than many. Still, it would be nice to have a Tuning knob.
Once you’re on the road, the Honda Sensing suite of driver-assistance systems is ready to help make the journey easier and safer. It's standard on all CR-Vs except for the base LX trims.
I found the adaptive cruise control to work well, maintaining proper distances and bringing the CR-V to a full halt in conjunction with the car ahead. A simple press of the Resume button on the steering wheel tells the CR-V to accelerate when the traffic light turns green and the way forward is clear.
The forward-collision warning system, when set to medium sensitivity, is a little overactive, especially in traffic, but that’s easy enough to resolve by changing the setting.
I absolutely love the new blind-spot warning system, and the reversing camera with multiple camera angles and rear cross-traffic alert is quite helpful. This is a superior solution to the previous LaneWatch camera, which worked for only the right side of the SUV and did not equip the CR-V with cross-traffic alerts.
During my driving loop, the lane-departure warning system provided just one false warning when it apparently mistook a wide seam in the pavement as a lane marking. I also like Honda’s subtle approach to lane-departure warning, a steering-wheel wobble to signal that paying more attention to the road is a good idea.
Road Departure Mitigation is also part of Honda Sensing, designed to try to prevent an unintended departure from the pavement. I did not test this particular feature, though I have experienced this technology in other Honda models. A Driver Attention Monitor is also included in EX, EX-L, and Touring trims.
As far as crash-test ratings are concerned, neither the federal government nor the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety had tested the redesigned CR-V as this review is published. However, the new CR-V employs the latest version of Honda’s Advanced Compatibility Engineering body structure, and usually the company improves its safety ratings with each vehicle redesign.
Given the Honda CR-V’s impressive practicality, long history of providing reliability, affordable pricing structure, reputation for holding its value, and decent real-world fuel economy, it virtually guarantees cost-effective transportation for years to come. In fact, the new CR-V is so good that I feel like I’m desperately grasping at straws of criticism seeking ways to temper my enthusiasm for it.
For example, with regard to value, the warranty and roadside-assistance plans aren’t particularly robust. I’m also not a fan of the front bumper design. There’s a little more lag and drone in the drivetrain than I’d like. The radio needs a Tuning knob. It could use a front passenger’s seat height adjuster. I don’t think the fuel gauge is easy to read. The warranty isn’t very long.
Talk about a whining little baby of a car critic.
Honestly, I have just two substantial criticisms of the new CR-V. First, my test vehicle didn’t get anywhere near the fuel economy the EPA says it should. Second, HondaLink needs to expand in terms of the depth and breadth of its subscription services, especially in comparison to what General Motors offers.
Otherwise, the new 2017 Honda CR-V is just about perfect.
Christian Wardlaw has nearly two decades of experience reviewing cars, and has served in editorial leadership roles with Edmunds, Autobytel, and J.D. Power and Associates. Chris prefers to focus on the cars people actually buy rather than the cars about which people dream, and emphasizes the importance of fuel economy and safety as much as how much fun a car is to drive. Chris is married to an automotive journalist, is the father of four daughters, and lives in Southern California.
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