Background: Sport utility vehicle popularity is booming in every shape and form. With the introduction this year of Honda's all-new CR-V, the fine line between some sport utilities and station wagon gets even more blurred. The CR-V abbreviation stands for "Comfort Recreational Vehicle." Honda's intriguing five-seat CR-V debuted earlier this year as a 1997 model and has been selling quite well. The 1998 model will be introduced in February with some design variations. The CR-V is based on a Honda Civic platform which is a good start. Civic's reputation as a reliable, solidly-built sub-compact is well documented. While CR-V's bottom half resembles a Civic station wagon, the top half is more sport-utility like with larger windows, a higher roof line and larger side-view mirrors. Honda offers a larger sport utility in its model line up, the V-6 Passport. But Passport, introduced three years ago, is actually a rebadged Isuzu Rodeo. The Japan-built CR-V represents Honda's first designed and built sport utility vehicle. Trim levels: Currently, one well-equipped version is available. It's an entry-level sport utility that competes head on with Toyota's RAV4, Geo's Tracker, and Suzuki's Sidekick. Honda will add new trim levels in 1998 models.
Safety: Dual air bags, side impact door beams, front-and-rear crumple zones and child-proof rear door locks are standard. Anti-lock brakes are one of the few options available. Traction control is not offered.
Standard equipment: For an entry-level vehicle, CR-V is well equipped. Standard equipment includes four-speed automatic transmission with electronic control, air conditioning, cruise control, reclining front bucket seats, power windows and door locks, power mirrors, mud guards, tilt steering column, rear window defogger, power assisted rack & pinion steering and intermittent windshield wipers. In fact, about the only options available other than anti-lock brakes are dealer-installed options like floor mats.
Price: The CR-V starts at $19,300. Editions including anti-lock brakes check in at $20,300. Our bottom line was $20,781 for a CR-V with anti-lock brakes, assorted dealer options and a $395 destination charge.
Engine: The sole powertrain offering is a 2.0-liter, 16-valve double overhead cam engine delivering 126 horsepower with multi-point programmed fuel injection. The powertrain provides enough energy for a vehicle this size, but it's significantly less potent than larger sport utilities like a Chevrolet Blazer or Jeep Grand Cherokee. One nice touch is standard "Real Time" four-wheel drive. This system is designed for drivers who enjoy the benefits of four-wheel drive, but don't enjoy fiddling with buttons, levers or secondary gear shifts. Under normal conditions, Real Time operates in a front-wheel drive mode, providing optimal fuel efficiency and smooth performance. On slippery surfaces, such as snow or mud, Real Time automatically distributes power to both front and rear wheels, for the sure-footed grip four-wheel drive provides. The CR-V offers no four-wheel drive low gear shift.
Interior: Power window controls are on the dashboard, left of the steering column; a switch from most cars or trucks which position them on the door. Power side-view mirror controls are located in the same area. Lights activate from the turn signal stalk while windshield wipers activate from a right-hand-side stalk. The gearshift is also found on the right side of the steering column which opens up a bit more floorspace. Stereo controls are located above three knobs that control fan speed, direction and temperature settings. The digital clock is separate from the radio frequency display. Cruise control buttons are found on the steering wheel. Dual cup holders retract out from the dashboard, but do not interfere with temperature controls when in use. The fuel tank door release lever is on the floor, left of the driver's seat. Drivers have a good visual command of their surroundings in all directions. The cargo-area floor design incorporates a clever twist. A large, square portion of the floor is actually a removable table top with folding legs underneath. This top can be pulled out from the vehicle, and set up for picnic lunches.
Seating comfort: If you're looking for oodles of headroom, you've come to the right place. Honda's CR-V has more headroom than many full-sized sport utilities. There is 40.5 inches of headroom in front and 39.2 inches in the rear. The two cloth captain chairs in front provide comfort and support. Rear seatbacks have a fifty-fifty split. The seat cushions fold forward while the seat backs fold down flat when one requires extra storage capacity. When the seats are not folded, three adults in back is a stretch. Two adults fit comfortably. With the rear seats up, the CR-V has 29.6 cubic feet of cargo volume. With seats down, cubic feet increases to 67.2 cubic feet.
Exterior: The CR-V's exterior is more boxy-looking when compared to Toyota's RAV4. Unlike the RAV4, the CR-V currently is available only as a four-door model. The RAV4 is sold in both two and four-door editions. The CR-V is slightly longer than the RAV4. Some larger sport utilities place the spare tire on the rear-lift gate, which inhibits rear-view mirror perception. But CR-V's tire, while mounted on the tailgate, is positioned low enough as not to compromise rearview mirror observation. The tailgate, hinged on the right side, swings out. The tailgate's glass window is also hinged at the top and swings up if someone needs to grab an item quickly from the cargo area without opening up the entire tailgate. Brake and turn signal lights are positioned high up and wrap around the tailgate window pillars; a nice touch. Fifteen-inch aluminum alloy wheels are optional when ordering anti-lock brakes. Fifteen-inch tires are standard, a nice standard feature for a compact-sized vehicle. The CR-V has 8.1 inches of ground clearance.
Dimensions: Wheelbase: 103.2 inches Length: 177.6 inches Height: 65.9 inches Width: 68.9 inches Weight: 3,154 pounds
Fuel economy: The CR-V's miles-per-gallon estimates are terrific. The four-cylinder engine averages 22 mpg in city driving, and 25 mpg highway. The fuel tank holds 15.3 gallons of unleaded gasoline.
Target market: Honda expects the median age of CR-V purchasers to be in the 38-year-old range with household incomes of approximately $62,000. Fifty-five percent are expected to be male and 60 percent are projected as married.
Final thoughts: Honda's CR-V is not intended as a rough and tough off-road means of transportation. It's designed for paved roadways. Its front-wheel drive design and real time four-wheel drive are ideal for snowy Chicago-area winters. But this SUV-light CR-V is not designed to tow heavy boats or trailers. It's towing capacity is just 1,000 pounds. However, its SUV good looks provide excellent headroom and decent cargo-carrying ability. Its ride is more car-like than just about any other SUV-like vehicle on the road (maybe because its design and platform started from a car.) The ride is very smooth, not bumpy or bouncy, partly because it's not based on a truck platform. Honda's CR-V introduction is timed perfectly. Sport utilities, and anything resembling a sport utility are selling like hot cakes. Don't expect rebates or discounts because manufacturers don't need to offer such enticements.