The popular Honda CR-V sport utility, which has been a hit since its 1997 debut, is significantly improved for 2002. It should give the hot new Ford Escape a good run for the money, not to mention other rivals such as the revised Toyota RAV4. The car-based, second generation 2002 CR-V is no head-turner, but at least its bland old styling is gone. And there's more room, added power, a new chassis, tighter construction, higher refinement and more features. The fairly large CR-V always has needed more punch and finally gets it.
Horsepower from its new, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine is rated at 160. That's up from 146 horsepower provided by the old 2-liter four-cylinder, and there's a solid torque increase at low and mid-range speeds. The smoother new engine no longer feels strained unless you push it hard. Actually, the CR-V doesn't like being pushed too hard. Try that and you'll encounter tire squeal and considerable body lean. However, the slightly heavy power steering is quick and the CR-V is very maneuverable.
The brake pedal has a nice linear feel and the ride is smooth, although the new all-independent suspension allows a little rocking and pitching on uneven surfaces. You still can't get a powerful V-6, as you can with the Escape, but the new CR-V engine has been enlarged from 2 to 2.4 liters and provides dramatically improved throttle response and faster acceleration (0-60 mph in 8.4 seconds). However, a larger engine still would be nice because the four-cylinder revs at a rather high 3,200 rpm during 70 mph cruising.
Fuel economy ranges from an estimated 23 mpg in the city and 28 on highways with front-drive and an automatic transmission to 21 and 25 with all-wheel drive model and a manual transmission. There's still a somewhat awkward buslike cant to the steering wheel. And the new pistol-grip hand brake, which pulls out of the dashboard area to allow more interior room, is a high-effort device.
The CR-V body is only slightly longer and wider, but a cleverly redesigned interior allows more passenger room. The cargo area is impressive with the rear seat folded entirely forward, partly because the compact new rear wishbone suspension allows more cargo room. The big cargo door swings toward a right-side curb, which can complicate curbside loading. But it has a glass liftgate that can be popped up to enable smaller objects to be tossed in the CR-V. Thankfully, you no longer must pop up the liftgate before the door can be opened.
Four 6-footers easily fit in larger seats. Front seats are very supportive and the reclining split rear rear seat slides nearly 7 inches forward and aft. The nicely designed outside door handles can be quickly grabbed, and a low floor allows easy entry. Occupants sit high in the airy interior, but tall drivers may wish that their seat moved back more. The quiet interior's nicely designed dashboard has three large futuristic-looking silver knobs for the climate control system.
Audio system controls sit high within a driver's line of sight above the climate controls in the center of the dashboard, but are a stretch for those with short arms. The back windows lower all the way, but rear-seat headrests partly block driver visibility. There are plenty of cupholders and a handy tray flips up between the front seats. All doors have fairly deep storage pockets.
The CR-V comes with front- or all-wheel drive, although there is no low-range gearing for serious off-road motoring. As always, this Honda is designed mainly for driving on paved roads. It's still more functional than fun, but feels very carlike. All CR-V models are well equipped, although the top-line EX has features such as a 6-disc in-dash CD player instead of a single-disc player in the LX.
Base prices range from $18,800 for the front-drive LX with an automatic transmission to $22,300 for the top-line EX with standard all-wheel drive and a four-speed automatic transmission. The automatic's shifter juts from the dashboard to clear the reach to controls. The EX has anti-lock brakes, which aren't offered for the LX. Why not? Honda spokesman Art Garner said few LX buyers ordered them. New features for the EX include a power moonroof and rear disc brakes. It also has standard side front air bags, which cost $250 for the LX. The CR-V is in an increasingly crowded market, but the new version keeps it among the leaders of the pack.
2002 HONDA CR-V
More Power. Roomier. Better styling. Dramatically stiffened new body.
Awkward dash-mounted hand brake. Occasional bouncy ride. Little off-road potential.