The Honda CR-V arrived for 1997 as one of the first carlike sport-utility vehicles, some of which now are called "crossovers'' because they combine attributes of cars and SUVs.
The CR-V last got a big update for 2002, becoming slightly bigger and roomier, with a larger engine, new chassis, tighter construction and more refinement and features. Lack of major changes didn't affect sales last year -- they rose to a healthy 149,281 units from 143,909 in 2003.
In fact, the 2004 CR-V had more than double the sales of its old major rival, the Toyota RAV4 -- and fell only 34,149 units short of the Ford Escape, which was last year's top-selling compact SUV.
Higher gasoline prices and the move from larger SUVs probably helped the CR-V, which gets more standard items for 2005 to keep it among the leaders.
New features for the nicely built CR-V include slicker front styling, with new headlights, grille and bumper. New side sills and protectors adorn the CR-V, while there are newly designed rear combination lights and a new rear bumper.
Also newly standard on all models is a five-speed automatic transmission, which replaces a four-speed unit for better performance and fuel economy.
Safety items are important to many SUV buyers. The latest CR-V thus has newly standard front side air bags and head-protecting curtain side air bags for both seating rows. It also has a previously unavailable Vehicle Stability Assist (VSA) anti-skid system with traction control. Also newly standard for all versions are four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes.
Enhancing roadability are larger 16-inch wheels, which replace 15-inchers with narrower tires.
The entry front-drive CR-V LX lists at $19,995 and has lots of comfort and convenience equipment, including air conditioning, cruise control, tilt wheel, rear defroster, AM/FM/cassette/CD and power windows, locks and mirrors. The LX also is offered with all-wheel drive for $21,195.
Both the higher-line EX and new SE versions have more equipment, including a power sunroof, and standard all-wheel-drive, which is improved for better acceleration and hill-climbing performance. However, there's no low-range gearing or generous ground clearance for serious off-road driving.
The new top-line SE (Special Edition) model is based on the EX but adds heated leather seats and mirrors and a leather-covered steering wheel and shift knob. The SE also adds body colored bumpers, side moldings, door handles and hard spare tire cover. Pewter Pearl is an exclusive SE color.
New for the EX and standard on the SE are steering wheel audio controls and an outside temperature indicator. The EX and LX have new wheel designs, and all models now have integrated remote keyless entry, new retractable grab rails and larger seatback pockets.
New colors include Silver Moss, Redondo Red Pearl and Sahara Sand.
Those are lots of changes, although the 2.4-liter, 160-horsepower four-cylinder engine is carried over from last year. It provides lively performance to 60 mph, but average acceleration above that speed. That's because the engine is fairly small and the CR-V is no lightweight at 3,318-3,494 pounds. The engine works hard during full-throttle acceleration, although steady high-speed cruising is no problem.
Some rivals offer a more muscular V-6, but Honda firmly believes in four-cylinder engines. It also knows that fuel economy is becoming more important as gasoline prices rise, and four-cylinders are more economical than six.
The EX all-wheel-drive version with a five-speed manual gearbox (the only manual-transmission model) delivers an estimated 21 mpg in the city and 26 on highways. All other CR-V versions have the automatic and do better: 22 city, 27 highway, with the lighter front-drive LX automatic the economy champ of the lot at 23 city, 29 highway.
The CR-V is more practical than sporty, but is fun to drive if not pushed hard, and its size is perfect for congested traffic. Steering is quick enough, and the new anti-skid system should help keep some drivers out of trouble. A carlike all-independent suspension and fairly long (for a small SUV) 103.3-inch wheelbase help provide a stable, comfortable ride. Braking is OK, with good pedal feel.
The CR-V has the capacity to seat five occupants in the generally quiet, airy interior, but four adults are a lot more comfortable. The rear seat has a reclining backrest and slides fore and aft for more leg room.
Occupants sit high, surrounded by plenty of glass area, and rear windows roll down all the way.
A low floor makes it easy to get in and out, and front seats provide good support. The steering wheel has a slightly awkward buslike cant, and high audio controls can be a stretch for those with shorter arms. But the dashboard has easily read gauges, large climate system controls, handy covered storage areas and a good design, with items such as a handy pop-out cupholder; it accompanies twin cupholders in a folding center tray between the front seats that can be lowered for easy access to the rear.
The shift lever juts from the dashboard to the right of the steering wheel so it doesn't block rear access, as would a typical center console-mounted lever.
The large cargo area is exceptionally wide and tall. Its side-hinged tailgate swings opens toward the curb, hampering curbside loading, but contains a lift-up glass section. Split rear seatbacks easily fold entirely forward to increase cargo room.
After all these years, Honda has kept the reliable CR-V a strong contender, with good resale value.
2005 HONDA CR-V
Roomy. Agile. Decent SUV fuel economy. Lots more standard equipment.
Average four-cylinder highway acceleration. No optional V-6. Tailgate doesn't enhance curbside loading.