The Honda CR-V probably would have been called a crossover vehicle instead of a compact sport-utility if introduced in the past few years because it has crossover attributes: convenient size, spacious interior and carlike ride and handling.
The CR-V arrived for 1997 as one of the first carlike SUVs, was updated in 2002 and got a strong dose of new design features for 2005. Sales of the CR-V for the first 10 months this year totaled 125,594 units, up from 123,335 in the same period last year.
The CR-V comes as an entry level LX with front- or all-wheel drive, with no low-range gearing for serious off-road driving. The mid-range EX and top-line SE have only all-wheel drive.
List prices range from $20,395 to $25,400.
All CR-Vs have a refined 2.4-liter, 156-horsepower engine that provides lively in-town use but average highway performance because the engine is rather small and the CR-V is fairly heavy. However this is an easy highway cruiser, with the tachometer reading a relaxed 2,300 rpm at 70 mph.
Estimated fuel economy is 21-23 mpg in the city and 26-29 on highways.
A responsive five-speed automatic transmission is offered for all models. Only the EX can be equipped with a five-speed manual gearbox.
An anti-skid system with traction control and anti-lock all-disc brakes are standard for all CR-Vs. So are front side air bags and head-protecting curtain side air bags for both seating rows with rollover deployment.
No CR-V is a "stripped'' model. Even the entry LX has such items as air conditioning, cruise control, adjustable split-folding rear seat, AM/FM/cassette/CD player, rear defogger, intermittent wipers and power windows, mirrors and door locks with remote keyless entry.
The EX adds a power sunroof, in-dash six-disc CD changer, steering wheel radio controls and alloy wheels. The SE adds leather upholstery, heated front seats and heated mirrors.
All CR-Vs have fairly large 16-inch wheels and moderately wide 65-series tires, which mainly are suited for ride comfort, not flat cornering. The all-independent suspension provides a supple ride, but allows noticeable body lean when the CR-V is moving quickly through curves.
Still, the CR-V has fairly quick steering and nimble handling. The brake pedal has a nice feel and progressive action for smooth stops. This Honda thus is fun to drive at lower speeds.
Occupants sit high in the trimly designed cockpit, with the driver facing a huge windshield. It's easy to enter the CR-V because it has a low floor and wide door openings.
The airy, roomy interior offers comfortable room for four to five adults, and the rear seat slides fore and aft a lot for more legroom. The cockpit is generally quiet, but wind, tire and road noise are noticeable above 65 mph with the radio switched off.
Front seats offer good side and thigh support, and gauges are easily read. The automatic transmission shifter juts from the dashboard, allowing an easy reach to controls. However, that shifter has a notchy action, and hurried moves with it could put a driver in the wrong gear. No manual-shift CR-V was available for testing.
Audio controls are conveniently placed high, and the climate system has unusually large controls for easy use, although those with shorter arms might feel they are positioned too low.
All doors have small storage pockets, and the dashboard has two moderately large storage bins with covers. A handy flip-up tray with dual cupholders is between the front seats. A third cupholder pops out from the center of the dashboard.
The cargo area is roomy, with a low, wide opening. But the tailgate is hinged on the right side and thus swings open toward the curb.
The entire rear seat easily flips forward for added cargo room.
The CR-V needs a larger engine for better highway performance, but fuel economy then would suffer. It remains one of the best compact SUV buys -- or, if you will -- one of the top crossover buys.
2006 HONDA CR-V
Agile. Spacious. Refined. Fuel-thrifty. All-wheel drive.
Notchy automatic transmission shifter. So-so highway pep. Tailgate hampers curbside loading.