The third-generation Honda CR-V continues as a refined, roomy, highly competent compact SUV, which really qualifies as a carlike crossover vehicle.
The CR-V was redesigned for 2007, getting such things as sharper styling and more power from its four-cylinder engine. The changes paid off because they helped the CR-V finish last year as Honda's top-selling truck, with sales of 219,160 units -- up considerably from 170,028 in 2006.
The CR-V wasn't given an available, powerful V-6 and third-row seat, as was the archrival Toyota RAV4 when it was redone for 2006.
But the RAV4 became a larger mid-size SUV, and the CR-V retained its handier size for urban driving, virtually unchanged from its predecessor.
The CR-V comes only with a 2.4-liter, 166-horsepower four-cylinder engine, while the RAV4's has the same-size base four-cylinder with identical horsepower, besides an available 269 horsepower V-6.
The CR-V is plenty roomy for four to five tall adults and has an especially room back seat, while the RAV4's third-row seat is best suited for kids.
As a bonus to parents, the CR-V's rear seat can accommodate two child safety seats. The CR-V comes with front- or all-wheel drive in base LX, mid-range EX and top-line EX-L trim levels.
New for the 2008 EX-L is a standard eight-way power driver's seat and automatic climate control.
Also, the EX-L has the premium audio system previously exclusive to models with Honda's satellite-linked navigation system.
List prices range from $20,700 for a front-drive LX to $28,400 for an all-wheel-drive EX-L with a navigation system. The EX starts at $22,950, and the EX-L begins at $25,500.
Even the base CR-V has air conditioning, tilt/telescopic wheel, cruise control, AM/FM/CD/MP3 player, split-folding rear seat and power mirrors, windows and door locks with remote keyless entry.
The EX adds a power sunroof, in-dash 6-disc CD/MP3 changer, steering wheel radio controls and alloy wheels.
The EX-L has leather upholstery, heated front seats and a rearview camera if equipped with the voice-recognition navigation system. It also has a center console storage, while other models have a flip-up tray between the front seats.
The CR-V is basically a family vehicle, so safety features for all models include front- and curtain-side air bags with rollover deployment, traction control and an anti-skid system -- not to mention anti-lock brakes with a brake assist feature and electronic brake distribution for surer emergency stops.
The CR-V comes only with an alert five-speed automatic transmission, with a shifter that juts from the front of the console area. Estimated fuel economy is 20 mpg in the city and 27 on highways with front-drive and 20 and 26 with all-wheel drive, which isn't meant for off-road use. Only regular-grade fuel is required.
The smooth, sophisticated dual-overhead-camshaft, 16-valve engine provides lively in-town driving, but average 65-75 mph passing. That's partly because the CR-V is rather heavy for its size, weighing 3,389 pounds for the base LX with front-drive to 3,549 pounds for the EX-L with all-wheel drive.
However, the engine has a broad torque curve for better throttle response. The power steering is quick but a little heavy. The ride is supple, although it gets jerky on some rough pavement.
Handling is quite good for a small SUV, thanks to such things as rigid body construction, all-independent suspension and fairly large 17-inch tires.
The brake pedal has a firm, positive action, and stopping distances are short. It's easy to slide in and out of the quiet interior, which has supportive front bucket seats. A driver faces a large windshield, and occupants sit fairly high.
The interior heats up quickly in cold weather. Major gauges can be easily read, although fuel and coolant temperature gauges should be larger.
The driver's power window controls are easily reached, but radio and climate controls are small and the navigation system absorbs too many audio functions and thus complicates their operation.
Front console EX-L cupholders are positioned to help avoid spills. All models have eight beverage holders, upper and lower glove compartments and door pocket storage bins.
The large cargo area has a low, wide opening, and rear seatbacks flip forward and sit flat to increase the cargo area.
When the CR-V was redone, Honda thankfully replaced a side-hinged swing-out cargo door with an attached spare tire to a more easily used flip-up tailgate. The spare -- which became a mini -- now resides under the cargo floor.
The third-generation CR-V does virtually everything better than its predecessor and should continue to be a strong seller. But owners can forget about drag racing until a V-6 engine becomes available.
2008 HONDA CR-V
Likes: High comfort and refinement. Roomy. Economical. Carlike handling. Fairly stylish.
Dislikes: Average highway acceleration. Occasional jerky ride. No V-6 or third-row seat.