Honda needn’t have worried. The new CR-V doesn’t exactly get tail fins, an optional V-12, or an anti-gravity drive. In fact, while steering the 2017 model around Northern California during the launch event, no one even noticed the new CR-V. No doubt this is the way CR-V buyers would like it, because even first-timers new to the model come in expecting to find the reliable, well-packaged, family-friendly, affordable, and none-too-controversial vehicle they’ve heard about. It’s steady as she goes with the 2017 CR-V.
Even so, Honda feels it has turned up the luxe on the model a bit, adding big-car features such as the Honda Sensing suite of safety countermeasures on EX and higher trims, some shoulder to the styling, and an altogether more serious and imposing face. It’s almost as if Lee Iacocca were calling the shots; the new CR-V adds chrome filigrees here and there, including an embrace of the industry’s burgeoning mania for upturned chrome hockey sticks as body-side decoration. Well, what’s good enough for BMW and Range Rover should be good enough for Honda. LEDs for the taillights, daytime running lights, and turn signals are another clue that this is the new car, as are the optional full-LED headlight clusters. We’ve come a long way from the spunky original CR-V, with its rear-mounted spare tire and spindly suspension bits visible underneath.
Honda pushed a little harder in the interior. A 7.0-inch touchscreen (now with a radio volume knob!) is the centerpiece of a pleasantly upscale dashboard with an unusual three-zone instrument cluster. Honda, perhaps significantly also a motorcycle maker, has been one of the braver companies when it comes to moving past the well-worn, two-dial convention of tach and speedo. In the CR-V with its all-digital TFT cluster, the tachometer (not much needed in a vehicle that no longer offers a manual transmission) becomes a band at the top, and the speedometer is a digital readout, both executions of which seem appropriate for this car. Honda knows its buyers well, as evidenced by some of the small changes, such as twin 2.5-amp USB ports in back, the reconfigured center storage bin designed for what real people stash, and reshaped door pockets with drink holders that will accommodate bottles as large as one liter in size.
Passengers get a little more space, thanks to a 1.6-inch wheelbase stretch, which gives rear-seat occupants another 2.1 inches of legroom, moving the rear seat up from economy to a very generous economy-plus. Likewise, the cargo area grows nearly 10 inches longer with the rear seats folded; Honda’s photos proudly display a full-size mountain bike inserted upright, albeit with the front wheel removed.
Enter the Turbo
You can have one of two engines but only one transmission, a continuously variable automatic (CVT). The base LX uses the 2.4-liter twin-cam direct-injected inline-four from the Honda Accord, here delivering 184 horsepower and 180 lb-ft, while a 1.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with 190 horsepower and 179 lb-ft goes into the EX, EX-L, and Touring models. The latter engine is what we sampled, and we can report that it gives unobtrusive, sturdy service with ample torque in the basement and ground floor as it goes about its quotidian task of moving the CR-V, the curb weight of which Honda puts at 3300 to 3500 pounds depending on the trim and driveline.
Honda’s determination to put some excitement back into its products manifests in the CR-V with excellent chassis dynamics and sharp steering. A stiffer steering column and fluid-filled suspension bushings are said to deliver both better ride compliance and more precise path control. You can rush this car if you need to without everything falling apart and your passengers screaming for relief. It holds a corner with confidence and connects you with a direct line to the pavement. Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that one of project leader Takaaki Nagadome’s first jobs at Honda was body engineering for the original NSX.
As in the Civic, the CR-V’s automatic is continuously variable on paper but feels like a conventional step-gear transmission in motion. It “upshifts” at the top of each ratio, the numerical value of which is known only to the software. It could be said that the Honda CVT gives us the best of both worlds: step-gear familiarity combined with continuous variability that is invisible to the driver. And, unlike conventional automatics, there’s virtually no kickdown shock when you leg the accelerator for passing.