First Drive: 2007 Honda CR V honda first drives
2007 Honda CR-V. Click image to enlarge

Review and photos by Paul Williams

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Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario – In the fall of 1996, a new type of vehicle began populating the automotive landscape. Honda’s CR-V, introduced as a 1997 model, helped establish the compact SUV segment with its innovative car-based platform, fuel economy, and practical, family oriented features. Ten years on, the CR-V has become Honda’s best-selling vehicle worldwide. Its success has contributed to the decision by just about every manufacturer to produce what many are now calling a “crossover” or “crossover utility vehicle”. For others, “compact SUV” is the term with which they’re familiar.

Just as Honda set the pace for 1997, the company is expecting to do the same in 2007. Hot on the heels of Toyota’s fully revised RAV4 – bigger, roomier, and more powerful than the previous model – Honda is challenging the competition by revisiting the compact SUV concept, and possibly taking it in a new direction.

In short, the 2007 Honda CR-V is more car-like, less truck-like, than ever before. It retains visual cues associated with SUVs (including faux skid plates), and the coveted interior functionality associated with that class of vehicle (40-20-40 folding rear-seat, for example). But the driving experience is very much the same as you’d find in a very good handling, mid-size sedan.

First Drive: 2007 Honda CR V honda first drives
2007 Honda CR-V. Click image to enlarge

And with a new $27,700, Canada-only front wheel drive (FWD) version now available, the CR-V jettisons all off-road pretensions, and comfortably acknowledges residence in the everyday bustle of the urban world. Note, however, that while the LX FWD starting price may be low, you’ll need to add $2,000 for a four-wheel drive version, and a typically equipped EX starts at $32,400. With leather it’s $34,600 and a top-of-the-line EX-L with navigation starts at $37,400. Effectively, AWD is the standard drivetrain, with FWD an option for the base CR-V. Freight/PDI adds another $1,455.

The image that Honda would like to present for the 2007 CR-V is of a cool vehicle that appeals to 30-something couples. These are people who go to trendy shows and restaurants, they want to drive a fun, distinctive and classy vehicle, they’re into style and sophistication.

First Drive: 2007 Honda CR V honda first drives
First Drive: 2007 Honda CR V honda first drives
First Drive: 2007 Honda CR V honda first drives
2007 Honda CR-V. Click image to enlarge

Maybe there’s a child, or there’s one on the way – and maybe not.

This doesn’t mean that older people won’t want a 2007 Honda CR-V. On the contrary, a significant percentage of Honda CR-V owners just keep coming back for more. This is a loyal customer base and according to Honda, they’re already sold on the vehicle. Honda is just going after the same demographic that started buying the CR-V ten years ago, updating their profile, without alienating their current buyers.

You may not immediately notice the difference: the new CR-V is pretty much the same size as the outgoing model, although significantly, it loses 35 millimetres of ground clearance. It’s also a bit shorter, mainly due to repositioning the spare tire. Power is increased slightly, using the 2006 model’s 2.4-litre inline four-cylinder engine, but enhanced to produce 166 horsepower and 161 pounds-feet of torque. The five-speed automatic transmission remains (no manual is offered) mated to a front or four-wheel drive system. The rear still sports the vertically stacked taillights. For a vehicle of this type, estimated fuel economy can be described as frugal, at 10.2/7.3 L/100 km city/highway with front wheel drive, and 10.7/7.8 L/100 km with four-wheel drive.

First Drive: 2007 Honda CR V honda first drives
First Drive: 2007 Honda CR V honda first drives
First Drive: 2007 Honda CR V honda first drives
2007 Honda CR-V. Click image to enlarge

What’s noticeably different when you’re behind the wheel is the handling. The lower centre of gravity (achieved by reducing ground clearance) and revised suspension geometry transform the CR-V into a slalom specialist. Carving its way around the cones set up at the Niagara Drive Centre (finally dry, after a rainy, grey morning), the CR-V steered sharply and with virtually no body lean.

Also impressive is the new dashboard and instrument panel. Gauges, switches and buttons have a look of precision and order. The redesigned, larger front seats are comfortable but sporty. The double deck cargo space behind the rear seat is intelligent and useful (you can put a soiled baby buggy underneath, for instance, and groceries above, or you can just remove the shelf and lay it on the floor for even more room). Best of all, the outgoing model’s heavy, spare-wheel laden swing-out door is replaced with a clever and very lightweight hatch that raises and lowers with one-finger effort. The spare tire is hidden below the rear deck; wheels are standard 17-inch.

First Drive: 2007 Honda CR V honda first drives
2007 Honda CR-V. Click image to enlarge

Visually, the key feature that separates the new CR-V from all the other similar-looking vehicles on the road, is the side windows. The smooth, curving shape of the glass, taken straight from the CR-V concept sketches, that extends from front to rear is appealing and very distinctive. One look, and you know it’s the new CR-V.

Unfortunately, the rest of the concept sketches got somewhat lost in translation. While the styling vision imagines a bold, funky, “cool” shape that would appeal to younger buyers, the reality is something of a plain-vanilla vehicle with an odd looking grille that, while pleasant overall, is far from exciting. For that, buyers may like to look at the Mazda CX-7 (slightly bigger) or even Dodge’s new Caliber (slightly smaller).

First Drive: 2007 Honda CR V honda first drives
2007 Honda CR-V. Click image to enlarge

Another contentious area is the power. Maybe Honda is to be commended for not following the bigger-is-better route, but if you compare the CR-V with its direct competition (Ford Escape, Toyota RAV4, Hyundai Tuscon, Kia Sportage), you’ll find that all of those vehicles can be purchased with a V6 engine for less than the four-cylinder CR-V. Granted, the Honda’s is a smooth four, but the Toyota RAV4 Sport, for instance, supplies a whopping 268 horsepower from its fuel-efficient V6, rides on 18-inch wheels and offers similar practicality and handling for close to the same price as the CR-V EX.

First Drive: 2007 Honda CR V honda first drives
First Drive: 2007 Honda CR V honda first drives
2007 Honda CR-V. Click image to enlarge

And speaking of wheels, the CR-V’s standard steel wheels are indeed 17-inch, but they’re just plain ugly. For extra cost, you can select from a choice of nicer, alloy wheels (alloys come standard on the EX models), and use the steel wheels for the winter. However, your optional Honda wheels don’t come with tires.

Safety the CR-V has in spades. Standard are vehicle stability control, traction control, anti-lock brakes (of course), side impact and side curtain airbags, and Honda’s ACE body structure that’s designed to protect occupants in a super-strong cabin when involved in a collision. Even crashing Honda’s big Ridgeline truck into the 2007 CR-V in an offset collision test won’t intrude into its cabin.

Don’t get me wrong; Honda will likely do very well with the new CR-V. You can’t criticize its handling, practicality, safety, build quality, reputation, low operating costs and high resale values. The 2007 Honda CR-V pretty much has it all.

But I really like the concept CR-V sketch, and wish it looked more like that.


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About Paul Williams

Paul Williams is an Ottawa-based freelance automotive writer and senior writer for Autos. He is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC).