First Drive: 2002 Honda CR V honda first drives
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by Grant Yoxon


2002 CR-V features new chassis, more power, more interior room and improved funtionality


The secret to staying on top is knowing when to change and how much to change.

First Drive: 2002 Honda CR V honda first drives
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Such is the situation for Honda and its successful compact sport utility, the CR-V. Introduced in 1997, the CR-V quickly became the best selling compact sport utility in both Canada and the USA. The CR-V and Toyota RAV4 became the benchmark for small wagons that combined the rugged capability of 4-wheel-drive with the civilized manners of a passenger car.

But a number of new compact sport utilities – the Hyundai Santa Fe, Mazda Tribute and Ford Escape, for example – emerged to challenge Honda’s supremacy, while the RAV4 underwent a complete re-design for 2001. And the CR-V lost ground giving up its sales title in 2001 to Ford’s new Escape.

Honda’s timing could have been better. They could have brought an all new CR-V to market a year earlier to defend its title against the new sport utes. But better late than never and the compact sport utility that Honda hopes will regain the lead arrives December 1 in showrooms across Canada.

And to regain the lead, Honda’s engineers felt that they would need to build a new SUV, but one that would preserve key elements of the old CR-V – it couldn’t look radically different – and build on the original CR-V’s intangible strengths – its reputation for quality and reliability, above average safety, economical operation, passenger comfort and its high fun-to-drive factor. At the same time the new CR-V would have to meet the expectations of buyers for increased functionality, power, ride comfort and standard features.

First Drive: 2002 Honda CR V honda first drives
First Drive: 2002 Honda CR V honda first drives
2001 CR-V (left) 2002 CR-V (right)
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So how did they do? The first thing you notice is the 2002 Honda CR-V doesn’t look all that different. With the exception of larger headlights, tailights that extend from bumper to roof and extensive black body trim, the new CR-V closely resembles its predecessor. In fact, it’s not much bigger – only 27 mm longer, 32 mm wider and 7 mm higher.

The second thing you notice is the power. There’s a lot more oomph in the new CR-V than the original. Third – it’s quieter, with a more comfortable, refined ride. And fourth – Even though it is not much bigger on the outside, the CR-V is bigger inside, with more space for both passengers and cargo, more functional features and better designed controls.

In short, the 2002 Honda CR-V is a completely different vehicle. It just doesn’t look that different.

Development of the 2002 CR-V began with a completely new chassis that provides greater torsional and bending rigidity and enhanced safety. The new CR-V platform, based on Honda’s Global Compact Platform (aka Civic), incorporates a 4-wheel independent suspension with struts up front (the former CR-V used a double wishbone suspension) and a “reactive link double wishbone suspension” in the rear. The latter takes up less room in the cargo area, while the former helps to shorten the nose of the vehicle without sacrificing crashworthiness.

Combined with the suspension changes is a new steering setup. A high-mounted steering gearbox and high-mounted tie rods provide improved toe control (the amount the tires angle in toward the body) compared to a conventional strut. Honda says the performance is comparable to the double wishbone front suspension.

First Drive: 2002 Honda CR V honda first drives
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And it is, in many respects. During our one day test drive in the hills of western Quebec near Ottawa, the new CR-V displayed nimble steering characteristics and stable, confident cornering ability. Although the steering was less sensitive, communicating less road feel than current CR-V owners are accustomed to, the loss is more than made up by the improved ride and comfort of the new CR-V.

We had the good fortune to directly compare both the old and new, having a 2001 model with automatic transmission to drive along with the 2002 CR-V.

One of the most noticeable differences is in performance. The 2002 CR-V features a newly developed 16-valve DOHC inline 2.4 litre i-VTEC 4-cylinder engine. The new engine produces 160 horsepower at 6000 rpm (compared to 146 hp @ 6200 rpm for 2001) and 162 lb.-ft. Of torque at 3600 rpm, up 29 lb.-ft. from 2001. From a stop light or powering up the Gatineau Hills, the new engine pulls strong and smooth, meaning less need to downshift for manual transmissions and less hunting for the right gear with an automatic.

While critics will be quick to point out that the new CR-V still does not offer a six cylinder engine as many of its competitors do, the new inline four provides excellent power and improved towing capacity (from 453.6 kg – 1000 lbs – to 680.4 kg – 1500 lbs).

Two transmission choices will be available – a 4-speed automatic and a 5-speed manual. Both have been redesigned for 2002. The manual floor-mounted shifter provided good feel and short throws, while the automatic shifted smoothly.

The CR-V’s four-wheel-drive system operates automatically and only when needed – the system sends power to the rear wheels when there is insufficent traction for the front-wheel-drive system. It does not need to be engaged or disengaged. Unlike conventional 4WD systems, the Honda’s “Real Time” 4WD disengages under braking, allowing the ABS system to engage.

All CR-V’s have four wheel disc brakes with ABS.

First Drive: 2002 Honda CR V honda first drives
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The improvements continue inside the CR-V. Most noticeable is the position of the gear shift lever for automatic transmission equipped cars and the parking brake. Both are located on the dash, the latter disguised as a bracket next to the centre stack. Manual transmission levers are still mounted on the floor.

The CR-V features plain but easy-to-read white on black gauges. Instruments include speedometer, tachometer, fuel gauge, temperature gauge, warning lights and a gear position indicator on automatic transmission equipped cars.

Interior volume has grown by 8 per cent to 3002 litres (106 cu. ft.). While front leg room has declined slightly, all other important interior dimensions have increased – headroom by 9 mm, rear leg room by 9 mm, front shoulder room by 92 mm and front hip room by 50 mm. More hip and shoulder room means broader, more comfortable front seats, while the 255 mm (10 in.) wide walkthrough between the seats has been preserved.

First Drive: 2002 Honda CR V honda first drives
First Drive: 2002 Honda CR V honda first drives
Click image to enlarge

The rear seats are split 60/40 and can be folded and tumbled against the front seat backs, providing 2039 litres (72 cu. ft.) of cargo area with a flat floor. With the rear seats up, cargo space is 948.6 litres (33.5 cu. ft). All three rear seating positions have headrests and three point shoulder and lap belts. A cushioned centre arm rest with cup holders folds down. The rear seats will also move forward and back170 mm allowing more leg room for tall rear seat passengers.

More than 21 different storage areas have been built into the CR-V and the popular tray between the front seats and the rear cargo floor that doubles as a picnic table have been retained.

Standard safety features include dual (lap and shoulder) seat belt pre-tensioners for front passengers, advanced dual-stage front air bags, standard side airbags on EX and EX with leather models and the LATCH system for anchoring child seats. A passive whiplash protection system is designed to meet proposed 2004 US government standards. As well, Honda expects the 2002 CR-V will earn top ratings in US government and Insurance Institute for Highway Safety crash tests and exceed rollover requirements.

First Drive: 2002 Honda CR V honda first drives
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In Canada the CR-V will be available in two trim levels, both with “Real Time” 4WD. A 2 wheel drive model will be offered in the US, but not here. The base LX model will have power windows (auto up and down for the driver), power door locks, dual power mirrors, intermittent rear window wiper/washer, cruise control, dual mode trip odometer with external temperature gauge, AM/FM stereo cassette and CD with four speakers, adjustable steering column, and air conditioning.

EX models add heated mirrors, keyless remote entry system, privacy glass, side air bags and six speaker stereo system. EX models can also be ordered with a leather option that includes leather seating surfaces, heated front seats, leather-wrapped steering wheel, body coloured bumpers and door handles and, a first for the CR-V, a power moon roof.

Prices have not yet been announced, but a Honda Canada sales manager, Arch Wilcox said the CR-V will likely be priced in the “mid-high 20s to low 30s.”