For 2005, the Honda CR-V receives several changes. There’s a redesign of nose and tail, with new headlights, taillights, bumpers, wheel arch cut-outs, side protectors, wheels, hard tire cover and front grille. A new five-speed automatic replaces 2004’s four-speed. Keyless entry is added to the LX, and wheel-mounted audio controls are now on all EX lines. The LX gets 16-inch steel wheels, while all others get 16-inch alloy wheels. The biggest news is safety, with all models receiving stability control, and side and curtain airbags.

The “sport-cute” CR-V – which stands for “Comfortable Runabout Vehicle”, by the way – shares its platform with the Honda Element. That gives it smooth and car-like ride and handling like the Element, and a “RealTime” all-wheel-drive system that’s really torque-on-demand (a front-wheel-drive-only version sold in the U.S. is unavailable in Canada).

The CR-V comes in three trim lines, all of them powered by a 2.4-litre four-cylinder. The base LX comes with a manual transmission (the new five-speed autobox is optional) along with air conditioning, 16-inch steel wheels, power mirrors, rear intermittent washer/wiper, soft spare tire cover, CD player with four speakers, cruise control, power locks with keyless entry, power windows, and prewiring for a trailer hitch (it can tow 1,500 lbs).

The EX adds 16-inch alloy wheels, privacy glass, and six-CD/cassette player with six speakers and wheel-mounted audio controls. The EX-L adds leather interior with heated seats, body-coloured bumpers, power sunroof, and hard spare tire cover.

Nicely sized and with a comfortable seating position, the CR-V is a pleasure to drive, although between the relatively small rear window, the top of the spare tire, the rear wiper and three tall head restraints, rear visibility is poor. The four-cylinder is surprisingly powerful, although most competitors have gone to V6 engines in their compact SUVs.

The interior is loaded with cubbyholes and storage spaces, and a little table between the front seats folds flat when not in use – giving a handy spot to rest a purse or briefcase, a requirement missed in many vehicles. The rear cargo floor is actually a removable, folding-metal-leg picnic table, more gimmick than useful (doesn’t the camping set already own one?) since removing it exposes a storage well that won’t hold any corresponding cooler steady. The Toyota RAV4 comes with a lower base price and real four-wheel-drive, but the CR-V has the edge in on-road manners.

The CR-V is built in Sayama, Japan.

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