2007 Honda CR-V EX
2007 Honda CR-V EX. Click image to enlarge


Review and photos by Chris Chase

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I’ve always found it kind of funny that compact sport utilities like the Honda CR-V are classified as trucks. It’s closer to the truth to say that these smaller SUVs are the modern equivalent of the mid-sized station wagon which they have largely replaced.

While the first two generations of the car-based Honda CR-V model sported tall bodies and tall suspensions, Honda has set its sights on making the third generation CR-V even more car-like; more like the new breed of “crossovers” that have emerged as the ‘Next Big Thing’ in recent months and a little more like those wagons of old. The change is a bit of a risk for Honda: the CR-V has long been the second-best selling small SUV in Canada, and was actually number one before the Ford Escape went on sale in 2001.

2007 Honda CR-V EX
2007 Honda CR-V EX. Click image to enlarge

In large part, Honda’s new approach works. While certain styling elements are a bit dodgy to some eyes, particularly the underbite of a grille up front and the somewhat incongruous teardrop-shape of the side windows, it’s a pleasant look overall. The new CR-V’s wheels swell to fill the fenders and the body looks hunkered down to the road, where the old version always looked a bit like it was riding on stilts. The tall, skinny taillights remain, though, as do the wide-eyed triangular headlights.

2007 Honda CR-V EX
2007 Honda CR-V EX
2007 Honda CR-V EX. Click image to enlarge

Where most vehicles grow in most dimensions with every redesign, the new CR-V casts about the same size shadow as its predecessor. Only ground clearance, front and rear track and overall length change significantly. The ’07 CR-Vs belly is 20 mm closer to the ground (185 mm in the new car) and the track – the distance between the left and right wheels – measures 1,565 mm front and rear, up from 1,533 mm (front) and 1,538 mm (rear) in the old CR-V. The new car is also 79 mm shorter overall, mostly due to the spare tire’s move from its old spot – it used to hang off the rear door – to under the cargo floor; Honda says the new body is about the same length as before. Headroom in front is about the same as before, too, but rear-seat headroom shrinks by about 15 mm, which is most likely thanks to the new car’s shapelier sloping roofline.

2007 Honda CR-V EX
2007 Honda CR-V EX
2007 Honda CR-V EX. Click image to enlarge

Along with the CR-V’s swoopy new body comes a much nicer interior. Gone is the utilitarian look of the old, replaced by a more upscale dashboard and instrument panel that looks much like the interior of the Accord.

The auto tranny shifter sprouts from the base of the dash, replacing the old-school column shifter of the old CR-V. By the way, the five-speed auto in our tester is the only one available. The five-speed stick that was available until last year is gone. Honda Canada claims there simply wasn’t enough demand for the manual transmission to warrant offering it in the new car and so another one bites the dust. While I like the new shifter location, the parking brake is now a foot-operated job; the old car’s e-brake, which was built into the dash, was in a better spot. I wasn’t sure if the lack of an indicator light for the parking brake was on purpose of the result of a faulty switch. Regardless, not having a visual clue that the brake was engaged was annoying.

Honda Canada officials said the company made a conscious decision to continue to offer the new CR-V with just one engine – the same 2.4-litre four-banger used in 2006. Here, however, it gets a higher compression ratio and valvetrain and intake and exhaust system enhancements, all of which conspire to up horsepower by 10 to 166.

2007 Honda CR-V EX
2007 Honda CR-V EX
2007 Honda CR-V EX. Click image to enlarge

That power increase is probably all but negated by an increase in curb weight: 1,604 kg for our EX test vehicle compared to 1,560 kg for the 2006 CR-V EX. But while it’s not exactly swift, this latest CR-V has no problem keeping up with traffic. Driving it back to back with a Toyota RAV4 fitted with a very strong V6, though, the difference in performance is noticeable, naturally. But in everyday driving, particularly for those with a light right foot, the Toyota’s available V6 is mostly a nice-to-have for situations like towing. I can’t help but wonder if some buyers might defect to the RAV4 for the available six-cylinder power.

One very tangible benefit of the four-banger-only spec in the CR-V is its frugal fuel consumption: in Natural Resources Canada testing, the CR-V earned a 10.7 L/100 km (city) and 7.8 L/100 km (highway) rating. In mostly city driving, I was able to get the CR-V’s on-board computer readout down to just over 11 L/100 km. That’s notable, as it’s often very difficult, or downright impossible, to match NRCan’s numbers in real-world driving. The engine is generally smooth, but can get a little thrashy when pressed to its limit in acceleration.

Wind and tire noise are minimal (our tester’s winter treads sang louder than all-seasons would have) and sharp bumps make it into the cabin as little more than muted thumps. The overall feel is a lot like that of the Accord, which is nothing to complain about.

2007 Honda CR-V EX
2007 Honda CR-V EX
2007 Honda CR-V EX
2007 Honda CR-V EX. Click image to enlarge

The front seats are plenty comfortable and there’s good space; the low cowl and beltline – typical Honda features – make for an airy atmosphere enhanced by the tall side glass. The only fault is the blind spot created by the slope of those out-of-place-looking rear quarter windows; they make it difficult to see where you’re going when reversing.

The rear seats both fold down and flop forward to create more cargo space; I didn’t find this arrangement took advantage of what is otherwise a useful cargo area. You can’t get a flat load floor without flipping the seats forward, which cuts into the overall length of the cargo hold. No complaints, though, about the rear seat fore-and-aft and seatback angle adjustments. Our EX tester had a useful moveable cargo shelf too. It’s also standard in the EX-L version, but not in the more basic LX. All CR-Vs but the top-line EX-L Navi get a flimsy, shallow storage drawer under the front passenger seat (I suspect the navigation system’s DVD drive goes under the passenger seat in EX-L Navi models). Don’t put anything hard in it – the plastic compartment is unlined and stuff will clunk around as you drive.

2007 Honda CR-V EX
2007 Honda CR-V EX
2007 Honda CR-V EX. Click image to enlarge

While overall height is just two mm lower, the reduction in ground clearance creates a lower step-in height and, presumably, a lower centre of gravity. As a result, handling is actually pretty good compared to many small SUVs. The firm suspension helps keep body roll in check, and again, the driving feel in curves is much like a jacked-up Accord. The seating position is lower than in the typical SUV, but still higher than the average car and so still affords occupants a decent view of the traffic ahead.

The verdict here is that Honda lovers – especially current CR-V owners – will probably love the new one. So will many other shoppers, but those with little loyalty to the Honda brand might be turned off by the odd front-end styling and/or the lack of V6 power. The CR-V also isn’t available with seven seats, while the RAV4 and Hyundai Santa Fe, for example, are, though I don’t know that this will affect the Honda’s overall appeal. Except for the lack of engine choice, there are no glaring omissions; despite its few shortcomings, the new CR-V should have no trouble holding onto its second-place spot Canadian small SUV sales.

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