2002 Honda CR-V
2002 Honda CR-V. Click image to enlarge

By Chris Chase

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The CR-V was Honda’s first small SUV when launched in 1997 – actually, its first SUV, period – and it was a good first effort: the CR-V was Canada’s most popular small SUV for much of the late 90s. Only the Ford Escape, also that company’s first small SUV, was able to steal that sales title after its arrival in 2001.

2002 brought the second-generation CR-V, and like any new model, it was an improvement over the model it replaced, boasting more interior space and more power – thanks to a 160 horsepower, 2.4-litre engine in place of the old model’s 146-hp, 2.0-litre. The second-gen CR-V’s arrival roughly coincided with not only that of the Escape, but also other new small trucks like the Mazda Tribute (a mechanical twin of the Escape), the Jeep Liberty, Hyundai’s Santa Fe and the Saturn Vue.

Toyota had launched the second generation of its RAV4 SUV in 2001. While it was a respectable little truck, it holds the rare distinction (for a Toyota) of never keeping up with the best-sellers in small SUV class because of its comparatively small dimensions. As a result, the CR-V had little to no strong competition in the small import SUV category.

The CR-V is above average (or is that below average?) in its class in terms of fuel consumption, with Natural Resources Canada ratings of 10.5 L/100 km (city) and 8 L/100 km (highway) for automatic transmission versions, and 11 L/100 km (city) and 8.5 L/100 km (highway for those with a manual transmission. Note that second-gen CR-Vs up to the 2004 model year used a four-speed automatic, while 2005 and 2006 models got a five-speed auto; the manual transmission was a five-speed unit in all years.

2002 Honda CR-V
2002 Honda CR-V. Click image to enlarge

Crash testers liked this second iteration of the CR-V: the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gave a version fitted with side airbags five stars all around, for driver and front passenger protection in frontal impacts and for front- and rear-seat occupant protection in side impacts.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) also gave the CR-V a “good” rating in its frontal offset crash test. However, models without side airbags (side airbags were available only in EX and EX-L versions from 2002 through 2004) earned a “marginal” rating in side impact testing. Note that where side airbags are optional, the IIHS conducts its first round of testing on a model without them, but will retest a version with side airbags if the manufacturer requests it. Honda did not do so, but did make side airbags standard in 2005 and 2006 models, which earned a “good” rating in IIHS side impact tests.

2002 Honda CR-V
2002 Honda CR-V. Click image to enlarge

You won’t be surprised to learn about the CR-V’s stellar reliability rating. The only thing that could remotely be construed as a dark spot were a series of incidents where CR-Vs kept catching fire. By doing some sleuthing, Honda discovered the fires were all happening shortly after oil changes; the problem was traced to oil filter gaskets sticking to the filter mount. This prevented a new filter from sealing properly, allowing oil to leak onto hot engine parts and causing fires. The problem was more prevalent in the U.S., and as no formal recall was issued – Honda mailed notices about the problem to owners of 2003, 2004 and 2005 CR-Vs – it’s difficult to say how common the issue was in Canada. More detailed information about the engine fire problem can be found on this page at HondaSUV.com. Three recalls were issued in Canada, which can be found at the end of this article.

Click here for a list of links to video how-tos on a number of common CR-V maintenance and repair procedures.

The downside to Honda’s reputation for reliability is the CR-V’s high resale prices. A nearly-new, range-topping 2006 EX-L model is worth $29,450, according to Canadian Red Book. The cheapest used CR-V you’ll find is a 2002 LX model, which Red Book values at $16,225. Overall, we like the 2003 EX model, well-equipped and valued at a few hundred bucks short of $20,000.

2002 Honda CR-V
2002 Honda CR-V. Click image to enlarge

For comparison’s sake, a 2005 Hyundai Santa Fe in fully loaded GLS form and powered by a 3.5-litre V6, is worth $25,200, while a 2006 version of the same model comes in at $29,600. The smaller Hyundai Tucson (introduced in 2005) varies in price from $20,650 (2005 GL model) to $25,950 (2006 GLS V6 model). The ultra-popular Ford Escape is worth $30,150 in 2006 Limited V6 form and while that’s actually a few hundred dollars more than the top-end 2006 CR-V, note that that particular Escape model’s MSRP was about $2,300 more than the CR-V’s. Eliminate the Escape Limited from the mix, and the Ford’s resale values are significantly lower than the Honda’s, even with the Escape’s available V6 engine.

If you’re a buyer who must have the sure thing, the CR-V is an excellent choice. But if you value high reliability at a lower price, check out one of the Hyundai SUVs. Of them, we prefer the Tuscon, with its better looks, firmer ride and sharper handling, but either one will be a good bet reliability-wise and at much lower prices than a comparably-equipped CR-V.

Online resources

  • Hondasuv.com – This site attracts Honda drivers from around the world, but is based in California. As its name suggests, HondaSUV.com covers all of Honda’s SUVs (CR-V, Pilot, Element and the HR-V sold in overseas markets) but the CR-V gets the most love here. Lots of good info and knowledgeable moderators keep topics on track.

  • Temple of VTEC – Known as the “Temple of VTEC,” this site covers the entire Honda and Acura family of cars and trucks. The CR-V gets its own discussion section, though its nowhere close to being the most popular vehicle here. Still, there’s bound to be some good info around on a site as busy as this one is.

Manufacturer’s Website

  • Honda Canada


Transport Canada Recall Number: 2003275; Units affected: 8,179

2002: On certain vehicles, metal particles in the key cylinder body could interfere with interlock lever operation, making it possible to remove the ignition key without shifting the transmission to Park. If the vehicle operator does not shift to Park before removing the key and fails to engage the parking brake, the vehicle could roll and a crash could occur. Correction: Dealer will perform the required inspection and necessary repairs.

Transport Canada Recall Number: 2003181; Units affected: 33,358

2002-2003: On certain vehicles, excessive corrosion of the shift cable linkage may prevent the automatic transmission from shifting to Park. If the vehicle operator fails to engage the parking brake, the vehicle could roll and a crash could occur. Correction: Dealer will inspect the shift cable linkage for corrosion. If the corrosion causes binding, replace the shift cable and install a new corrosion-resistant control pin.

Transport Canada Recall Number: 2003181; Units affected: 33,358

2002: Certain sport utility vehicles equipped with automatic seat belt buckle pre-tensioners. The CR-V is equipped with two seat belt pre-tensioners in both front passenger seating positions. Some buckle pre-tensioners use a part that restricts the full motion of the mechanism. If these pre-tensioned activate in a crash, the seat belt could unlatch, leaving the front seat occupants unrestrained. Correction: dealers will repair both front seat belt buckle pre-tensioners.

Used vehicle prices vary depending on factors such as general condition, odometer reading, usage history and options fitted. Always have a used vehicle checked by an experienced auto technician before you buy.

For information on recalls, see Transport Canada’s web-site, www.tc.gc.ca, or the U.S. National Highway Transportation Administration (NHTSA)web-site, www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

For information on vehicle service bulletins issued by the manufacturer, visit www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

For information on consumer complaints about specific models, see www.lemonaidcars.com.

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