2002 Honda CR-V Road Test

  • Full Review
  • Pricing & Specs
  • Road Tests (2)
  • Comparison
  • Long-Term

2002 Honda CR-V SUV

(2.4L 4-cyl. 4-speed Automatic)

A Mini-Ute For Most of Us

When the original Honda CR-V debuted in 1997, it had one simple objective — do everything better than the Toyota RAV4, the mini SUV that had arrived just a year earlier. They shared similar design philosophies (four-cylinder engines, carlike rides), and although the two vehicles battled for the same customers, they both enjoyed incredibly strong sales numbers.

The mini-SUV segment has now grown to include more than 10 different models, each with its own idea of what constitutes the perfect blend of size, power and capability. Some use larger V6 engines, others boast real off-road capability. When Toyota released a fully redesigned version of the RAV4 last year, it stuck with the original philosophy of a small car-like sport-ute that made no pretenses toward being a scaled-down 4Runner.

The all-new Honda CR-V adheres to much the same philosophy. There's still no V6 offered, and serious off-roading is out of the question, but in the all-important areas of drivability and practicality, the new CR-V is better than ever.

Even without an available V6, the Honda CR-V still offers plenty of get-up-and-go thanks to an all-new 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine. In addition to its larger displacement, this new power plant also enjoys the benefits of Honda's latest i-VTEC technology. This complex system of adjustable valve timing and lift results in an engine that delivers high horsepower and torque as well as low emissions and superior fuel economy. The CR-V is the first Honda-badged product to offer this technology, and after experiencing the benefits first-hand, we hope it's not the last.

Rated at 160 horsepower and 162 pound-feet of torque, the larger four-cylinder might not seem like much of an improvement over the previous engine (146 horsepower/133 lb-ft of torque), but the seat-of-the-pants feel tells a different story. The large increase in torque makes for quick starts and a strong pull even when loaded down with additional passengers or cargo. Keep your foot down and the engine just keeps on pulling right up to the redline thanks to the constant valve adjustments being made by the i-VTEC system.

Track testing confirmed our impressions, as the CR-V managed a best 0-to-60-mph run of 8.7 seconds. An impressive feat considering that the last Ford Escape we tested only managed a best time of 9.3 seconds, and that was with a 200-horsepower V6 under the hood. Not to mention that even with all this power, the CR-V still managed a very respectable 21.8 miles per gallon during our week-long test.

Even more impressive than the engine's power is the manner in which it's delivered. Most four-cylinders are plagued by excessive noise and vibration, but the CR-V's new power plant remains smooth and quiet at all engine speeds. It's also less peaky, with a broad band of power that rarely leaves you scrambling for a lower gear. We have no trouble calling this new engine the standard for refinement in four-cylinder sport-utes.

The five-speed manual transmission in our test vehicle was a fitting complement to the terrific new engine under the hood. In typical Honda fashion, both the shifter and the clutch work with little effort. Short throws and a well positioned shifter make rowing through the gears a snap. A four-speed automatic is also available, but unless you face long commutes on a regular basis, we would opt for the peppier performance of the slick-shifting manual.

Four-wheel-drive CR-Vs continue to use Honda's Real Time 4WD system. This system provides the security of all-wheel drive combined with the drivability and fuel economy of part-time systems. This is accomplished by powering the front wheels only under normal conditions. If the front wheels begin to slip, power is immediately transferred to the rear wheels until traction is regained. Requiring no input from the driver, this fully automatic system is ideal for those who live in harsh climates that demand all-weather traction.

On and off rain showers during track testing gave us a good idea of just how well the system works. During high-powered launches, there was a noticeable thunk as the rear wheels engaged, but other less aggressive maneuvers proved the system to be unobtrusive and effective. A short off-road excursion revealed less than ideal traction, but much of that can be attributed to the smallish street tires that lacked any kind of off-road-worthy tread.

One of the major advantages most mini SUVs have over their larger midsize counterparts is superior handling. Since many mini-utes are built on small car platforms, they're typically more agile than the average truck-based midsize. The CR-V is no exception, using the recently redesigned Civic as its basis. And, like the Civic, the CR-V now uses a MacPherson strut front suspension along with a double-wishbone setup in the rear.

Around-town driving reveals a softly tuned setup that favors comfort over performance. While Toyota's RAV4 feels like a sports car, the CR-V is more of a confident cruiser, able to take just about anything the road can dish out, but never enticing you to push it harder. Threading it through our slalom course revealed a little more body roll than we would like, but considering its typical use as a grocery-getter, we would hardly consider it a fault. The variable assist steering provides a nice, light feel at slow speeds, but doesn't taper off enough at higher speeds, leaving it feeling a little loose on the highway.

The braking system has been improved with the addition of rear wheel discs in place of the previous model's front disc/rear drum setup. Track testing revealed a best 60-to-0 stopping distance of 128 feet, a distance that would have placed it midpack in our recent mini SUV comparison test. Our test driver noted that the ABS was extremely quiet and vehicle stability was excellent.

Although quick off the line and well sorted in the slalom, the Honda CR-V still can't match the RAV4 in the "fun to drive" department, something that's not likely to cause much worry at Honda. They're well aware of the fact that mini-ute shoppers are generally looking for practicality as much as, or even more than, fun, and it's in this area that the CR-V shines.

Interior room has been increased by 8 percent over the original model, giving the CR-V competitive measurements with just about any other mini-ute on the market. In fact, the CR-V now leads its class in front shoulder room and rear legroom and hip room. A low step-in height makes for easy entry, but one of our editors found it difficult to find a comfortable seating position. The cloth-covered seats are supportive, but taller drivers might find the seat cushions a little on the short side.

The rear quarters are surprisingly roomy considering the vehicle's overall size. Each side of the 60/40-split bench seat can be moved forward or back 6.7 inches, and the seatbacks can be reclined up to 45 degrees. For maximum cargo room, both rear seats can be tumbled forward to clear up to 72 cubic feet of space.

Two adults can ride comfortably in back, but three is a little tight, although the ability to recline the seatbacks does help ease the congestion. Tumbling the seats forward is simple enough, but the wide-open load floor that results isn't completely level. The RAV4 features fully removable seats that make for a slightly flatter load floor, but then you're saddled with finding somewhere to put them, not to mention what to do if you suddenly decide you need them and they're sitting in your garage somewhere.

The cargo area is easily accessible thanks to a low load floor and a two-way rear door. The separate glass hatch not only lets you load groceries and the like in tight spaces, it allows for carrying overly long items, as well. The swinging door opens up wide for easy loading, but we would prefer if it were hinged on the driver side for easier curbside access.

Nearly all of our editors agree that the dashboard layout is well designed, if not terribly attractive. The sharp, uncluttered gauge cluster is easy to read at a glance, and the stereo is placed high in the dash for easy tuning. We're especially enamored of the excellent climate controls with their slick operation and minimum number of buttons.

We also liked the large dash cubby under the radio and the storage shelves just above the glovebox that provide plenty of easily accessible storage for the driver and passenger. As with the previous CR-V, there's a foldable shelf in between the front seats. Not only is it a convenient place to throw a bag of fast food, but when folded out of the way, it creates a walkway (albeit, a small one) to the back seats, a feature that parents with small children will appreciate, no doubt.

A few minor details caused some dissention in the ranks. The funky emergency brake lever that disguises itself as a dashboard grab handle when not in use irked some editors, while others liked its original design. Honda's continued insistence on hiding the sunroof switch down and to the left of the steering wheel remains a mystery, but we're getting used to it. And then, of course, there's the styling, but we won't bore you by repeating the numerous colorful references to Japanese animation characters.

Besides, choosing a mini SUV is largely a matter of personal taste and lifestyle. If there's one thing we learned from our recent mini-ute comparison test, it's that almost all of the currently available vehicles on the market are strong contenders worthy of consideration. Choosing one over the other depends on what you plan to do with it and what attributes will contribute to that goal most effectively.

Want to explore the local mountains as well as the mall? Check out the Jeep Liberty or Nissan Xterra. Do you want the room of a sport-ute, but still crave the performance of a sedan? Get a Toyota RAV4. Need serious horsepower to pull a small trailer? The Ford Escape is the one you want.

Then again, maybe none of those scenarios figures into your plans. All you're looking for is an alternative to a small car, and maybe some all-weather capability thrown in for good measure. Something that doesn't feel like it's about to get run over in traffic, but can still get decent gas mileage. For drivers like this, the Honda CR-V is a tough act to beat.

The ultrarefined four-cylinder power plant delivers both solid power and respectable mileage. The fully automatic all-wheel-drive system assures confident traction with no driver input required, and the softly tuned suspension won't leave you wishing for the comfort of a sedan. Throw in the fact that Hondas are consistently some of the best built cars in the world, and it's hard to go wrong with the CR-V.

Stereo Evaluation

System Score: 6.0

Components: The all-new 2002 Honda CR-V EX has, among other upgrades, an improved audio package. It begins with an ergonomically pleasing head unit that boasts a built-in six-disc CD changer, a cassette deck and 12 FM/6 AM presets. The best thing about the radio, though, is the way it mirrors the personality of the CR-V. In this sense, it's all Honda. Everything is where it should be, including the radio itself, occupying the upper portion of the center stack for easy accessibility. In addition, it has a Honda "feel" to it — a logical topography that is the essence of ergonomics. Large, ridged round knobs for both volume and radio tuning grace the head unit, and most of the controls have ample spacing between. There are a couple of other cool features, in particular, the LCD readout in the faceplate that visibly displays the volume level — a nice little touch — and an oversized display for easy viewing. The CR-V head unit is only slightly compromised by the smallish buttons below the cassette deck (FM/AM/CD/TAPE), but if you think about it, you seldom use these buttons.

Things are less promising on the speaker side of the equation, with identical 6.5-inch full-range drivers in all four doors — no separate tweeters, for instance, which we've come to see in many of the CR-V's competitors, such as the Ford Explorer/Mazda Tribute and the new Toyota RAV4.

Performance: Despite the wonderful ergonomics, this is a lackluster system with slightly above-average sound. Although it played loud during testing, with a punchy bass response and a strong bottom end, this particular system was marred by a loud buzzing sound in the right rear door. We tested the system with several different tracks, and all produced this same annoying buzz. It's probably a minor problem, easily fixed, but it didn't warm us to this sound system. Furthermore, with no separate tweeters and the speakers not mounted particularly high in the doors, the soundstage suffers, producing a poor stereo image.

Best Feature: User-friendly head unit — typical idiot-proof Honda ergonomics.

Worst Features: Mediocre sound quality; buzzing in right rear door.

Conclusion: If this system sounded as good as it looked, it'd be a real winner. As it is, it suffers from a lack of componentry and also has some build-quality issues. Still, Honda will probably sell every CR-V it can shove out the factory door, mediocre sound system or no. With its legendary reputation for reliability, this company obviously knows where it can cut corners and still retain its customers. Anyway, the audio problem is easily fixed. If you want to buy a CR-V but also want better sound, your local stereo shop can drop some better speakers in the factory cut-outs and slide in a little four-channel amp (about $300 total) and away you'll bump down the road. — Scott Memmer

Second Opinions

Road Test Editor Liz Kim says:
My good friend bought a 2001 CR-V a couple of months ago, but not without a bit of trepidation. She knew that a new, redesigned one was coming. She didn't really care about the increase in power, but she was afraid that her car would seem antiquated and out of mode.

I can assure her now that she needn't have worried. The previous CR-V is much more handsome. The shortened snout makes this one seem too bug-eyed and cartoonish, and the black lower front fascia resembles a kid in a Halloween costume.

It's a comfortable ride, though, and Honda will sell plenty of these for its easygoing nature alone. Most of its operation requires little effort, with light steering, brake pedal action and gear shifter. It definitely has more spirit than the previous engine, which easily gets winded with more than one passenger on board. I'm not crazy about the odd placement of the parking brake, nor the dull color scheme of our test model, but most of the storage bins and center console placement have that Honda trademark considerateness.

If the new CR-V had participated in our mini-SUV comparison test, I'm sure that it would have placed pretty high. It leans more toward the car-like aspects than the rugged SUV facets, but that's how most drivers would use it.

Senior Road Test Editor Brent Romans says:
I occasionally see an old '80s Civic all-wheel-drive wagon on the road. It is usually not in the best of shape, but I still smile when I see one. Neat cars. Too bad they were 10 years ahead of their time.

A friend of mine calls the CR-V the pregnant Civic, and that's pretty much true. Based on observations of people who own mini SUVs, the CR-V is quite well suited to the tasks of daily American life. This means driving to work, running errands, picking up the kids from school and the like. If it snows or rains frequently where you live, Honda's got you covered with the optional all-wheel drive.

The interior is what sells me on this vehicle. Passenger room, functionality and storage are all excellent. I even get a kick out of pulling the emergency-brake handle. Each time I do, I feel like I'm pulling the release to a secret doorway. To the Bat Cave, Robin!

The new CR-V isn't a huge improvement over the previous one. But then again, there wasn't much that needed fixing. The only real complaint I can level against the CR-V is that it's not off-road worthy. But if you're not planning on bashing boulders, you've got nothing to worry about.

There are plenty of mini SUVs available, and each has its own particular advantages. A cute ute for every buyer, so to speak. For me, I'd likely end up with the CR-V.

Senior Editor Chris Wardlaw says:
Is the redesigned 2002 Honda CR-V improved over the old version? In some ways, yes. In some ways, no.

The engine feels like it makes a whole bunch more power, even though it doesn't. One thing is for sure; Honda makes one smooth four-cylinder powertrain. The CR-V's 160-horse inline four revs smoothly, providing an amazing amount of grunt on the low end, enough to chirp the tires in first and second gears if you're not careful. The manual shifter snicks from gear to gear with precision, and the clutch is light and easy to use.

Around town, this makes for a zippy little runabout, the suspension tuned to provide a compliant ride, the steering geared for low-effort maneuvering. Bring speeds up a bit, and the CR-V feels a little nervous. Try to pitch it into a turn, and watch out, because the tires pack up and head home, the steering becomes blatantly slow, and the body rolls over and plays dead. If the tight Toyota RAV4 behaves like a four-wheel-drive Celica, the soft Honda CR-V impersonates a four-by-four Buick Century.

Speaking of off-roading, my quick run down a dirt road revealed that the CR-V could use more ground clearance and that the suspension isn't really up to the task of tackling anything more than a dirt road. Skip the trails, and the Honda will be OK.

Cabin design is an interesting blend of functionality and oddity. The stereo is located up high where it is easy to see and use. The brilliant climate controls are located down low but are large, simplistic and canted toward the driver, so this location works fine. In between is a large lidded bin. Honda has moved the power window controls (including automatic up/down for the driver) to the door panel where they belong but has frustratingly kept the sunroof and cruise control switches on the dash. The driver seat is uncomfortable, unable to provide the kind of height and legroom I require, and it's missing the right armrest from the previous-generation truck.

The CR-V's styling is not appealing to my eyes. The new one looks a bit like a Volvo Cross Country with its blacked-out front fascia and long, thin vertical taillights. The original CR-V wasn't a looker either, but seemed more like a truck and less like a van than this new model.

In summary, the new CR-V's powertrain, cabin design and space utilization are improved. Style, comfort and handling have suffered a bit. Where the old truck had a jaunty, "let's go do something fun" kind of personality, this new one says "let's just get the monthly Costco run over with and go home." Give me a Ford Escape, Mazda Tribute or Toyota RAV4, please.

Consumer Commentary

A few observations: Seats are very comfortable, softer than before, could be wider. Moonroof is quiet and rattle free up to 80 mph. Very little wind noise open or tilted. Loud only if side window also open. Honda did a good job with aerodynamics, no wind noise from the body. Very, very bumpy ride except on smooth surface. Engine runs sub 3000 rpm at 80, wasn't able to nail down exact number due to traffic. New V is nimble, handles like a car, corners with confidence. Turning diameter small enough for U turns. Engine quiet and powerful. Drove over 2 hours, didn't get a single glance from passing motorist. — scname, "Honda CR-V," Dec. 2, 2001

Finally got to test drive a CR-V today. It was a silver EX. I had just rented an Escape XLT 4x4 on the weekend and here are my initial impressions and comparisons:- The 3.0L Escape definitely has more power and you can really feel it.
- The auto tranny in the CR-V is smooth but it seems they programmed it not to downshift as much. I guess this was done to eliminate annoying downshifts but it seemed sometimes it needed to downshift when it didn't. This re-affirmed my desire for a 5 speed (manual).
- Brakes did not seem as strong as the Escape's, although I think this is a pad material issue as Escapes are constantly covered with brake dust.
- Handling seemed similar although the Escape felt more "lively".
- The CR-V was smoother, quieter, and seemed much better put together.
- The front leg room in the CR-V is just adequate for me (5' 10"), much less than the Escape's.
- The rear leg room in the CR-V is more which seems to be the trade-off Honda made.
- Overall space seems a tad larger everywhere in the CR-V.
- The rear seat arrangement in the CR-V smokes the Escape's.
In the end the CR-V was not as "fun" to drive as the Escape. However, the CR-V seemed like a much better built vehicle. Also, the CR-V is more car-like which is actually what I want. The EPA listed mileage is better in the CR-V, and early posts here indicated that the CR-V is at least as good as the EPA numbers in real life. In the end I am getting the CR-V. The Escape is more fun to drive, but I think CR-V will be more fun to own. — bfyerxa, "Honda CR-V," Nov. 26, 2001

Tomorrow it will be a week since I've been driving the new CR-V. I have 300 miles on itLikes: Smooth everything—shifting, acceleration, seats, controls, etc; sound of doors closing; I'm pretty much used to the new look — it's not like the first impression/thoughts anymore; the mileage I got: 25 in mix driving (that's a bonus!) Never got it with old V; lots of cubbies; pick up on the highway...it's effortless compared to old V; the sound on the stereo is 100% improved; shifter and parking brake are innovative, pretty cool on second thought; very quiet ride; extra space; tinted back windows.

Dislikes: No variable speed wipers, the rear wiper cleans a smaller area...and wipes more toward the passenger side of the vehicle — I feel it should be just the opposite, had to take out the middle backseat headrest to improve visibility, a few rattles near moon roof, climate controls not allowing the A/C be turned off when directing the flow of air in all directions — same with recirculating/fresh air settings, no indicator light for four-wheel drive — would like to know when it's working.

Overall, I am happy with my decisions. I don't have second thoughts. No car that will satisfy you 100% b/c cars are not custom-made (at least most people). The manufacturer hopes to appeal to a lot of people. —crvic, "Honda CR-V," Nov. 26, 2001.

Long story short: Delivery (after recall delay): Monday 11/19/01 Swapped Tires: (after Test Drive) from Bridgestone Dueler HT 205/70/15 to Yokohama AVS Intermediate 215/65/15-what a difference! Driving impressions: HUGE improvement over old CRV- not as apparent initially, but after over 350 miles I am impressed. I had 5 people loaded into vehicle this past weekend and the power, handling, and ride quality were surprisingly excellent. Road Noise: Subdued to quiet over a variety of surfaces. Transmission: Honda engineers did a fantastic job of mating the 4 speed auto to the 2.4 liter engine. Part throttle kickdowns are extremely smooth and useful. The transmission seems to think for you, and keeps the CRV moving along at a sporty clip. In addition the engine is only turning about 2600 rpm at 70mph which makes for quiet cruising and substantial available power for acceleration beyond that speed. Front Seats; Very comfortable, firm and lumbar supportive. Rear Seats: Huge, and spacious. Radio/CD Changer: Good sound, better with CD. (installing Sub soon) Rear Trunk: Cavernous (optional rear cargo cover very intelligently designed, and there's even a place to store it!) Red Chianti with Saddle Interior. I LIKE the saddle interior with its' various shades of light and dark brown. Black interior is too boring for me. Exterior color is pretty sharp- a kind of mettallicy cranberry color. Overall: Even more impressed than ever with new CRV! — shellymeister2, "Honda CR-V," Nov. 26, 2001

Test drove an EX tonight...very carlike feel. I never drove the old model so I can't compare it to that, but it felt very much like driving a Civic. The AT was smooth, but the small engine is a definite downside. It had pretty good power with my wife and I, but loaded up with 2 dogs, kids, and stuff and I have a feeling it may be sluggish. Plus what really bothered me was when you hit about 40 it shifts into 4th, which is fine for cruising along. As soon as you give it any gas at all it downshifts. Let up a little and it goes back to 4th. During our short drive it seemed like it was constantly going between 3rd and 4th and back — it was very smooth and my wife didn't even notice it but it would bother me.

Interior design is surprisingly spacious. The track on the rear seats is very cool. I like the stereo and climate controls, but that little storage compartment in the middle is just goofy and out of place. Parking brake is kind of cool. First impression on sitting in it however was that of a minivan — this is probably as close to a minivan as you can get without being one, which is probably a great niche to be in. Folding rear seats is also a great design.

Overall I thought it drove quite nicely for the price point and function. My wife absolutely loved it (the sunroof helps a lot) although she was very disappointed it doesn't offer heated seats for our Minnesota winters. We both like leather also, but it would just seem out of place on this car. —thorsen, "Honda CR-V," Nov. 21, 2001

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