What's New for 2009
Aside from several new exterior colors, the 2009 Honda CR-V is unchanged from last year.
Like many Honda products past and present, the 2009 Honda CR-V is a top seller because it just makes sense. Safety? Check. Crash test scores don't get any better than the CR-V's. Versatility? Check. Maximum cargo capacity is a substantial 73 cubic feet of space, and there are numerous nooks and crannies in which to stash your stuff. Comfort and convenience? Check. The driving position is close to ideal, the controls are idiot-proof and the spacious rear seat both reclines and slides fore and aft. Secure handling? Check. In fact, the CR-V's communicative steering makes it downright entertaining to drive.
Given the CR-V's all-around competence, we're surprised that Honda hasn't seen fit to give this loyal steed a few more oats. Despite being one of the lightest compact SUVs on the market, the last all-wheel-drive CR-V we tested weighed in at a substantial 3,552 pounds -- yet the only available engine is a 2.4-liter four-cylinder rated at just 166 horsepower. With that kind of weight-to-power ratio, no amount of VTEC trickery can keep the CR-V from turning in a doglike performance at the track. If zero to 60 in 10 seconds and a 17.4-second quarter mile don't tickle your fancy, check out Toyota's V6-powered RAV4, which nearly matches the CR-V's fuel economy while hitting 60 mph almost 3 seconds sooner.
Other concerns about the CR-V include higher-than-average road noise and the lack of a manual mode for the mandatory five-speed automatic. We're not crazy about the front-end styling, either. But judging by this Honda's sales success, plenty of car shoppers aren't bothered by such issues. The well-rounded CR-V does most things well, and Honda's long-standing reputation for reliability is icing on the cake.
Competition in the small to midsize crossover SUV segment is stiff. Other notable choices include the sharp-handling Nissan Rogue, the European-flavored Saturn Vue, the excellent Toyota RAV4 and the pricey but competent Volkswagen Tiguan. Indeed, the RAV4 has won our last two compact SUV comparison tests, beating out the CR-V each time. Nonetheless, the CR-V's jack-of-all-trades nature has kept it competitive, even as newer models have debuted. As long as you don't mind the leisurely acceleration, you can't go wrong with the 2009 Honda CR-V.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2009 Honda CR-V is a compact SUV with seating for five. There are three trim levels: LX, EX and EX-L. The base-level LX comes with 17-inch steel wheels, cruise control, keyless entry, full power accessories, a tilt/telescoping steering column, a trip computer, an overhead "conversation mirror" for backseat monitoring, a retractable front-seat center tray table and a four-speaker stereo with a CD/MP3 player and an auxiliary audio jack. The EX comes with alloy wheels, a sunroof, tinted rear glass, steering-wheel-mounted audio controls, a removable trunk shelf and a six-speaker stereo with an in-dash six-CD changer. The top-of-the-line CR-V EX-L adds leather upholstery, a power driver seat, front-seat heaters, upgraded exterior trim, dual-zone automatic climate control, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a front seat center console (instead of the retractable tray), satellite radio and a premium sound system with seven speakers and a subwoofer.
The lone option is a touchscreen navigation system that includes a rearview camera and a digital audio card reader. With the navigation system, the premium sound system's CD changer migrates to the center console and a single-CD player is added behind the retracting touchscreen.
Powertrains and Performance
The 2009 Honda CR-V is powered by a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that generates 166 hp and 161 pound-feet of torque. The engine comes paired to a five-speed automatic transmission, and buyers have a choice of front-wheel drive or an AWD system that only apportions power to the rear wheels when front slippage occurs. In our most recent performance test, an AWD CR-V loped from zero to 60 mph in a lackadaisical 10.0 seconds. EPA fuel economy estimates are about average for a four-cylinder compact SUV at 20 mpg city/27 mpg highway and 23 mpg combined.
The 2009 Honda CR-V is equipped with antilock disc brakes, stability control, front-seat side airbags and full-length side curtain airbags. A back-up camera is available on EX-L models equipped with the navigation system, and Honda dealers can install parking sensors on lower trim levels.
The CR-V performed exceptionally well in government crash tests, earning a perfect five stars across the board for front and side crash protection. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety also gave the CR-V its top score of "Good" for frontal-offset and side-impact crash protection.
Interior Design and Special Features
The CR-V's cabin is both functional and attractive. Gauges are clear, controls are where you'd expect them to be and materials quality is good, if not extraordinary. Parents will appreciate the wide-opening rear doors and lightweight rear liftgate, which ease the process of loading infants and their strollers. A "conversation mirror" built into the overhead console's sunglasses holder enables front-seat occupants to keep an eye on the backseat without turning around.
Speaking of the backseat, it's of the 60/40-split-folding variety, with reclining seatbacks and fore-and-aft adjustability. Luggage capacity with the seatbacks up measures 35.7 cubic feet, and the cargo shelf in EX and EX-L models allows two-tier loading. With the rear seats folded, the CR-V can hold an impressive 73 cubic feet of cargo.
The 2009 Honda CR-V is remarkably nimble by compact SUV standards, thanks to a relatively firm suspension and sharp steering with excellent road feel. Braking performance is top-notch as well, with our most recent CR-V tester turning in a laudable 119-foot panic stop from 60 mph. The ride is slightly busier than the norm, but not objectionably so. Road noise is more annoying -- while previous CR-Vs were even noisier, some other compact SUVs have noticeably quieter cabins. The CR-V's Achilles' heel continues to be its four-cylinder engine, which simply can't compete with the V6s available in rival models. With a full load of passengers and cargo, highway merging can be harrowing, and the automatic transmission hunts more than Teddy Roosevelt on an African safari.