Honda didn't try to make the 2007 Honda CR-V look more masculine. Nor did the company try to squeeze a V6 under the hood. Look inside and there are still just two rows of seating, which isn't surprising when you realize this SUV is 3 inches shorter than last year's CR-V.
This isn't how redesigns in the small-SUV class are usually done. You're supposed to make your cute-ute bigger, more powerful and more aggressive in order to get more young, active male butts in the driver seat.
But that isn't who Honda's after.
"The CR-V is for women in their early 30s who either have a child under 2 or are about to have their first child," Christina Ra, a Honda product planner, told us.
So it's settled. This sport-ute's for girls. It's also better-dressed, better-equipped and better-handling than any previous Honda CR-V, which means you might like it even if you don't own a pair of wedges.
Didn't need to grow
It's one thing to market your compact SUV to a specific audience. It's quite another to have that audience in mind from the moment you begin roughing out the design. The size of the second-generation CR-V was a major selling point for current owners, 60 percent of whom are women, so the '07 CR-V still shares a platform with the Civic, yet now has a shorter wheelbase than even the coupe. From nose to tail, it's 3 inches longer than a Ford Escape and 3 inches shorter than a Toyota RAV4.
Honda widened its compact sport-ute's track an inch to improve handling and open up more shoulder room, but lowered its stance: This CR-V sits just 7.3 inches off the ground. In the process, the company carved out an additional cubic foot of cargo space. With 73 cubes of max capacity, the Honda equals the Toyota and surpasses the Ford.
Next, Honda set about making its small SUV more practical for the owner with a toddler in one arm and groceries in the other. The side-hinged rear gate and exterior-mounted spare tire were dumped in favor of a lighter, overhead liftgate and an under-floor spare. A foldable, removable shelf, as seen in Chevrolet's Equinox, was fitted to the 35.7-cubic-foot cargo bay to allow two-tier loading.
Honda also designed rear doors that open a full 90 degrees. Better yet, the doors have numerous detents within their opening range, so you never have to worry about them swinging back while you're bent over buckling in the apple of your eye. The 60/40-split rear bench offers a wide range of fore/aft adjustment and, unlike last year, all three seating positions have the LATCH setup for car seats.
Up front, there's a sunglasses holder with a built-in conversation mirror to take the neck-twisting out of being an attentive parent. When you do need to dash to the back, the folding center tray in cloth-upholstered CR-Vs provides walk-through access. (Leather-lined CR-Vs get a fixed console.)
It's not all baby-specific upgrades, though: Honda knows its customers have iPods, so every 2007 CR-V comes with an auxiliary input jack. Plus, interior materials are higher in quality compared to the '06 model, and the unsightly dash and column-type shifter have been replaced by a sleek, ergonomic design that puts both the gear selector and the stereo controls at hand level. It's also easier to find a comfortable driving position with this year's standard tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel.
With all the V6s popping up in the small SUV segment, we expected Honda to take radical action under the hood. Instead, last year's 2.4-liter inline four-cylinder engine returns with a slightly higher compression ratio, higher-flow intake and exhaust systems, and revised variable valve timing. The result is 10 extra horsepower and 1 more pound-foot of torque for totals of 166 and 161, respectively. These numbers are on par with the four-cylinder RAV4 (166 hp, 165 lb-ft) and Jeep Compass (172 hp, 165 lb-ft).
With only 5 percent of second-gen CR-V customers opting for a manual gearbox, Honda decided not to bother this time, leaving the five-speed automatic as the sole transmission choice. The five-speed's gearing has been tweaked, with a shorter 1st gear and final drive ratio.
Buyers can go with front-wheel drive or four-wheel drive. Equipped with 4WD, the CR-V functions as a front-driver until the Real Time 4WD system detects wheel slippage and redirects power (20 percent more than last year) to the rear.
We sampled only the 4WD CR-V and found its acceleration adequate. Driving around the city is pleasant enough, but merging and passing maneuvers tap out the engine's torque reserves. The automatic shifts crisply, but has no manual mode.
Having gained only 70 pounds, the 2007 CR-V feels about as fast as the '06 model. It also feels a little quicker than the Compass, which takes 10 seconds to hit 60 mph.
Of course, it feels slower than the V6-powered RAV4, which gets to 60 in 7 seconds. The carmaker says CR-V buyers are more concerned about fuel economy than speed. Probably true, but with a 21 mpg city/28 mpg highway rating for the V6 4WD RAV4 versus Honda's 22/28 estimate for the 4WD CR-V, that trade-off hardly seems necessary.
Trades power for agility
As consolation, the 2007 Honda CR-V offers handling that borders on athletic. Greater use of high-strength steel provides a more structurally rigid body, and engineers made numerous changes to the fully independent front strut/rear multilink suspension. In front, they added caster, adjusted the angle of the struts and lowered the steering box to improve straight-line stability and steering response, while increasing suspension travel to allow for greater tuning precision. In back, they fiddled with the geometry to keep the CR-V level during acceleration and braking, and fitted a larger antiroll bar. The rack-and-pinion steering system continues to use hydraulic assist, but has a quicker ratio.
On British Columbia's Sea-to-Sky Highway, the CR-V felt balanced and refined, with progressive body roll and excellent steering feel. Ride quality is smooth and comfortable, and the cabin is insulated from the road noise that plagued '06 CR-Vs.
During our travels, though, we noticed the turning radius is a bit large. Honda's specs have it at 37.8 feet — 4 feet wider than last year. Must be the larger 17-inch wheels and 225/65R17 tires fitted to all '07 CR-Vs.
Brake size hasn't changed, but the front discs are a few millimeters thicker, and the antilock brake system now has four-channel capability, instead of three, to allow for individualized braking of the rear wheels. The standard stability control system is fully integrated with the ABS and includes a new brake-assist feature.
Starts in the low $20Ks
Familiar LX and EX trim levels return for 2007, while the EX-L (EX with leather upholstery) replaces the old SE. Priced in the low $20Ks, the LX comes with front seat-mounted side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags, air-conditioning, a CD stereo (albeit with a small "single-DIN" head unit), full power accessories and really nice cloth upholstery. The volume-selling EX has alloy wheels, body-color exterior trim, a moonroof, an upgraded stereo with a normal-size head unit and an in-dash CD changer, and the aforementioned cargo shelf.
EX-L models start around $26,000; and for $2,000 additional, you can get a navigation system package that also includes a rearview camera, a PC card reader, XM Satellite Radio and a subwoofer. Unfortunately, the CD changer moves from the dash to the console box on EX-L Navi models, and the magazine-style cartridge is flimsy. To offset this annoyance, Honda installed a single CD player behind the nav screen.
Is this what women want?
Unlike its predecessors, the 2007 Honda CR-V doesn't feel much like a budget SUV. It's smooth and stable, attractively furnished and equipped with virtually every convenience a young mom (or dad) could want.
That is, unless she's hungry for power. But Honda is betting that 160,000 buyers a year will be willing to make that compromise. Sales start September 28.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.