Communicative steering, confident handling, smartly designed interior storage, abundant cargo space, roomy backseat.
Underpowered engine, auto tranny has no manual mode.
Of all the compact crossover SUVs on the market, the 2008 Honda CR-V doesn't have the most powerful engine or quickest track times. It doesn't have the most tech features, it can't hold the most passengers and it probably won't make the neighbors swoon from the sheer grandiosity of its interior. Yet it's the best-selling compact crossover in the U.S. and has been for a while now. Why? Because it has the right combination of usability, sprightliness, drivability and fuel economy coupled with Honda's reputation for reliability that hits a sweet spot for the average cute-ute shopper.
That's not to say there isn't good competition out there. The CR-V lacks the Toyota RAV4's third-row seat and powerful V6 engine. It can't really compete in the looks department with the Mitsubishi Outlander. And the Mazda CX-7 offers enthusiast-level driving dynamics the Honda can't match. But if you're in the market for a small, useful, agile, strong all-around crossover, the 2008 Honda CR-V should be on your must-test list. It's on everybody else's.
Like all 2008 CR-Vs, our EX-L with navigation test vehicle came with a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine (166 horsepower and 161 pound-feet of torque) and a five-speed automatic transmission. Honda offers all-wheel drive as an option, and our test vehicle was thusly equipped. EPA fuel economy estimates peg our all-wheel-drive tester at 20 mpg in the city, 26 on the highway and 22 in combined driving. We managed to get 20 mpg in mixed driving during our time with the crossover.
In both instrumented testing and real-world driving, the CR-V's engine proved to be an underachiever. Our 0-60-mph and quarter-mile times — at 10.0 seconds and 17.4 seconds at 79.2 mph, respectively — are slower than those of competitors we've tested, such as the Volkswagen Tiguan and Toyota RAV4 V6. Around town, the CR-V engine's power delivery felt adequate, and the transmission's shifts were smooth and crisp. But there wasn't much gusto for the five-speed automatic to tap into for passing, and Honda doesn't provide a manual mode to help the driver manually choose the best gear to move things along. This doesn't bode well for a trip with a full load of passengers and/or cargo.
(For 2010, the CR-V was given 14 additional horsepower. It still feels quite slow. Fuel economy was also improved, though, to 21/27/23 for all-wheel-drive models)
Things are mostly better when it comes time to hit the brakes. Effort and pedal modulation are just right, and we found that the brakes performed well for most city driving. However, we noticed significant brake fade after a few hard 60-0-mph stops during performance testing. This isn't something most CR-V owners will likely encounter, though it does suggest that the CR-V's brakes might not offer optimum performance when descending steep grades, for instance.
The 2008 Honda CR-V is an excellent communicator when it comes to steering and handling, and really shines — and bests most of its competitors — in this respect, mimicking vehicles with higher price tags. In daily driving and at the test track, the CR-V's variable-assist power steering was responsive and allowed us to control the crossover with precision and confidence, which upped the fun factor to levels that beat most rivals.
A weak spot is the standard equipment tire choice — Bridgestone Dueler H/T all-season tires, most likely selected for long tread wear and mud and snow capability. Their low rolling resistance caused the CR-V to feel sloppy and lacking in grip at the limits during performance testing, and they hunted quite fiercely on the grooved concrete freeways near our editorial offices in Southern California.
All four usable seats in our 2008 Honda CR-V EX-L test vehicle were quite firm (the narrow and rock-hard center rear seat really isn't viable for anyone on a regular basis); those passengers with less natural padding might find them a little uncomfortable for longer trips. Some of our editors also took issue with the EX-L's eight-way power-adjustable driver seat lumbar support, declaring it too aggressive even at its lowest setting. We did like the front-seat side bolsters, finding them snug and secure without being constrictive.
As for passenger space, the CR-V's front and rear headroom measure less than the competition, but the CR-V never felt uncomfortably tight to us. Honda's small SUV is the roomiest of the bunch in hiproom for both rows. In rear-seat shoulder and legroom, it is bested only by the Mitsubishi Outlander. In fact, the rear seat is among the most spacious in any compact crossover on the market.
In typical Honda fashion, road noise in the CR-V is pronounced; wind noise is less so, but still noticeable at higher speeds. On the highway, we really had to crank the volume up to enjoy the seven-speaker audio system that came with our test vehicle's navigation system.
The CR-V's interior features a lot of thoughtful storage spaces. A swing-down sunglasses holder doubles as a well-placed "conversation mirror." The leather-wrapped shifter's location on the center stack (just below the climate controls) opens up a space on the floor between the center stack and the center console that's perfect for a purse or bag. Modest front door pockets swallowed our bottled beverages and a steno pad quite tidily. But it's not all ideal: The EX-L-exclusive fixed center console, which features two nonadjustable cupholders bundled with a six-disc CD changer and a fairly deep storage bin, is too low and its retractable plastic cover feels flimsy.
Even though the CR-V is one of the smaller compact crossovers available, it's designed to make efficient use of the space it does have. Maximum cargo capacity is a generous 73 cubic feet, which equals that of the Toyota RAV4 and bests the Mazda CX-7 by 14 cubes, even though the Honda is shorter in overall length than both vehicles.
This generous cargo capacity allowed for easy storage of golf bags, luggage and a stroller. The easily removable rigid cargo shelf is a nice addition for hiding items from nosy passersby and splitting the cargo area into two compartments.
On the safety front, the 2008 Honda CR-V sports six airbags, active front headrests and stability and traction control. Additionally, we had no problem installing a child safety seat in the CR-V, and the roomy backseat made strapping a child in relatively easy.
The touchscreen navigation system on our tester included a back-up camera, which we consider necessary to counter the compromised rearward visibility on this generation of the compact crossover. With that nav system you also get an upgraded seven-speaker audio system that includes a subwoofer. Unfortunately, the nav system/audio controls (one perfectly fine volume knob, 16 rectangular buttons, two clickity rocker-type buttons and a tiny, wiggly joystick) were often confusing or tedious to use.
The EX-L's dual-zone automatic climate controls (new for 2008) are Honda-simple (two big temperature knobs and a handful of clearly marked buttons) and easy to reach and use, though not very aesthetically pleasing.
The previous-generation CR-V's boxy, trucklike styling is gone, and shoppers can make up their own minds about the rounded profile of the 2008 Honda CR-V. Inside the cabin, we found the materials weren't luxurious, but nice enough that we didn't feel let down considering our test EX-L's near $30,000 price. There was decent-quality leather on the front seats, but the hides covering the backseat were a bit hard. The dashboard, center console and doors sported a tasteful mix of matte plastics, some with a brushed aluminum look and others with a subtle metallic-flecked sheen that managed not to be shiny. Panel gaps were even and build quality was solid overall.
Anyone who values excellent utility and interior design in a small package that doesn't feel small inside, won't need to carry more than three other passengers at a time and doesn't mind a lack of power in their compact crossover SUV.