When the original Honda CR-V debuted in the late 1990s, its mission was simple: offer a distinct alternative to more mainstream mid- and full-size large SUVs. With its car-based design, economical four-cylinder engine and sedanlike ride and handling, the CR-V was an instant hit. Priced competitively and offering plenty of passenger room and cargo capacity for most people's needs, the Honda CR-V has long enjoyed strong sales numbers and much loyalty from consumers.
Today, the compact-SUV segment has grown to include more than a dozen different models, with varying philosophies of what constitutes the perfect blend of size, power and capability. While some models offer more powerful upgrade engines and others can deliver true off-road capability, the Honda CR-V remains focused on its more practical aspirations. True to form, it is one of the best choices available in the all-important areas of being both easy to drive and family-friendly.
Current Honda CR-V
Redesigned for the 2017 model year, the current Honda CR-V boasts improvements on many fronts. Exterior changes are subtle, but they manage to convey a more purposeful and upscale vibe, from the aggressive headlights to distinctive L-shaped taillights. The cabin gets an extreme makeover as well, with a new dash design and more legroom and cargo room than before, though the CR-V was already one of the roomiest vehicles in its class.
The CR-V is powered by one of two engines, depending on which trim is specified. The base LX comes with a 2.4-liter four-cylinder carried over from last year's model. It churns out 184 horsepower and 180 pound-feet of torque. EX, EX-L and Touring models are motivated by a turbocharged 1.5-liter four-cylinder with 190 hp and 179 lb-ft. The turbo engine's character is more robust than what its modest horsepower increase might suggest. Both engines are paired to a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) and can be ordered with front- or all-wheel drive.
In our reviews, we've been thoroughly impressed by the new Honda CR-V. The turbo 1.5-liter engine has plenty of power at low rpm, and it lasts all the way to redline if you're winding it out. Factor in the remarkable fuel economy and you've got what could be the best all-around engine in this class. Meanwhile, the revamped chassis and steering give the CR-V a solid feel around turns as well as an even more absorbent ride. Then there's the CR-V impressive utility and safety features. Put it all together and you're looking at a top pick for a small crossover SUV.
Used Honda CR-Vs
The previous fourth-generation CR-V was produced from 2012 to 2016. Compared to the previous-generation CR-V, changes were of the more evolutionary sort, as its size, basic interior packaging and engine were similar. Key alterations included a quieter and more comfortable ride, additional features and a backseat that you could fold down by operating levers located in the cargo area.
Throughout its life cycle, the CR-V was powered by a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine. For the first three model years, it was paired to a five-speed automatic and made 185 hp and 163 lb-ft of torque. In 2015, Honda upgraded the engine to produce more torque (184 lb-ft) and swapped out the traditional automatic in favor of a CVT. Front- and all-wheel drive were available across the board.
Initially, the CR-V was offered in familiar LX, EX and EX-L trim levels. The LX was modestly equipped, with standard features such as automatic headlights, Bluetooth connectivity and a four-speaker audio system with a CD player and USB port. The EX added alloy wheels, a sunroof, rear privacy glass and a six-speaker sound system. The EX-L further tacked on heated mirrors, a power driver seat, heated front seats, leather upholstery and seven speakers. The EX-L could further be bolstered with a navigation system or a rear DVD entertainment system. By the end of its run, SE and Touring trims were added to the roster, and additional features including blind-spot monitoring, power liftgate, adaptive cruise control and lane keeping assist were available.
In road tests of the time, we were impressed by the interior, which was intelligently thought out and boasted strong fit and finish. Its ride was more comfortable and quieter than before, and handling and steering remained high points. Its major shortcoming concerned passing power in certain circumstances. The CR-V's acceleration was peppy enough around town, but somewhat sluggish during merging and passing maneuvers on gradients. That's true no matter the year, though the later models with the upgraded engine and CVT feel a bit quicker and get better fuel economy.
The third generation of the Honda CR-V was produced from 2007 to 2011. Compared to the previous-generation CR-V, this one had few key improvements, including a new liftgate (instead of the previous side-mounted door with an outside-mounted spare tire), improved handling and steering, and the option for a navigation system for the first time. Trim levels included the traditional LX and EX, plus the EX-L — the L signifying leather upholstery (along with heated front seats). A five-speed automatic transmission was standard and all trims could be had with either front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive.
In reviews, we've found this CR-V to be a very well-rounded model. High points included a comfortable and sensible interior, top crash test scores and agile handling. Elevated amounts of road noise might be a problem for some shoppers, as would be the engine's modest power, but overall this CR-V should be a great choice for a used small crossover SUV.
CR-Vs from 2007 to 2009 made 166 hp versus 180 hp for the following two years. Those looking for maximum luxury in a CR-V should know that the EX-L gained a power driver seat, automatic climate control and a premium stereo for 2008. An SE trim level, which slotted between the traditional LX and EX trims, was made for just the final year of this generation.
Produced from 2002 to 2006, the second-generation CR-V boasted a number of improvements compared to the original CR-V, including more power, more interior room and improved passenger protection. It was available in base LX or uplevel EX trim. The EX had more features, as well as standard antilock brakes and side airbags for the entire run (the LX didn't get them as standard until 2005), so picking an EX might be a wise idea. Notably, stability control and side and side curtain airbags became standard across the lineup in '05. The Special Edition model, available only in 2005 and '06, included exterior styling tweaks, a hard spare tire cover and heated leather seats and mirrors.
Power came from a 2.4-liter four-cylinder rated at 160 hp, though this number dropped to 156 hp in 2006 due to a revised rating procedure. The LX had standard front-wheel drive and optional all-wheel drive, while the EX was AWD-only until 2006, when a FWD version was also made available. Both LX and EX initially came standard with a five-speed manual transmission, but from 2005 onward the manual was limited to the EX. The other transmission, an automatic, had four speeds until 2005, when it was upgraded to five.
In reviews, our editors lauded the second-generation CR-V's comfortable ride and refined powertrains, though the significant road noise at speed was deemed regrettable. Some of us found the four-cylinder a bit meek, but its smooth power delivery and reasonable efficiency were mentioned as admirable traits. All in all, the second-generation CR-V was roundly praised when new and remains a solid choice on the used-car market.
The original first-generation Honda CR-V compact SUV was produced from 1997 to 2001. It was priced competitively and offered more passenger room and cargo capacity than its peers. A manual transmission was added in 1998, and a welcome 20-hp boost the following year gave it a new output of 146 hp. In 2000, a leather-trimmed SE (Special Edition) model was added to lead the model lineup.