The Honda CR-V may not be the fastest, best-handling compact crossover SUV on the road, but it excels at the things that matter to families that own it.
Today's CR-V is one of the most spacious vehicles in its class, and one of the more fuel-efficient ones, too. Its safety scores and performance are more mixed, though.
The CR-V's rivals include vehicles such as the Chevy Equinox, the Ford Escape, the Hyundai Tucson, the Toyota RAV4, and the Kia Sportage.
For the 2015 model year, the CR-V was updated with a fresh interior and new front- and rear-end styling that cleaned up its jumbled look considerably. From the outside, the look is more closely tied to the small Fit and HR-V hatchbacks, and to the 2016 Civic sedan, too.
Its appearance is more tidy now, but the CR-V can look bulky, especially from the rear, where Honda masks the tall cargo bay with an upswept, triangular window. It's fine for family duty, but the overall shape lacks the flair and detail of, say, the new Hyundai Tucson.
Inside, the freshened-up cabin wears better plastics and finer graining than it did before the 2015 model year. The functional and simple dashboard serves it well, with climate controls just below audio controls, and an enlarged 7.0-inch touchscreen display for the audio system on all but the base model.
There's just a single powertrain offered on the 2016 CR-V, and straight-line performance is middling. The 2.4-liter inline-4 has direct injection and is coupled to a continuously variable transmission (CVT) for very good fuel economy—up to 33 miles per gallon highway. It's neither particularly fast nor sporty, but that's not what hundreds of thousands of buyers a year are looking for, according to Honda's sales stats.
Handling, too, is just average, but it hasn't held the CR-V back. The suspension is tuned for a softer ride over crisper responses, and steering is predictable and not at all aggressive. It's even-handed, not at all sporty—and even the optional all-wheel-drive system is more an all-weather component than a trail-riding companion, like the systems found in the Subaru Forester or the Jeep Renegade.
Where the CR-V puts its best and highest effort is into space and utility. Almost a mid-sizer by raw dimensions, the CR-V has excellent interior space for its overall size, and fits it with one of the most clever folding seats in its class, combined with impressive back-seat comfort and good ride comfort in general. Flipping and folding the back seats is simple: just open one of the back doors, and with one arm and a simple pull of a strap, in a very fluid motion the lower cushion tumbles forward into the footwell, the headrest angles forward, and the rear seatback flips forward, all tucking nearly behind the front seat, to a completely flat position.
Cargo loading is also a snap, as the liftover height is less than 24 inches. And up front, there's a minivan-like selection of cupholders, cubbies, and cargo trays in the redesigned console, including a storage bin stuffed with USB ports, a 12-volt charger, even an HDMI jack.
Safety has always been a selling point for the CR-V, and after a re-test, federal authorities rated the CR-V at five stars overall. Honda recently redesigned the CR-V's front end to accommodate the new small-overlap test performed by the IIHS—which calls the SUV a Top Safety Pick+.
On the safety roster of equipment are the clever LaneWatch camera in the right door mirror; it shows an image of the car's blind spot on the center dash display when the driver signals for a right turn or lane change. It's standard on all but the base LX, while a rearview camera is standard across the board. A host of advanced electronic active-safety systems like adaptive cruise control are available—but only on the Touring edition.
The CR-V keeps pace with the market in terms of connectivity, and it includes a well-rounded feature set. The base LX is a low-volume vehicle, and most buyers will choose the mid-level EX or EX-L models. But if you want extras like a navigation system or satellite radio, you may have to move up two steps beyond the most popular EX model to the EX-L Navi trim—or to the new Touring trim for that safety package.
The EPA rates the CR-V with front-wheel drive at 26 mpg city, 33 highway, 29 combined. Adding all-wheel drive lowers the rating to 25/31/27 mpg, even though the vehicle's all-wheel-drive system fully disengages the rear wheels when cruising to help save fuel.