It is one of the one most popular automobiles in this country.
You see them everywhere. Not just new ones, but every generation of them.
Honda struck pay dirt with the original CR-V back in 1997. It appeared that they found a good vehicle to lead the SUV charge for the brand. It is not to discredit the rebadged Isuzu Rodeo known as the Passport, but the original CR-V was the result of learning how to produce one that attracted the right customer with its capabilities and overall design.
At one time, the CR-V was the most popular SUV in the USA. At the end of last year, it was the fifth best-selling vehicle in this market. Only the Ford F-Series, Chevrolet Silverado, Ram pickup truck lineup, and the Toyota RAV4 outsold the Honda.
For 2020, the current generation model received a facelift and a Hybrid driveline. Perhaps to regain the sales traction once lost to the surging rival from Toyota. Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic threw a curve ball at every automaker during these past several months. However, the CR-V is on track with a great month in September – a 19.2% increase over last year during the same month. Year-to-date volume is still off by 15.9% compared to the third quarter of 2019.
Pandemic aside, Honda knew that the CR-V can still be a strong seller for the brand. Of course, I had to see this for myself. After receiving a 2020 CR-V Touring for evaluation, I wanted to know why the CR-V is this popular.
Let me get one thing out of the way: This is my first CR-V of this current – fifth – generation. I will not point out what I missed, but to see how it currently fits in a highly competitive segment of "compact" SUVs.
The CR-V is a friendly vehicle. They are easy to spot in any parking lot – a huge test for any SUV. The shape has evolved over time, but this generation model sharpened a lot of lines and created a design flow that is distinctive and recognizable.
The doors open wide for all passengers, even though the belt line seemed a bit high overall. The glasshouse seemed a bit “scrunched” due to this high belt line. The front end may not be for everyone, but you can tell it is a Honda through some elements shared on various models across the lineup. The rear end is very compelling, with its “L” shaped taillights that drop along the roofline to across the lower part of the liftgate’s glass. A chrome frame finishes off this look.
My Touring tester added LED headlamps, 19-inch alloy wheels, and roof rails. It fits to the image of this trim level – sporty, but luxurious. Honestly, I felt that my tester was a bit more sedate than I would have wanted it to be. The Aegean Blue paint job actually made this tester pop a lot more out on the road.
Stepping inside the CR-V Touring, I was treated to more of Honda’s design language. The translation was very well executed ergonomically with presented simple-to-comprehend controls and readouts. In the digital instrument binnacle, I noted how the tachometer’s design reminded me of the iconic S2000 roadster. Obviously, the red line marker was a dead giveaway that this was clearly not a resurrection of the S2000.
Compared to the last generation CR-V, the design of the cabin is cleaner. A single touch screen controls the infotainment system encasing various audio playback options through its nine-speaker system. I like that Honda gave this CR-V a T-Bar shifter rather than their push-button actuator. At least there is a volume knob by the touchscreen and a more logical redundant switch on the steering wheel.
Seating is fine, though I found the front seatback to be a bit firm. I was able to get comfortable behind the wheel without any sign of fatigue. Rear seat room is good with more than enough leg and headroom overall. Compared to other vehicles in its class, the cargo space is large and expansive. Keep the rear seat up, and you can fill up to 39.2 cubic feet of shopping bounty. Drop the rear seats for up to 75.8 cubic feet of home improvement projects and flatpacked furniture.
Underneath my non-hybrid Touring tester’s hood is a 190 horsepower 1.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine. That sounds like it would do very well in the CR-V. Instead I found it simple adequate for the job.
The torque rating of 179 pound-feet of torque is about right for the segment. My tester had all-wheel-drive – also expected in this class. Where I had concerns about this driveline was the continuously variable transmission attached to it. I found that the transmission held back a lot of performance when you needed it. Part of it was the throttle response, when it came to passing maneuvers or catching up with traffic. I wanted this driveline to open up some more, even at hard throttle.
Fuel economy-wise, I averaged 28.0 MPG. That seems reasonable. However, if you chose the Hybrid driveline, you not only get 212 total system horsepower, but you can get up to 40 MPG according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
In terms of driving dynamics, the CR-V delivered on ride quality. The Honda is smooth and does a good job absorbing all sorts of bumps and gaps. The handling was to be expected, with minimal roll and lean and competent on evasive maneuvers. I wished the tires were better to handle the slicker spots as the temperatures dropped along with our earlier-than-expected snowfall.
The pedal feel of the CR-V’s brakes was really good. That induced some very powerful stops in normal and panic situations. On manageable surfaces, winter stops were equally good. I also liked the on-center feel of the steering system. The CR-V also exhibited a very good on-center feel from the steering wheel. The turning radius was fine, but there is a bit of numbness I felt in the overall steering action.
As for pricing, my CR-V Touring AWD tester came with a sticker price of $35,845. Honda offers four trim levels – each one with a choice of turbocharged or hybrid drivelines. Pricing starts from $25,150.
When you look at a Honda, you expect a lot from one. The level of quality is top notch. The ergonomics is right for all drivers. These vehicles were made for simplicity in operation and maintenance – as it was their advertising slogan over 40 years ago.
The popularity of the CR-V is based on these principles. People want an easy-to-use, comfortable, and efficient compact SUV to call their own. They also want something that is family-friendly. Therefore, it ticks all of the boxes. For those reasons, the Honda CR-V is still one of the most popular automobiles in the USA.
DISCLAIMER: Vehicle provided by American Honda Motor Co., Inc.
All photos by Randy Stern