First drive: 2017 Honda CR-V [Review]

An overhaul for Honda\'s volume family hauler.

It has become a tired refrain. Americans love crossovers. Producing anything with four-wheel drive, some semblance of ground clearance and a whiff of rugged capability pretty much gives an automaker a license to print money.

This may be fresh territory for some, but not for Honda. The 2017 Honda CR-V marks the introduction of the fifth-generation of the company's hot-selling cute-'ute. It's the second-best selling Honda and the seventh-best selling car in America for 2016, period. Honda will sell more CR-Vs this year than Volkswagen will sell Volkswagens.

Suffice it to say, Honda couldn't afford to get this redesign wrong. Read on to see how it turned out.

Under the metalThe new CR-V gets a complete powertrain overhaul. The 2.4L, naturally aspirated engine has been tossed from everything but the entry-level LX. On EX and above, you'll find Honda's now-ubiquitous 1.5L turbo.

In the base LX trim, the 2.4L makes 184 horsepower and 180lb-ft of torque. Step up to the EX and higher trims and the 1.5L makes 190, but you lose one pound-foot of torque. Both are paired with Honda's CVT.

Depending on the trim and your choice of front- or all-wheel-drive, city fuel economy ratings range from 25 to 28 mpg; highway estimates range from 27 to 30 mpg.

On the outsideThe 2017 Honda CR-V received a pretty aggressive exterior makeover. It'll become old hat soon enough, given how many of them Honda will sell, but for the time being at least it's a refreshing new face on a commonplace vehicle.

Up front, the bumper gets a sharper, more chin-heavy look. Two ridges run along the hood, making the CR-V look slightly more upright than it may have otherwise. Out back, it gets new "L"- or "J"-shaped taillights (depending on which side you're looking at); top-spec Touring models get a unique dual exhaust treatment.

It's a genuine improvement over the outgoing CR-V, the looks of which could perhaps best be described as desperately nonthreatening.

In the cabinThe CR-V's interior received a dramatic and much-needed overhaul. Everything from the dash materials to the upholstery pattern and quality has been upgraded. Granted, our evaluation vehicle was a loaded-up Touring model with all the bells and whistles, but even the lower-trim models have significantly nicer interior appointments.

Let's talk about a couple of negatives real quick before we look at the feature list. For starters, the CR-V uses the same straight-line shifter Honda uses in all of its CVT-equipped cars. It's big and clunky and just generally unpleasant to look at. It's one of the few interior components that comes off cheaper than it really should.

The second negative (in our eyes, anyway), was the cheap-looking woodgrain trim. It provides nice contrast on the dash and door panels, but it doesn't feel at all upscale.

There's more good news than bad, however. Our test model's large touch screen was nice to look at and reasonably simple to use. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are offered on vehicles (like ours) equipped with the "Display Audio" system and both work straight out of the box. Only LX models are not so-equipped.

Honda now offers a hands-free power liftgate on EX models and above, granting easier access to the larger, more space-efficient rear cargo area.


Let's get this out of the way straight off: If you're looking for a lively driving experience, the CR-V shouldn't be on your short list. There are far better options out there if that's your priority (the Mazda CX-5, Kia Sportage and Subaru Forester XT come to mind, among others).

It's not quick and it's not particularly sharp in the corners. That's compounded by steering that has been made heavier and quicker but no more direct and it can make the CR-V tough to place at times. There's slack in the steering response on-center and not a lot of information coming through to help compensate for it.

When we broke for lunch on our drive route, Honda had competitive vehicles on hand for back-to-back evaluations. This backfired slightly as we found ourselves reminded of just how surprisingly decent the RAV4's driving dynamics really are. The Toyota felt cheaper, creakier and just generally older and less refined than the CR-V, but when pushed, it was much easier to hustle with confidence.

What does the CR-V do right, then? Just about anything the average (read: non-enthusiast) consumer wants. It accelerates adequately, both off the line and in passing situations. Honda deserves kudos for keeping the CR-V's curb weight under control. Despite its size and practicality, it essentially weighs no more than a comparably-equipped Accord.

Cabin refinement (let's face it--not Honda's traditional strong suit) is excellent as well. The seats are supportive and comfortable, and there's minimal wind and road noise intrusion. Even the grooved concrete roads south of California's Bay Area weren't particularly intrusive. That leaves just one source of NVH intrusion: The powertrain. Unfortunately, the quieter ambient noise level in the cabin makes it even more prominent.

The CR-V's true party piece is its suite of semi-autonomous driving aids. Collectively, they're dubbed "Honda Sensing." It's a particularly understated name for a comprehensive and remarkably effective collection of safety and convenience features.

And it's Honda's "killer app."

Honda Sensing just does everything well. The lane departure mitigation system doesn't send you careening from one side of the road to the other with each correction; the lane centering system is effective even on poorly-marked roads; the adaptive cruise is responsive and offers a wide range of distance settings.

Could it be better? Yes. But short of luxury vehicles with double the CR-V's asking price, you won't find its better.

Leftlane's bottom lineThe 2017 Honda CR-V does all of the important things better than its predecessor. It may not light the enthusiast world on fire, but for efficient, dependable and practical family transportation, it's incredibly tough to beat. And for those who'd rather let the car do most of the work, the CR-V boasts one of the most robust and satisfying semi-autonomous driving suites in the industry.

2017 Honda CR-V Touring AWD base price, $32,395

Exterior photos by Byron Hurd. Interior photos courtesy of Honda.

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