CR-V keeps four-cylinder power for 2007

Friday, October 20, 2006

The vehicle has a quieter interior and new safety and comfort features.

Leave it to Honda to introduce a new sport utility vehicle that has only a four-cylinder engine and retains seating for five.

This isn't a criticism. The revised, 2.4-liter, dual overhead cam four cylinder in the 2007 Honda CR-V works competently to power Honda's revamped, third-generation compact SUV.

But it's just so like Honda to go its own way -- and keep focused on fuel economy -- while other automakers add less gas-thrifty V-6s and third-row seating to their competing small SUVs such as Toyota's current RAV4 and Mitsubishi's new-for-2007 Outlander.

Besides having a slightly more powerful four-cylinder engine than its predecessor, the 2007 CR-V is restyled for a more upscale look, uses a new chassis for an improved ride and has a quieter, two-row interior and new safety and comfort features.

Starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, is $21,195 for a base, 2007 CR-V LX with 166-horsepower engine and two-wheel drive.

This is up about $1,000 from the starting price for a base, 2006 CR-V.

All 2007 CR-Vs come standard with a five-speed automatic transmission. The five-speed manual offered in earlier models is gone.

Competitors in the growing compact SUV segment include the RAV4, which starts at $21,495 for a 166-horsepower, four-cylinder model with automatic transmission and $23,530 for a 269-horsepower, V-6 model with automatic.

The 2007 Outlander, which comes only with a 220-horsepower V-6, carries a starting retail price around $21,995.

Both the RAV4 and Outlander now offer third-row seating.

Introduced in the United States in 1997, the CR-V is a so-called compact "crossover" SUV.

These vehicles have a higher ride height than cars do and are styled on the outside to look like SUVs. But underneath, crossovers have car-based platforms and provide car-like ride and handling when compared with traditional truck-based SUVs.

Among the CR-V's recent laurels: In 2005 and 2006, it was named "Best Buy Compact SUV" by Consumer Guide. Also in 2005, the CR-V was a "Value Award" winner in compact SUV residual value, according to Automotive Lease Guide.

In 2004, the CR-V was the highest-ranked entry SUV in J.D. Power and Associates' Vehicle Dependability Study.

The new generation CR-V doesn't stray far from the successful formula of the earlier CR-Vs.

For example, the 2007 vehicle isn't appreciably bigger than its predecessor. In fact, it's 3.1 inches shorter in overall length primarily because the spare tire that used to hang on the outside rear of the vehicle has been relocated to beneath the cargo floor.

Inside, passenger dimensions haven't changed much. The biggest change is an additional 1-plus inches in front and rear hiproom, and maximum cargo room now is 72.9 cubic feet.

But the CR-V feels more upscale.

Outer styling makes the vehicle look less like an SUV and more like a modern, tall wagon. The shape is similar to a Lexus RX 350.

Getting inside is less of an SUV chore, too, because the step-in height is reduced by 1.3 inches.

Inside, the CR-V's quieter ride is immediately apparent, with the engine only slightly heard in regular driving, especially when the vehicle is at idle. There's little tire noise, though wheels and tires are bigger -- 17 inches.

I noticed wind noise around the outside mirrors on the doors, however, at highway speeds.

The four-cylinder powerplant is the same 2.4 liters as its predecessor but has been revised with new components, including Drive By Wire throttle control that manages shift points so well I could scarcely feel them in driving the test vehicle.

Horsepower is up by 10 from last year, and torque peaks at 161 foot-pounds at 4,200 rpm now, which is just 1 foot-pound over the 2006 CR-V.

More responsive

But the engine now provides more torque in a broader engine rpm range, so drivers feel that the CR-V is more responsive in more driving situations.

This is not to say the new model, which weighs slightly more than its predecessor, is a racer. I had to let the test vehicle, with two-wheel drive, power up before passing other drivers on country roads.

But even then, the engine didn't sound as if it was laboring too much. Honda engineers made sure the audible cues from the engine are right.

Fuel economy in the test vehicle is rated at 23 miles per gallon in city driving and 30 mpg on the highway, which is up just a tad from last year's 23/29 mpg. Fuel tank capacity remains at 15.3 gallons, and the CR-V still burns regular unleaded gas.

I just wish the CR-V's power-assisted, rack-and-pinion steering was a bit more precise. In long, sweeping curves, I found myself having to make minute adjustments to the steering wheel to stay on track.

And the CR-V still has a wimpy-sounding, small-car horn which seems cheap on such a handsome vehicle.

Seats are wider than those in earlier models, so larger-girth passengers fit better. But the rear-seat cushion still felt harder and more utilitarian to rest on than I liked.

Fit and finish, inside and out, on the test vehicle were excellent, and I appreciated the attention to detail as Honda designers blended textures and colors nicely inside the CR-V.

A much-needed feature that's finally added this year: An optional rearview camera that helps drivers see what's behind as they back up. Unfortunately, though, this feature comes with the optional navigation system and, thus, is available on pricey top models only, like the CR-V EX that starts at a hefty $27,395.

Standard safety features on all CR-Vs include electronic stability control with traction control plus curtain air bags that are linked to a rollover sensor so they stay deployed during a rollover crash.

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