Superior highway manners

Friday, March 11, 2005

srobertson

Honda CR-V gets upgrades for 2005

Last week I wrote about a slick little SUV from Japan that had great off-road capability and acceptable highway manners. This week I'm going to tell you about another little SUV that has just the opposite personality -- superior highway manners but no serious off-road ambitions. It's the Honda CR-V, and since its introduction in 1997 it has garnered accolades from the automotive press, testing organizations such as Consumer Reports, government agencies such as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and industry groups such as the Insurance Institute. Of course, the perfect vehicle has yet to be built, but Honda seems to be on the right course with the CR-V.

The CR-V received a major update for 2002 that included a larger 4-cylinder engine and sheetmetal freshening. Sales boomed after that, and the accolades continued rolling in. For 2005, stylists gave it updated headlights, grill, taillights, bumpers, side trim and more. Every model rolls on new, larger-diameter 16-inch wheels. Plus, the CR-V Special Edition that I tested shows off with body-colored bumpers, moldings, door handles and a hard, sculpted spare-tire cover.

Inside, the 2005 CR-V upgrades include new head restraints and plusher upholstery. The distinctive Special Edition, with its supple leather trim, leather-wrapped steering wheel, heated front seats and heated outside mirrors sheds the econo-SUV image.

Under the hood is a variable valve timing and lift, dual overhead camshaft, 4 valves per cylinder four-cylinder engine generating a total of 160 horsepower and a broad torque range. Transmission choices include a fun-to-shift 5-speed manual gearbox available on the base model, and an optional smooth, new 5-speed automatic transmission. The automatic features Honda's Grade Logic Control that avoids gear hunting on uphills and descents. Either way, the CR-V is a certified Low-Emission Vehicle, which should keep the tree-huggers happy.

Safety

All CR-Vs include antilock brakes, stability control and side airbags. The CR-V earned five stars from the NHTSA for front and side impacts, the highest rating possible. In addition, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety awarded a "Good" rating, also the highest possible, for the CR-V's performance in the 40-mph frontal offset crash test.

For 2005, CR-Vs are equipped with front side airbags and new side curtain airbags with a rollover sensor. Also standard on every CR-V is a remarkable Vehicle Stability Assist system that's designed to help control skidding.

The CR-V is available in four models, beginning with the two-wheel drive LX, priced at $20,195. The all-wheel-drive version is offered at $21,395. The well-equipped EX, which is available in all-wheel-drive only, will cost you $22,650, and an all-wheel-drive Limited Edition will set you back $25,250. But you'll have a very plush vehicle equipped with power moon roof, leather, heated front seats, automatic transmission, power windows and locks, air conditioning with rear seat vents, cruise control, steering wheel audio controls, an outside temperature gauge, privacy glass and a high-powered sound system.

Comfort

The CR-V provides a multitude of cupholders and storage areas, including a handy divided shelf below the dashboard and above the glove box. A storage tray between the front seats can fold down out of the way to reveal a carpeted walkway between the seats -- great for moms who might have to crawl to the back seat to supervise the rowdies. And that back seat is surprisingly comfortable considering the vehicle's overall size. Each side of the 60/40-split bench seat can be moved forward or back several inches, and the seat backs recline enough to enable this writer to squeeze in a 70-miles-per-hour nap. Rear seats can be tumbled forward individually or together to create up to 72 cubic feet of space. Front seats are supportive and completely adjustable, enabling even a 6'4" test driver to occupy the driver's seat, despite the space-grabbing moon roof.

The CR-V scampers to 60 mph in about 8.5 seconds. It does not ride as smoothly nor as quietly as Honda's Civic or Accord, but it's not far behind. It cruises confidently, propelled by its front wheels, and judging from its proven reliability, it can take just about anything the road can dish out. It was never intended for serious off-roading -- there's no low-range transfer case, skid plate or locking differential -- but for negotiating snowy, sandy or muddy road conditions the CR-V is nearly perfect. My neighbor has owned three. That should tell you something!

Steve Robertson of Robertson's Creative Photography is a car enthusiast and former staff writer/photographer for the Southeast Missourian. Contact him at sjr1@robertsonsphotography.com.

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