- The Washington Times - Friday, December 15, 2000

Liking the Honda CR-V is easy. Honda's small sport ute is loosely based on the Civic and is more like the Civic than the Passport, Honda's larger SUV. The CR-V's unibody construction and four-wheel independent suspension insure a fairly smooth, vibration-free ride.

While it has a low step-in, its seating position is higher than a passenger car for that command-of-the-road experience most SUV buyers desire. Generous cargo room and seating for five make it as practical as some larger sport utilities.

A solid choice for buyers looking for a SUV-like experience, but in a more fuel efficient and more manageable package, the CR-V goes toe-to-toe with the Toyota RAV4, Ford Escape and Suzuki Grand Vitara.

No one is going to rave about the CR-V's looks, but no one is going to avert his eyes when one passes by either. The exterior styling is conservative and uninspired. On the side of utility, however, Honda has stretched the skin around a very useful passenger/cargo area. It's purely a case of form following function. Only the rear-mounted spare tire, which interferes a bit with rearward visibility, is a small stumble in an otherwise sensible design.

Other than adding child-seat tether anchors, Honda hasn't changed anything on the CR-V for 2001. It's offered in three trim levels (LX, EX or SE). The LX and EX can be equipped as either front- or all-wheel drive. The four-speed automatic transmission is optional on LX and EX versions, but standard on the SE, along with AWD. My latest test CR-V was an SE.

All CR-Vs are powered by a 2-liter four-cylinder engine, delivering 146 horsepower. The CR-V is a tourer not a sprinter. Its 133 foot-pounds of torque does a decent job of getting it rolling, but it won't take your breath away.

Climbing to 60 mph from a standstill takes in excess of 12 seconds. The seasoned four-speed automatic transmission is found in other Honda applications. It operates efficiently and reliably.

The AWD system only diverts power to the rear wheels when some front-wheel slippage occurs. The greater the slippage, the more power is diverted. There is no four-wheel low setting, so serious off-roading is left to the larger Passport. The CR-V's fuel-economy rating is 22 mpg in the city and 25 on the highway.

Simplicity reigns inside the CR-V's cabin. The orderly layout of gauges, switches and knobs are easy for the driver to see and operate when under way. Leather seating is standard in the SE and covers seats both comfortable and sufficiently supportive. Since there is no center console, passengers can move freely from the front seats to the rear. Three adults can fit across the rear seat, but two would be happier on longer journeys. There is plenty of head-, shoulder and legroom both front and rear.

The cargo area behind the rear seat is ample. For even more room, the 50/50 split rear bench folds out of the way. Mounted directly to the door, the spare tire doesn't have to be moved separately to access the cargo area through the side-hinged rear door. A moderately low lift-over makes for easy loading and unloading, too. A removable panel does double duty as the cargo-area floor and a picnic table.

Draped in Honda reliability, the CR-V is a worthy competitor in the small SUV segment. While it may not be the most powerful performer in the group, its well-considered design and user-friendly ergonomics earn it high marks. Where a larger SUV is too cumbersome and a minivan too boring, the CR-V is a suitable compromise.

Base price of the CR-V SE is $22,800. Standard features not yet listed include speed-sensitive power-assisted steering, anti-lock brakes, dual power outboard mirrors, 15-inch wheels, air conditioning, four-speaker AM/FM stereo/CD player, cruise control, power door locks/windows, remote keyless entry, power remote rear-hatch release, dual front air bags, carpeted floor mats, deep-tinted windows, leather-wrapped tilt steering wheel and chrome grille. Adding the $440 delivery charge brought the price as tested to $23,240.



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