- The Washington Times - Friday, September 8, 2000

The Honda CR-V seems to have become the Can't Resist Vehicle.

So many consumers bought the compactly sized sport utility in July that the CR-V set a new monthly sales record of 11,948. It wasn't a fluke. For the calendar year, CR-V sales are also on pace to set a record again.

The 2000 sales gains, building on record sales in calendar 1999, come as the CR-V was named Best SUV under $25,000 by auto researcher IntelliChoice earlier this year. A few months later, the CR-V was ranked first in J.D. Power and Associates' Initial Quality Study.

What's the appeal for a vehicle that's now 3 and 1/2 years old and looks basically the same as it did when unveiled in 1997?

Credit the CR-V whose name is an abbreviation of Comfortable Runabout Vehicle with being in the right place at the right time and with the right price tag.

As gasoline prices rose this year, consumers looking for an SUV's usefulness but wishing for fuel economy more akin to a car's found the CR-V, with all-wheel drive and a city fuel economy rating of 22 miles per gallon and a highway rating of 25 mpg, definitely to their liking.

Compare this to the 18-mpg city rating for a four-wheel-drive, four-cylinder-powered Jeep Cherokee or the 17-mpg city rating for a four-wheel-drive Toyota 4Runner with six-cylinder engine and you can begin to appreciate the CR-V's fuel thriftiness.

Then there's the CR-V's starting manufacturer's suggested retail price including destination charge of $19,090. This is below the average new-car price today of $21,792.

There is a tradeoff, of course. The test CR-V a top-of-the-line, SE (Special Edition) model with all-wheel drive and four-speed automatic transmission was no powerhouse.

In fact, the 2-liter, double-overhead-cam four-cylinder made quite a ruckus when pushed hard, and there were times in the mountains that I declined to pass.

Still, the CR-V performed admirably in mostly runabout work around town, where frequent stops and starts were adequately managed without fuss and where the CR-V merged with city traffic easily, if not always quietly.

The careful fuel usage comes in part because of Honda's compact and lightweight all-wheel-drive system that activates only when needed, such as when wheel slip is detected. Otherwise, the CR-V travels the roads as a front-drive vehicle, as most cars do today.

A driver does nothing to engage the CR-V's all-wheel drive. The nearly seamless transition from front- to all-wheel drive and back again is handled automatically via a sophisticated clutch pack.

Honda calls the system Real Time 4WD, but it doesn't come with a true low gear for really rough off-road going.

The CR-V also can be had without Real Time 4WD. A CR-V LX with two-wheel drive and automatic transmission is the lowest-priced vehicle in the lineup.

All CR-Vs ride 8.1 inches above the ground. Thankfully, that's not so high as to make for an awkward scramble to get inside. At 5-feet-4, I merely opened a CR-V door and turned and sat.

Helping to ease entry was leather on the seat it's standard on the SE and helps reduce the static cling and friction that come with the usual CR-V fabric seats.

Other SE features include AM/FM stereo with cassette player and in-dash CD player, body-colored bumpers, hard spare tire cover and leather-wrapped steering wheel.

Honda began selling the SE model only in March and advertises it as offering many popular amenities at a $1,000 savings over what it would cost to put the items on individually.

The stereo was acceptable, although it competed with wind noise as the CR-V got into highway speeds. Gauges and controls are easy to understand and well laid out. But I continue to wish that Honda offered an optional, factory-installed sunroof.

The retractable center tray table between the CR-V's front seats remains a pleasing alternative to the usually bulky, fixed center consoles in other SUVs and lets front-seat riders easily climb to the back seat. The tradeoff here is that the table doesn't incorporate covered storage space.

The back seats still fold back and nearly flat, mating with the two front seats so riders can literally stretch out and nap during a long road trip.

And the CR-V is still the only vehicle offering a picnic table as standard equipment. The molded plastic table serves as the cargo floor in the rear. Just lift it out, extend the folded legs, and you're set for a roadside lunch stop.

Note, however, that another returning feature is less welcome the rear hatchback door that swings over to the right still blocks access from curbside.

The CR-V, built on a modified Honda Civic platform, has a surprisingly carlike ride.

Virtually unchanged in appearance from its debut, the CR-V is among the more docile-looking SUVs on the market, especially as more and more sport utes add cladding, big bumpers and large headlamps to emphasize their rough-and-ready image.

A 2000 Toyota RAV4 with four-cylinder engine, two-wheel drive and manual transmission starts at $17,368.

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