- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 2, 2006

The compact utility vehicle, or CUV, class of small-size sport utes is expected to grow significantly in the next decade. Consumers who became accustomed to upright seating, all-wheel-drive capability and large cargo-carrying capacity when the SUV craze took off in the 1990s are finding difficulty in disengaging from these handy attributes.

However, gasoline prices, environmental concerns and a shift in SUV image are causing more and more customers to shy away from the large truck-based behemoths. For young families who enjoy the many facets of life but demand safety above all, the more nimble, car-based SUV makes practical sense. Hence, the rise of vehicles such as the Jeep Liberty, Toyota RAV4 and the new Ford Edge. Enlivening the mix further, Honda has just delivered its all-new third-generation 2007 CR-V.

Previous CR-V models won praise for their affordability, compact dimensions and fuel efficiency. The Honda badge and associated reliability perception didn’t hurt either. This people-pleasing model was never the most powerful, or the best looking, but combined good scores in all categories have yielded a desirable option.

Honda does not mess with the recipe for success in its new CR-V iteration. Most notably is the maintenance of physical size, as the new model would fill essentially the same volumetric solid, despite the fact that it sits on an all-new platform. Wheelbase decreases by 0.2 inches, width expands by 1.4 inches, height crouches by 0.1 inches and length shrinks by 3.1 inches, largely because the trunk-mounted spare tire has been relocated under the floor. Curb weight varies from 3,389 to 3,549 pounds, depending on the trim and drive configuration. The outgoing 2006 CR-V tipped the scales between 3,318 and 3,494 pounds, so CR-V maintains its small-medium build.

Staying fit from generation to generation is quite an aberration in today’s automotive world. Toyota recently introduced its new RAV4, a vehicle that has grown 14.5 inches in length, 3.3 inches in height (4WD models) and 3.2 inches in width on top of a 6.7-inch increase in wheelbase. Of course the new RAV4 seats seven passengers to CR-V’s five (and the old RAV4’s five), but this type of new-generation expansion is all too common in the industry, particularly in the SUV divisions. Honda feels comfortable striking down the “bigger is better” mantra.

Another item that carries over, with only slight revisions, is the engine. The same 2.4-liter inline four-cylinder powers all CR-Vs, although better tuning now yields 166 horsepower (up 10) and 161 foot-pounds of torque (up 1).

A five-speed automatic transmission is the only gearbox; Honda has dropped the available five-speed manual. While this powertrain will in no way compete with the fire-breathing 269-horsepower V-6 fitted optionally in the RAV4, Honda is placing its bets that most customers will find this engine and the five-speed auto adequate. Don’t plan on towing any more than 1,500 pounds in the new CR-V, however. Do plan on a virtuous ULEV-2 emissions rating, though, and 22-23 city/28-30 highway miles per gallon.

Effort also went into lowering the center of gravity, thereby improving handling and ride characteristics. Relocating the spare tire under the floor was an essential step, as was mounting the engine and other associated equipment lower. A larger rear stabilizer bar and retuned front MacPherson and rear multilink suspension components further support the cause. Ground clearance measures only 7.3 inches now, down from the 2006 model’s 8.1 inches. Rack-and-pinion steering, four-wheel disc brakes and 225/65 all-season tires wrap either 17-inch steel or alloy wheels.

One engine, one transmission and even one wheel size seemingly offer CR-V customers little from which to choose in terms of options. However, Honda delivers in several key areas. First, both front-wheel-drive and four-wheel-drive models are offered, regardless of which trim line is chosen. The 4WD system foregoes computer control, instead employing hydraulic pumps to send torque to the rear axle when necessary.

Second, three trim models bring both necessary and luxurious equipment, depending on tastes and budgets.

Base LX models include standard air conditioning, power windows/locks/folding mirrors, remote keyless entry, cruise control, a tilting/telescoping steering wheel, lots of storage spaces, a four-speaker single-CD audio system with speed-sensitive volume control, a handy miles-to-empty fuel indicator, trip computer and two-speed intermittent windshield wipers.

Jumping to EX trim adds a power moon roof, chrome grille, variable intermittent wipers, tinted windows, security system, rear cargo shelf, six-CD/six-speaker audio system, steering-wheel-mounted audio controls and ambient temperature indicator.

The top EX-L model includes leather seats with front heaters, leather-wrapped steering wheel and gear shifter, center console, heated exterior mirrors, and body-colored door handles/mirror shells.

Satellite-linked navigation is available on EX-L CR-Vs, and includes an integrated backup camera along with voice recognition. For CR-V’s equipped with the $2,000 navigation option, buyers also get a more powerful six-disc audio system with a subwoofer and center-console-mounted CD changer.

Honda does not discriminate when applying safety features; all CR-V models include dual-stage front airbags, front side-impact airbags, curtain units with rollover sensing, active front head restraints, automatic front seat belt tensioning, ABS, Brake Assist, Electronic Brake Distribution, Vehicle Stability Control with Traction Control, tire pressure monitoring and child-proof rear door locks.

The most significant ergonomic change is the relocation of the gear shifter, which now resides in the center stack below the HVAC controls. Previously, the selector was built into the steering column.

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