Redesigning a top seller is a challenge. Change it too much, and customers may balk. Change it too little, and buyers may look elsewhere. Honda’s CR-V, one of the best-selling compact SUVs on the market, has been a success story because the company seemed to strike the right balance between new and old. The dividend is that it has become one of the top sellers in the compact SUV segment.
At first glance, the CR-V looks like a lightly tweaked version of the previous model, but place the two side by side and you can see that the new one has all-new body panels, a lower roof and a bigger interior. Fuel economy has been improved.
Following the trend in compact crossovers, the CR-V is more like a tall station wagon and less like a tiny truck. Compared to the previous generation, the styling is softer and smoother, with a coupelike window line and a rounded tailgate.
Refinement has been improved, but the cabin lets in a good deal of wind and road noise at high speed. The instrument panel looks better, but the hard, smooth surfaces look less elegant than those in the former model. The restyled gauge package has illuminated arcs on either side of the speedometer that switch from green to blue depending on how the car is being driven. Green is more economical than blue. The changing colors deliver visual feedback to the driver.
The cockpit feels spacious, in part because of the deep dash and sloping windshield. The steering wheel has audio controls on the left side and cruise controls on the right.
All CR-V models are equipped with a rearview camera that offers normal, wide and top-down views of what is behind the vehicle.
Prices range from $23,120 for a two-wheel-drive LX to $30,620 for an all-wheel-drive EX with leather and navigation. A rear-seat entertainment system is now an option in the EX-L. That model starts at $28,570 for front-wheel drive.
The engine is a 2.4-liter, four-cylinder whose power is rated at 185 horsepower. This four-valve engine responds with good muscle at low rpm because it has a wide power band. The transmission is a five-speed automatic; many competing vehicles have a six-speed automatic. Fuel economy is now rated at 22 miles per gallon in the city and 30 on the highway for all-wheel drive and 23 city and 31 highway for front-wheel drive. I was never able to do better than 26 mpg in highway mileage.
An ECON button on the dash engages an economy mode that helps improve fuel economy by reducing the sensitivity of the throttle and altering the cruise control and climate control operation for greater fuel efficiency. Acceleration in ECON is more leisurely.
The electronically activated all-wheel-drive system reacts faster to provide optimum traction, yet it is 17 percent lighter and has 60 percent less internal friction. It sends power to the rear wheels when starting from a stop, and works in concert with the vehicle stability system, which the former model did not.
Folding the back seat is now quick and simple. All it takes is a tug on the release lever and the seat flops into folded position. There are levers on the seat back or in the cargo space. The cargo area is deeper than before.
The test CR-V was an all-wheel-drive EX-L with navigation. The base price was $30,445 and $31,275 with destination charges.
Three years or 36,000 miles, with a five-year, 60,000-mile powertrain warranty.
Tom Strongman’s e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org
2014 Honda CR-V AWD EX-L Navigation
Engine: 2.4-liter, 185-horsepower four-cylinder
Transmission: Five-speed automatic, all-wheel drive
Wheelbase: 103.1 inches
Curb weight: 3,529 pounds
Base price: $30,445
As driven: $31,275
MPG rating: 22 in the city, 30 on the highway
At A Glance
Point: The CR-V builds on the strong points of its predecessor. It is slightly larger, a bit lower, has more standard equipment and looks sleeker.
Counterpoint: The test car’s cabin was somewhat noisy on the highway, the instrument panel has plain textures and the transmission is a five-speed when many competitors have switched to a six-speed.