The Honda CR-V is one of the best-selling vehicles in the country, and the best-selling crossover. The market doesn’t always pick the best car – strong name recognition or a positive brand reputation sometimes reward undeserving cars, and some lesser-known or little-trusted models are unfairly ignored.
But it’s hard to argue with consumer tastes in the compact crossover segment. Thanks to a new redesign for 2017, the CR-V delivers outstanding interior space and fuel economy along with thorough competence at pretty much everything else.
This redesign comes at an important time for the CR-V. Honda had bungled a few details in a 2015 update, saddling this crucial model with a stiff ride and a cumbersome infotainment system. The 2017 CR-V addresses its predecessor’s flaws, builds on its strengths and adds valuable new safety features – turning it into the most well-rounded vehicle in its class. Owners of past CR-Vs will welcome the new car’s familiar flavor, and the improvements will help win over fresh customers as well.
Interior space is perhaps the CR-V’s biggest advantage, rivaling the volume of a bigger midsize crossover like a Ford Edge or Nissan Murano. Honda’s design wizards have brought the cargo floor low to the ground, maximizing the room available inside the car and also making it easier to load cargo. The CR-V does sacrifice some rear-seat comfort by keeping the cushion on the low side – helping it fold flat more easily – but there’s so much legroom that it’s hard to complain. New for 2017, Honda has added a reconfigurable cargo floor to address a slight ledge between the floor level and the tops of the folded rear seatbacks – it’s now easier to slide cargo all the way in, rather than needing to lift it over a bump like in last year’s CR-V.
Up front, the CR-V’s more luxurious interior boasts modernized styling and richer materials. It’s still not the world’s fanciest crossover – or even necessarily the most posh in its price range – but it trumps many of its top competitors at providing a premium look and feel. However, the infotainment system, while improved over last year’s model, still isn’t perfect; the screen is deceptively small, and icons are sometimes small and closely clustered. The cabin is designed to make the screen look bigger, but the effect doesn’t go beyond aesthetics.
On the road, the CR-V distinguishes itself from the similarly roomy Nissan Rogue and Toyota RAV4 by providing relatively agile handling and peppy yet quiet acceleration. The difference is most notable against the Toyota; the Honda feels tight and responsive while the RAV4’s steering and handling responses are looser, vaguer and slower.
The CR-V also beats those models – and the rest of the class, except for extra-thrifty hybrid versions of the RAV4 and Rogue – for fuel economy. With its new 1.5-liter turbocharged engine, this Honda is rated for 29 mpg with the tested all-wheel-drive system and 30 mpg without it. That’s the mixed-driving rating, mind you – some competitors can’t even hit those figures in purely highway testing. The trip computer reported 33.5 mpg during a weeklong test of an AWD model.
That said, the CR-V doesn’t have the handling zest of a Mazda CX-5 – another outstanding compact crossover that benefited tremendously from a recent redesign. Mazda, too, capitalized on its crossover’s existing strengths while reducing its flaws. In the CX-5’s case, a drab cabin, noisy ride and relative lack of luxury features had been driving off some buyers. The redesigned 2017 CX-5 turns those weak points into strong ones, with a slick new dashboard and extra dose of quiet comfort on the road.
All the while, Mazda retained and perhaps even improved upon the CX-5’s spirited handling. It has a level of eagerness absent from the competition. A CR-V has commendable composure on a winding road considering that it’s a big tall crossover, but the CX-5 hunkers down to feel like an agile compact car. Its limits aren’t as high as a Mazda3 hatchback’s, but at least in normal driving, the CX-5 avoids reminding you that you’re driving an SUV.
One issue that Mazda did not address – perhaps finding it incompatible with a stylish body and sporty handling – was a shortfall of interior space. While there’s still a useful amount of room for people and cargo, it’s a clear step down from the ultra-roomy CR-V and several other top competitors. Meanwhile, fuel economy is unremarkable – 28 mpg with front-wheel-drive and 26 mpg with the tested AWD – and some buyers will want additional power from a vehicle designed to be fun.
Mazda does have an advantage on value for the money, with lots of standard features even at a base price of $24,985. You don’t have to upgrade to the fully loaded model to get lots of great features – adding to the car’s luxury feel, even at prices well below $30,000.
The CR-V has an identical base price, to the dollar, but you’ll want to spend $2,750 extra for the EX model rather than the base LX. The EX includes the more powerful yet more fuel-efficient turbo engine found on the tested car, whereas the LX makes do with last year’s engine. The EX’s extra features also include a generous helping of safety equipment and convenience items.