MONTEREY, California — We’re attacking some mildly challenging, serpentine stretches of asphalt and the all-new 2017 Honda CR-V is holding its own. No wild-child sport modes, no fantastic claims of “dynamism,” just an honest to goodness, well-engineered crossover with a buttoned-down chassis and enough power to have a little fun. If it can manage to handle its business out here, then the CR-V is pretty much assured capable of tackling anything modern suburbia can throw at it.
But how well the new fifth-generation Honda CR-V handles and performs is likely far down the consideration list for most potential buyers. They’re probably more interested in how much room there is inside (considerably more than before), how safe it is (plenty), or the kind of mileage it gets (a class-leading 28/34 city/highway mpg for front-drive models, 27/33 for all-wheel drive).
To say the CR-V is an important model to Honda is a galactic understatement. It is now Honda’s best-selling vehicle, eclipsing the Accord. Honda is on track to sell well more than 300,000 CR-Vs this year to bring the total to more than 4 million sold since its introduction in 1997. So it was vitally important for the CR-V development team to improve its compact(ish) crossover across the board in order to stay on top of this critical and highly competitive market segment.
Like any new generation model, the CR-V has grown dimensionally, but not markedly so — at least from the outside. It is 1.2-inch longer overall than the outgoing vehicle, rolls on a 1.6-inch longer wheelbase, and is 1.4-inch taller. But it’s inside where the true differences lie. The cargo area has expanded to 39.2 cu-ft with the rear seats up and 75.8 cu-ft when the CR-V’s nifty new one-touch 60/40 rear seats are folded. When they’re down, more than five feet of flat load floor space is at your disposal (9.8 inches more than before). If you’re hauling people instead of cargo, rear seat passengers get 2.1 additional inches of legroom and overall passenger volume is 105.9 cu-ft. Interior packaging is one of Honda’s strengths and it certainly shows inside the 2017 CR-V.
Things have kicked up several notches when it comes to interior materials and amenities for driver and passengers as well, at least in the top spec Touring model we drove. We had a chance to get into the outgoing CR-V for a short time for comparison’s sake, and the differences are stark. The ribbed, leather-trimmed seats are a smidge on the firm side but proved more than comfortable for the drive, and the driver’s seat now comes with an available lumbar-assist feature. Honda’s new, 7.0-inch center instrument panel display (“driver information interface” in Honda speak; also found in the new Civic) allows easy access to the car’s myriad safety (the Honda Sensing suite is available for most trims and the CR-V is available for the first time with a driver attention monitor, adaptive, low speed cruise control, and road departure), entertainment (you want Apple CarPlay and Android Auto? You got it for most trims), and vehicle settings, and the dash in the Touring model was trimmed with handsome wood, stitched leather accents, and soft touch materials.
Because this is America, the cupholders now hold all manner of drink sizes and the handy new center storage area between the front seats can be configured three ways to swallow cargo and keep your devices at hand and charging, with USB ports also available for rear seat passengers. Most CR-Vs are also available with Honda’s new Garmin-based navigation/infotainment touchscreen setup, now with volume knob! (Cue the choir singing Hallelujah.) It’s a huge improvement over the clunky, two tiered, blue screen setup of old. When it’s time to kick out the jams, there are four levels of sound systems across the range, with the Touring getting the top spec, 9-speaker, 330-watt system with a subwoofer.
Slide behind the CR-V’s right-sized steering wheel and hit the start button, and most CR-Vs will come to life with a version of Honda’s new 1.5-liter direct-injected turbo four under the hood, which makes 190 horsepower and 179 lb-ft in the crossover. (Honda still offers the carryover 2.4-liter four with 184 hp and 180 lb-ft for the base LX model, but shhhhh, don’t tell anyone.) There’s one transmission mated to both engines, Honda’s CVT, which it has continued to improve to help reduce the 1.5-liter’s turbo lag, improve acceleration from startup, and reduce overall noise levels. While there isn’t a true sport mode that firms up multiple vehicle systems, there is a sport program for the CVT that optimizes throttle mapping, but don’t expect to roast the tires or get thrown back in your seat. Mash the gas pedal and the CR-V responds with relative authority, delivering the power in a smooth, linear fashion befitting a CVT-propelled vehicle. At freeway speeds, it hums along quietly enough with a minimum of racket in the cabin thanks in part to multiple noise abatement strategies, but any aggressive high-speed passing maneuvers need a little planning before putting the turbo’s hammer down.
The CR-V is in its sweet spot in the 30-to-50-mph range where it will normally operate in real life, which is where we hustled it during the twisty road portion of the drive route. The Touring we drove was fitted with Honda’s real-time all-wheel-drive system. Honda improved the setup for the CR-V to deliver as much as 57 percent more torque to the rear wheels (up to 40 percent total depending on the situation) and it works in concert with the updated, variable gear-ratio electric power steering and vehicle stability system. When we needed to slow, we called on the strong, progressive brakes, featuring bigger discs than before and an electric brake booster. Combine that with the CR-V’s chassis bones, consisting of a MacPherson strut front, a newly revised multilink rear, fluid-filled suspension bushings, and a more rigid and lightweight body that should ace most crash tests, and you have an overall setup that Honda calls world class. We’ll call it the class of its class.
As we pulled up to the hotel in downtown San Francisco and hopped out after the drive, it was pretty clear Honda did exactly what it needed to do with the fifth-generation 2017 Honda CR-V. It’s dynamically better with an improved powertrain, its game has been upped hugely in the cabin, and it looks better than the outgoing model to boot, with updated signature wing-look LED lighting (full LEDs on the Touring), handsome 18-inch wheels for higher trim levels, and a wider, more muscular stance. The competition better bring it big time if it has any hope of making a major dent in the CR-V’s dominant market position, one Honda just solidified further with its impressive new model.
2017 Honda CR-V Touring Specifications
|Price:||$33,295 (base, FWD)|
|Engine:||1.5L turbocharged DOHC 16-valve I-4/190 hp @ 5,600 rpm/179 lb-ft @ 2,000-5,000 rpm|
|Layout:||4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, FWD/AWD crossover|
|EPA Mileage:||27-28/33-34 mpg (city/hwy)|
|L x W x H:||180.6 x 73.0 x 66.1/66.5 (FWD/AWD) in|
|Weight:||3,397/3,512 (FWD/AWD) lb|
|0-60 MPH:||7.3 sec (est)|
|Top Speed:||117 mph (est)|