Pop the rear hatch on the Honda CR-V and you're in for a surprise: the load floor is very, very low. I went to throw some groceries in the back of the car last night and stood in the store parking lot for a minute, wondering exactly how it's possible to have such a low load floor, a fully-independent rear suspension, and all-wheel drive.
Reach over to either side of the trunk and you can fold the 60/40 split rear seats flat with one lever pull. The cargo cover assembly is spring loaded, so it comes out of its brackets with little or no effort.
Having wrangled both a 42" television and a flat-packed television stand into a similarly sized Suzuki Grand Vitara two weeks ago, I admired the CR-V because the process of loading large items into the back -- a process that took many minutes and considerable swearing with the Suzuki -- would have taken seconds in the Honda.
The Honda CR-V is supposed to be the benchmark of the compact utility segment, and during moments like this, when you're manhandling a 70-pound IKEA box into the back, it acts like one. Combine that with a spritely engine, good handling and ride quality, and great ease of use, and you've got a benchmark car all over again. Not bad.
Ben Timmins, Associate Web Editor
It's easy to understand why the Honda CR-V is one of the most popular cars in this segment, and with this recent update, it stands to continue this trend. Its exterior design isn't revolutionary but it's also different enough from the previous model to look fresh. It looks better in person than in pictures, and in stance and profile it looks remarkably similar to its Kia competitor, the Sportage. The CR-V is far more accessible though, with effortless ingress and egress for people and, because of its low floor, easy cargo-loading in the rear hatch. The cargo area is also fairly large, but the rear seats don't fold completely flat like they do in the Sportage.
Without question though, the new CR-V has the Sportage beat in terms of ride quality, visibility, and engine power and refinement. Its cabin also feels much airier than the Hyundai's, possibly due to the Honda's low cowl and fairly large side windows. Overall, the interior design has gone from basic to stylish with curvy design elements replacing the previous car's poker-straight lines. I've never been a fan of the CR-Vs dash-mounted shifter, but the new car's shapely dash allows it to be set a bit lower than before so it's less likely to be a nuisance when using the HVAC controls. The upper screen that displays radio info is less successful. It's a good idea because it frees up the larger, main screen to be used for viewing navigation maps but it's poorly executed. From my perch in the driver's seat, the inner edge of the screen is partially blocked by the hood that arches over it. It would be easier to read if it was brought out a bit, and possibly even angled slightly toward the driver.
Jennifer Misaros, Managing Editor, Digital Platforms
The new Honda CR-V would be a very wise purchase decision for most people looking for a spacious small/mid-size crossover. I'd strongly advise folks seeking stylish or sporty options, however, to also try a Kia Sportage or a Mazda CX-5. The CR-V definitely is a great choice for a buyer who wants an excellent small crossover and wants to blend in.
Like Jennifer, I wasn't a fan of the CR-V's dual screens, particularly because the navigation screen has outdated graphics and the upper screen seems largely unnecessary, even if it is very easy to glance at and keep your attention on the road.
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
This isn't the cheeky, tall Civic wagon I fell in love with in 1997, but this is one of the first modern CR-Vs I have found satisfying. Photos don't do the CR-V's exterior design justice; though it looks rather evolutionary on a computer screen, in person, it somehow seems wider, lower, and a little sportier than the previous generation model.
Mechanically speaking, very little has changed from the third generation model, but seeing as the previous CR-V was one of the better offerings in its class, that isn't necessarily a bad thing. Suspension tuning is surprisingly firm, but as my colleagues note, the CR-V's ride quality is still fairly compliant. The 2.4-liter I-4 felt pretty smooth, though it's a bit coarse at idle. The five-speed automatic bucks the six-speed automatic trend adopted by many competitors (and the CR-V's own platform mate, the 2013 Acura RDX), but it's well behaved and quick to respond to changes in throttle input with a downshift.
It's not the most sophisticated driveline on the market, but it works well: despite the added weight of the navigation system and all-wheel-drive system, I averaged about 29 mpg on my commute to the office, which consists of roughly 30 percent highway driving.
Opening the hatch reveals a surprising amount of space - at 37.2 cubic feet with the rear seats up, the CR-V's cargo area is one of the largest in its class. Both the load floor and lift over are one inch lower than before, which is a boon when loading heavy cargo - as are the handle-pull seat releases, which send the second-row seats folding and tumbling further. Just be careful - the liftgate hangs a little low; I whacked my head against it twice.
Evan McCausland, Associate Web Editor
As consumers, we've been trained to expect constant advancement in the objects we buy. Why go for a new cell phone, pair of shoes, or car if it looks like the one I currently own? From that perspective, the new CR-V comes off as another underwhelming redesign from Honda. While the Ford Escape, Kia Sportage, and Mazda CX-5 are blatantly new vehicles, the CR-V looks like a modest evolution of a five-year-old design -- maybe a mid-cycle face-lift at best.
If you can move beyond the superficiality, though, the CR-V still ranks among the best compact crossovers. Even if change has come slowly, Honda started so far out in front of the pack that the CR-V remains great to drive and exceptionally spacious relative to its competition. The humble four-cylinder engine is civil under light throttle and happy to rev when you ask for acceleration. Even without the latest and greatest powertrain technology (six-speed automatics, turbochargers, and direct injection), the CR-V returns fuel economy on par with the segment. Steering is decent and the ride/handling balance is spot on. A Mazda CX-5 is a large step ahead of the Honda in sporty driving dynamics, but the Honda is neither overweight nor clumsy. It also trounces the Mazda in terms of functionality with brilliant interior packaging that makes the rear seat and the cargo space look like they belong in a larger class of crossovers. These are all fundamental proficiencies that Honda built its brand on twenty and thirty years ago. While the competition is rapidly catching up on practical matters and starting to leave Honda behind on engaging driving dynamics, the CR-V remains an excellent, rational choice.
Eric Tingwall, Associate Editor