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2010 Honda CR-V EX-L (Honda/Honda)
2010 Honda CR-V EX-L (Honda/Honda)

2010 Honda CR-V EX-L

Revamped star ready for its closeup Add to ...

Hollywood loves facelifts and so does the car business. In both cases, the facelift comes around to spruce up an aging star - and in this case we're talking about the 2010 Honda CR-V.

You see, the current-generation CR-V was launched in 2007 and it's done pretty well. Last year, Honda sold 18,554 CR-Vs, despite being challenged by compact crossover wagons such as - well, the list is long.

But let's face it. This version of the CR-V was launched years ago, so in 2009 it was starting to look a little like the automotive equivalent of Gloria Swanson in Billy Wilder's Sunset Boulevard .

Moreover, rivals such as the Chevrolet Equinox, Toyota RAV4 and Hyundai Santa Fe are available with V-6 power, which has never been the case for the Honda. The CR-V is still without a V-6 option, but one of the many upgrades for 2010 is more horsepower (180 versus 166 for 2009).

Beyond the engine, Honda tweaked the exterior styling, upgraded the interior (a lot) and added standard features. And then Honda did something really important and totally unprecedented for a car company that loathes discounting in any form: Honda lowered CR-V prices.

Perhaps Honda took to heart falling CR-V sales: down 9.5 per cent last year, while the RAV4 was up 25.4 per cent and the Ford Escape was up 12.4 per cent.

Regardless of the reason, the starter version of the 2010 CR-V now lists for $26,290, while in 2009 that front-drive CR-V LX was $27,790. At the other end, the all-wheel-drive EX-L with Navigation dropped to $35,590 from $37,090. Love those $1,500 price cuts.

Alas, Honda didn't touch the freight charge, which at $1,590 seems excessive. I guess there's a limit to price chopping, and freight is where Honda draws the line.

Now Honda had plenty to work with in the 2009 CR-V. It certainly is safe, with excellent crash test scores. My EX-L tester was loaded with the full array of airbags, as well as a standard electronic anti-skid system and traction control. Of course, anti-skid and traction control is pretty standard in comparably priced competitors, but good to see here, nonetheless.

Compact Multi-Activity Vehicle: Honda CR-V EX-L

The CR-V is versatile and roomy, too. The cargo hold is 1,011 litres versus 872 litres in the Equinox and 700 litres in the Volkswagen Tiguan. Innovative storage solutions, such as a removable shelf unit that allows for two-tied cargo loading, are useful, too.

As for people space, the CR-V has more front and rear room for legs, hips and shoulders room than the VW and Chevy - with the exception of rear leg room, where the Equinox has an edge. The Subaru Forester has a bit more front leg room, but that's offset by the CR-V's edge in rear hip room and cargo space.

In a nutshell, the CR-V is perfectly comfortable for four adults and, in a pinch, five. The back seat reclines and slides, while features like power heated seats, navigation and an iPod interface are available. The navigation system is a snap to program.

Of course, there is quality, too. Honda has a great reputation for reliability and the CR-V is no slouch here. As for drivability, the CR-V is at the top of my list. Among small crossovers, this Honda's responsiveness is very welcome. This, folks, is an easy wagon to recommend for a test drive.

But the CR-V is, obviously, not perfect. Take warranty coverage. Hyundai has by far a better basic warranty - five-years/100,000-km, bumper-to-bumper, versus Honda's three-years/60,000-km.

Power? The Toyota RAV4 (V-6), Chevy Equinox (V-6), Subaru Forester (turbocharged four-cylinder), Ford Escape (V-6) are four competitors with more thrust yet negligible fuel economy penalties.

Road noise is also an issue with the CR-V, and some may find its ride to be on the firm side - a concession to superior handling. The Equinox and Subaru Forester are more serene highway cruisers.

Speaking of noise, Honda's upgraded four-cylinder engine sounded somewhat coarse when pushed hard. Moreover, the CR-V's five-speed automatic delayed before downshifting when our little rig was in merging or passing mode - under fairly heavy throttle. Balky shifting is a giveaway that the manufacturer is trying to squeeze every drop of fuel economy out of a vehicle.

The cockpit of the 2010 Honda CR-V EX-L.

The CR-V's cabin is one place where I have almost no complaints. The seats are firm in the sort of way you appreciate on a long drive. They don't mash down over time, leaving you with no support. Instruments and controls are textbook perfect. Everything is easy to find and use. Honda also has spent money on interior materials. What's there looks better, richer than before.

But what's with that old-style CD changer - the one with the cartridge that whirs when at work? It's located in a little box just beside the driver's right leg, so the passenger really cannot access it to load discs.

Perhaps CDs are not fashionable any longer, what with MP3 players. A jack for the latter was standard on my tester, along with stereo controls on the steering wheel and seven speakers.

The CR-V is, as a whole, a nice package. Most families would have no trouble at all living with it as their everyday ride.

But as with all facelifts - Hollywood or otherwise - the benefits only reach so far. Here in the Honda, the facelift adds some shelf life to a good compact crossover.

That said, the competition is not standing still. The Hyundai Tucson is all new in showrooms now, and it competes against some versions of the CR-V. The Santa Fe gets its own facelift this year and the Escape is less expensive - one of the real bargains in this class.

I could go on, but the point is, the CR-V is definitely not your only choice. No doubt a perfectly good choice, but not the only one and for some buyers - those who need extra horsepower, for instance - surely not the best one.

jcato@globeandmail.com

2010 HONDA CR-V EX-L NAVI 4WD

Type: Premium compact crossover

Price: $37,280

Engine: 2.4-litre, four-cylinder

Horsepower/torque: 181 hp/161 lb-ft

Transmission: Five-speed automatic

Drive: All-wheel-drive

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 10.1 city/7.5 highway; regular gas

Alternatives: Hyundai Tucson and Santa Fe, Chevrolet Equinox, GMC Terrain, Ford Escape, Volkswagen Tiguan, Subaru Forester and Outback, Toyota RAV4, Dodge Journey

Follow on Twitter: @catocarguy

 

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