Quietly, one day last winter, Canada's auto market entered a new era. For the first time, small CUVs overtook compact cars as the nation's most popular vehicle category. The trend had been building since 2008, when the Ford Escape became the first CUV to make the top-10 chart of popular nameplates. Since then, the Hyundai Santa Fe, Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 have also taken turns on the list.
As the oldest design among that group, the CR-V was due for a makeover, and while the 2015 isn't a full model change, Honda went beyond the usual mid-cycle nip 'n tuck. Most bases are covered: exterior appearance; interior features (including on-board telematics interfaced via a 18-centimetre touchscreen); powertrain and chassis; plus availability of a sophisticated suite of driver-assist and crash-avoidance technologies, such as adaptive cruise control and active lane-keeping assist.
Under the hood, a new direct-injection (DI) 2.4-litre four-cylinder engine is partnered with a continuously-variable (previously five-speed) automatic transmission (CVT). Peak power stays at 185 hp but the combination of 11 per cent more torque and the CVT promise to meaningfully trim both acceleration times and fuel consumption. Retuned suspension and improved noise isolation complete the engineering changes.
Honda Canada doesn't try to bait customers with a loss-leader entry model: at $25,990, the LX FWD costs more than most base-model peers, but includes heated door mirrors, a backup camera, seat heaters and Bluetooth streaming. From there, the choices progress through LX AWD, SE, EX, and EX-L to the top touring trim, which asks $35,790. The SE is a new rung on the trim ladder, adding proximity entry with push-button start, aluminum wheels, and upgraded audio with touchscreen.
All trims have the same powertrain. That makes the performance of the lower-end CR-Vs competitive with comparably priced peers (expect 0-100-km/h in the nine-second range) but leaves the higher trims outgunned by up-level rivals that have high-output optional engines. In routine driving, the engine and the seamless CVT work together unobtrusively. Only if you mat the right pedal and keep it there does the CVT revert to type, letting the engine speed crescendo to a shrill and constant 6,500 rpm.
The chassis alterations directed at improved ride and refinement have achieved that goal without compromising handling; the CR-V feels tidy and confident on winding pavement, if not as playful as the Escape and Mazda CX-5 with their more engaging steering.
Still, most CR-V purchase prospects will likely place more value on the Honda's quiet comfort, along with practical, new standard features, such as rear air vents, extending sun visors, a sliding centre-console armrest, and an available power liftgate. And if the CR-V's features-per-dollar ratio isn't the most compelling, its sense of baked-in quality will count for more in the long run.
The writer was a guest of the auto maker. Content was not subject to approval.
You'll like this car if ... you're a left-brain thinker who doesn't mind paying more for lasting quality and a premium feel.
- Base price: $25,990
- Engine: 2.4-litre direct-injection four-cylinder
- Drive: Front-wheel drive or automatic all-wheel drive
- Fuel economy (litres/100 km): FWD, 8.6 city, 6.9 highway; AWD, 9.1 city, 7.2 highway
- Alternatives: Chevrolet Equinox, Dodge Journey, Ford Escape, GMC Terrain, Hyundai Santa Fe Sport, Jeep Cherokee, Kia Sorento, Mazda CX-5, Nissan Rogue, Subaru Forester, Toyota RAV4, VW Tiguan
- Looks: The re-sculpted nose and wider wheels add even more character to one of the segment’s more distinctive shapes.
- Interior: The driver gets to sit tall-in-the-saddle (with 10-way power seat on most trims) while rear passengers enjoy sprawl space worthy of a mid-size sedan.
- Technology: A comprehensive suite of driver-assist technologies is standard on the top Touring trim, but not available on lesser grades.
- Performance: The modernized powertrain compares well with rivals’ base engines, but the CR-V has no answer to the higher-output turbocharged or V-6 options offered by many competitors.
- Cargo: The back seat folds the old station-wagon style (flip-up cushion, fold down backrest). Whether it’s up or down, cargo volumes are among the highest in segment.
Some rivals are sportier, many are less expensive, but the CR-V's blend of space, comfort, refinement and quality make it a solid choice.
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