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Almost from the beginning, the Honda CR-V has been the benchmark for the compact SUV market.

Since its introduction in 1995, it has consistently posted impressive sales numbers and is a remarkably popular car, crossing all kinds of demographic boundaries. It was, and still is, the one by which all others are judged.

In 2009, it was business as usual. Same driver-friendliness and usability and, in this year, you could get it with 2WD in more than one trim level. Made sense; the vast majority of people interested in the CR-V were indifferent regarding its off-road ability.

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For those who wanted it, however, the AWD system was Honda's well-utilized Real Time arrangement. Revamped and tweaked over the years, it went back to the mid-1980s, when the quirky Civic Wagon was available with it. In a nutshell, the front wheels provide all the traction until they start to slip, at which point, the back wheels receive engine power to help the vehicle get through the rough patches. It's far from being a terrain-devouring off-road setup, but provides supplemental stability and helps in snow and muddy road conditions.

For what it's worth, my neighbour had a 1988 Civic Wagon with this feature, and she drove it more than 300,000 trouble-free kilometres before selling it. Not the most versatile AWD system around, but pretty much bulletproof.

Power for this iteration of the CR-V was provided by a 2.4-litre four-cylinder that featured Honda's i-VTEC variable valve timing setup. Just one transmission choice here: a five-speed automatic, which featured Honda's Grade Logic Control. This automatically adjusts gear ratios when ascending/descending hills. A handy engineering feature and used throughout the company's lineup.

As far as fuel economy goes, the '09 CR-V was in the middle of the pack. Natural Resources Canada reckoned that an average driver in the AWD version of the CR-V would use 1,880 litres of regular grade fuel a year. By way of comparison, a Nissan Rogue of the same vintage was rated at 1,720 litres, a Ford Escape 1,760 litres and a Volkswagen Tiguan 2,020 litres.

Standard equipment included air conditioning, cruise control, power one-touch windows, a 60/40-folding back seat and tilt/telescoping steering. Depending upon the model, you could also order extras such as a climate control system, heated front seats, leather interior, steering-wheel-mounted audio controls, a navi system and back-up camera.

But the CR-V didn't need any gimmicks or extras to draw buyers. It's always been about as close to a four-wheeled appliance as you can get and, for many people, that's just fine. Honda obviously recognized this; the 2010 version of the CR-V was virtually identical to the '09.

It also has decent resale value. From a base price of less than $28,000 in 2009, it's holding steady at $12,000-$19,000, depending upon the trim level. The AWD versions are fetching $1,000-$1,500 more than their 2WD counterparts.

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Transport Canada has a couple of safety recalls on file for the '09 and '10 CR-V. One concerns a potentially flawed transmission shaft bearing that could let go and cause all kinds of mayhem, including a sudden loss of power. This affects both 2009 and 2010 models. The second has to do with a questionable wiring harness on some models that could, again, result in a total loss of power.

The U.S. National Highway Traffic safety Administration has four technical service bulletins out there for this vintage of the CR-V. These include a loud "rattling" noise that emanates from the engine during cold starts, a possible cylinder head oil leak and a couple of software glitches.

Lots of love from Consumer Reports. In addition to receiving C.R.'s "good bet" designation, the CR-V receives top marks in virtually every category, garnering this organization's highest "much better than average" used-car prediction award. This applies to both 2009/10 models and the only fly in the ointment is a possibly weak climate control system. Comments from owners: "Very loud road noise," "Great car for small families" and "A major improvement over the previous one."

Market research firm J.D. Power has mixed feelings about the CR-V. It likes its overall mechanical quality and interior quality, but is lukewarm about style and comfort. Still, a "better than most" rating for overall dependability and "about average" for performance and design from this organization.

Tech specs

2009 Honda CR-V

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Original Base Price: $27,790; Black Book: $15,825-$19,825; Red Book: $12,100-$15,950

Engine: 2.4-litre four-cylinder

Horsepower/Torque: 166 hp/161 lb-ft

Transmission: Five-speed automatic

Drive: Front-wheel; all-wheel

Fuel Economy (litres/100 km): 10.7 city/7.8 highway (AWD); regular gas

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Alternatives: Chevrolet Equinox, Toyota RAV4, Ford Escape, Mazda Tribute, Nissan Rogue, Jeep Compass, Suzuki Grand Vitara, Mitsubishi Outlander, Kia Sportage, Hyundai Santa Fe

Send your automotive questions to globedrive@globeandmail.com

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