Honda CR-V (1997)
"The Honda of Small Sport Utes"
This vehicle accomplishes virtually everything Honda set out for it to do. Its execution is absolutely perfect, as we would expect from Honda. It's well built, it's just powerful enough, it's practical. It makes great use of its interior space and has a clean, uncluttered appearance. To boot, it's a Honda, so it's probably going to last forever. It certainly is the Honda of Small Sport Utility Vehicles.
So, why don't we like it more? Because it's also the Minivan of Small Sport Utes. Sport utilities are supposed to be rugged, adventurous, even--dare we say--exciting? We all know they're really none of those things, but we like to pretend they are, don't we? But Honda doesn't even pretend, except in appearance. Honda has put out more of a minivan in sport-ute clothing than an actual sport ute.
True, it has full-time, four-wheel drive. True, it has a higher-than-average ground clearance. True, it has a wagon-like cargo area for lots of stuff. But it still feels like a minivan. It's boring.
The Honda CRV competes directly with the Toyota RAV4. While the RAV4 is roughly the same size on the outside, it can't compare with the Honda on the inside. The Honda beats it in interior space by miles. Where the RAV4 feels small and almost cramped, the Honda feels spacious and larger than it actually is, with a low floor and lots of space between the front seats. But the RAV4 is fun and the Honda is, well, boring. Why? Ask Honda. Maybe they've gotten so good at making perfect cars that they don't know how to make a car with any edges, any personality. We don't know how Toyota managed to leave some personality in the RAV4, but they did. Now, we're not saying the Toyota leaks oil like a Jaguar and tells you to check under the bonnet, but it does have a distinctively fun feel. The Honda feels more like an ancestor of the Dodge Colt Vista, the Mitsubishi Expo and the Nissan Access. It's a microvan with four-wheel drive, rather than a small sport utility.
We know tons of people are going to love this vehicle, because it's practical and it's a Honda and it's exactly what they want. And we think that's great. Just understand, it's more an alternative to a minivan than it is an alternative to a Nissan Pathfinder. You won't be grunting when you drive this car.
We drove a CRV with an automatic transmission. On the plus side, it ran perfectly (it's a Honda), everything worked just as it should (it's a Honda), it got decent gas mileage (it's a Honda), it handled and drove like a car (it's a Honda) and it fit four people and plenty of stuff. There were two things we didn't like: One is that there was an annoying drag on deceleration. We suspect it's related to the four-wheel-drive system.The CRV didn't free-wheel easily, which we found pesky. The second annoyance was the rear tailgate. You have to open the top glass before you can open the bottom half of the gate, which is a pain in the butt. TheRAV4 has a one-piece rear door that opens like a, well, door, which we found preferable and very easy to use. Of course, we'll have to see if such a heavy door sags and gets out of alignment over time.
The Honda CRV may be more fun with a five-speed, manual transmission, which is due in early 1998. We'll have to drive one and see. But with an automatic, this is the Minivan of Sport Utility Vehicles. It's a small suburban hauler with four-wheel drive. If you're dying to get out of your minivan but don't want to take too much of a risk, this could be the vehicle for you.
View cars.com model report on this vehicle.