Honda CR-V(2001)

Honda CR-V

For the past few years, whenever anybody asked us about small, all-wheel-drive SUVs, the first three vehicles that came to mind were always the Toyota RAV4, the Subaru Forester, and the Honda CR-V. Those were the originals, the pioneers of this genre. There are more small SUVs now, and even more on the way (including a completely redesigned CR-V for 2002). But the CR-V holds up pretty well.

It's still the "minivan of SUVs." It's practical above all. It's the descendant of the old four-wheel-drive Civic wagon. It's a good SUV for someone who really, in his heart, doesn't want an SUV. It's an SUV for someone who can't commit to a full-size, emission-spewing behemoth but still wants a vehicle to go cross-country skiing in.

The CR-V is very "Honda." Aside from the presumed rock-solid reliability, it's easy to drive and it's got lots of nooks and crannies to store your junk. It's smaller, nimbler, and more fuel efficient than a full-sized SUV, while offering all-wheel-drive utility, plenty of ground clearance, and a certain coolness factor that comes with the vehicle type.

Honda has made only minor changes in the CR-V since its introduction in 1997. For 2001, child seat tethers were added.

 

Driving Experience

There are three versions of the CR-V available. The base version, called the LX, can be had with front- or all-wheel drive, while the two spiffier models, the EX and SE, come with all-wheel-drive standard. Antilock brakes are standard on the EX and SE; they're not available on the base LX model.

The CR-V is built on the Honda Civic platform and, not surprisingly, it feels a lot like a four-cylinder subcompact. Its two-liter engine puts out 146 horsepower, enough to land it squarely in the "adequate" category. Honda claims you can tow 1,000 pounds with it.

We found the handling to be a little more tippy than a typical passenger car but less tippy than a full-sized SUV. At higher speeds the lean in the turns becomes more pronounced. The NHTSA gave the CR-V three out of five stars in its new Rollover Resistance Ratings.

Another area where the CR-V is more car than truck is in the ride. The suspension is nice and soft, soaking up bumps with ease. Braking was fine too.

Despite its reliability, the CR-V doesn't feel like a very substantial vehicle. There's none of the invulnerable, fortress-on-wheels feeling of a big SUV. To be fair to Honda, however, CR-V frontal crash-test results showed better-than-average protection for the driver and much-better-than-average protection for the passenger. But the feeling you get driving it is similar to the feeling you get from driving a fairly lightweight car. And we guess that's part of the appeal for some people.

Interior

Inside, the CR-V feels spacious. There's plenty of head room and leg room for four people, and four doors to make getting in and out easy. Honda also chose to put the shift lever on the steering column, a decision that allowed them to do away with the console between the front seats. A flat floor design further contributes to the roominess.

We found the seating to be quite comfortable. Unlike sport-car-style bucket seats, in which your legs are stretched out in front of you, the CR-V has upright seats, which provide a more chairlike feel. That's a bonus if you're like us and are quickly depleting your 401-K at the chiropractor's.

A combination of high seating position and big windows makes for great visibility all around the CR-V.

There are so many great little storage bins in the CR-V that we had to restrain ourselves from running out to the nearest Woolworth's and buying handfuls of useless little objects. If there were a Nobel Prize for nooks and crannies, Honda execs would be on their way to Oslo.

One real disappointment is the rear door. In almost every other SUV or minivan, you can open the back door and window in a single operation. In the CR-V, however, you're forced to first lift open the window and then swing open the gate. It's a pain in the tuchus, especially if you want to, say, let your dog in and out. (Note to Honda Media Fleet Manager: Not that we would ever carry a dog in a test car, mind you.)

Ergonomics

Ergonomics were pretty good in the CR-V. The gauges are big and visible, and the ventilation controls are simple and easy to use, with three large round dials to control fan speed, temperature, and airflow direction. (Note to Mercedes executives: We'd suggest you test-drive a CR-V so you can see how to design vehicle controls that are simple to understand.) We noticed that Honda saved themselves a couple of pesos by providing no way to stop the airflow to the two center vents in the dashboard.

One major complaint: Why is the ignition so darn difficult to use? You've got to twist the key through more than a half-circle to engage the starter. Doesn't sound hard, right? But somehow it's awkward in this car. One would think that, more than a century after the invention of the automobile, the whole issue of engine ignition would have been pretty well worked out by now.

And then there are the horn buttons. In nearly every other vehicle, a tap anywhere in the middle of the steering wheel will sound the horn. Not so in the CR-V. You have to hunt for little buttons. (This is a particular drawback in a place like Our Fair City, where generations of drivers have grown up believing that the horn makes the car go faster.)

While we're quibbling, one final ergonomic comment. The controls for the power windows are not on the doors, where you might expect them to be. They're on the center of the dashboard. It works, but it's unusual and takes some getting used to.

Styling


Styling is "suburban-funky." It's slightly different looking, but not so outlandish that it would embarrass a soccer mom. It's funky enough that your kids will prefer it over a Taurus station wagon, but not funky enough that 22-year-olds will be dreaming about CR-Vs. It's got a practical, utilitarian look that happens to be in style these days.

Reliability

Like nearly all Hondas, the CR-V has an unblemished reputation for reliability. The CR-V's reliability should be outstanding. We have to wonder what all those mechanics are doing at the Honda dealerships--fixing the boss's Mercedes?

Overall comments

The CR-V is a vehicle for those drawn to the perceived sportiness of an SUV but repelled by the idea of an unwieldy, gas-swilling behemoth in their driveway. In other words, it's an SUV that you could drive to a Sierra Club meeting without drawing pointed fingers and outraged gasps. Think of the CR-V not as a serious off-road vehicle, but as a station wagon that can help you schlep the kids to and from band practice through a few inches of slush. There are other good choices in this category, of course--the Subaru Forester, the redesigned Toyota RAV4, and the new Ford Escape/Mazda Tribute come to mind. They're all worth a look.

Overall, CR-V tries to be many things to many people, and it succeeds pretty well, in our humble opinion. It's versatile and capable while being relatively thrifty and affordable, and, to top it all off, it's as reliable as gravity.

View cars.com model report on this vehicle.


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