It’s never a good idea to rest upon your laurels, especially in the car business. Competitors will nip at the heels of any successful model that has the magic combination of attributes to attract buyers. You can be good for a year or two, but if you don’t continually update your product, others will catch up or pass you by.
One of the most clever and well made models out of Honda for the past dozen years has been the CR-V, a compact crossover sport utility vehicle that shares a lot of mechanical parts with the Civic. Even though the first generation of the CR-V was far from perfect, it set the tone for what an efficient yet capable vehicle like this could be.
Now in its third generation, the CR-V has gotten a mild mid-cycle makeover for the 2010 model year. Competitors from brands like Chevrolet, Nissan and others have sprung up to try to woo buyers who might be considering a small crossover, so Honda has made a bunch of improvements in order to keep the CR-V fresh. The 2010 version is rolling out of the company’s factory in East Liberty, Ohio and into dealerships right now.
Honda makes note of the fact that the CR-V is the best-selling crossover SUV on the market. As of the end of September, they’ve sold 142,906 CR-Vs in the U.S so far this year. While that’s down 9.2% from 2008 levels, it’s still a significant number, especially in light of how auto sales in general have done in 2009.
But even a vehicle that’s ahead in its segment can always use a little improvement here and there. You probably won’t even notice various tweaks to the grill and other parts of the car, but things have been changed slightly. I’d have to park a 2010 right next to a 2009 to see the differences.
Under the hood is where the most significant improvement has taken place. The sole engine choice for all CR-V models, a 2.4 liter four cylinder, gets an increase of 14 horsepower to 180. Refinements to the fuel injection system as well as the engine’s internals are responsible for the power boost, as even a good engine can always be made just a little bit better.
Further good news from the engine compartment is that the vehicle’s fuel economy numbers have actually increased by one mile per gallon, even with the additional power. CR-V models with two wheel drive are rated at 21 mpg on the city cycle and 27 on the highway, for a combined 24 miles per gallon according to the EPA. Choosing a four wheel drive version extracts a 1 mpg penalty in the highway and combined numbers.
Drivability is excellent, just as it was with last year’s model. I can’t honestly say that I necessarily felt the extra 14 horsepower, but the engine pulls nice and strong away from a rest. All CR-Vs get a 5-speed automatic transmission as standard equipment, and there’s new software for it that reduces hunting up and down through the gears when driving on hilly roads.
One of my favorite things about this vehicle’s design is its amazing turning radius. As an experiment in an empty parking lot, I was able to pull forward out of a standard space, turn the wheel fully to the right, and darn near u-turn into the second spot away, actually ending up 2 ½ spaces from where I started out. This is one maneuverable little crossover.
There are also some clever changes inside to make it handy to use for your daily chores. For comfort, the front seats’ armrests are a bit wider, and I really like the way the split rear seat can be moved back and forth on tracks. When taller riders are on board, maximum legroom can be achieved, but when you need every last cubic inch in back for cargo, it can be slid forward.
The cargo area also gets a new rigid panel that not only acts as a cargo cover, but sits about halfway up in the hold to act as a shelf. The sturdy piece can be easily snapped into place, or set down in the bottom when large items need to be loaded. I have to imagine that for a tailgate party, the shelf could make for an ideal place to line up munchies for all your friends to sample.
Honda has also paid lots of attention to making safety items standard across all the different trim levels of the CR-V. Whether you choose an LX model for a base price of $21,545, an EX version that starts at $23,845, or the leather interior EX-L for $26,495, all come with things like side curtain airbags, stability control, ABS with electronic brake force distribution, and active head restraints to protect against whiplash in a crash.
So it seems that Honda would like the CR-V to stay on top in the compact crossover arena. It already had a lot to offer buyers in this segment, but now that competitors are building better models these days, the CR-V has now been upgraded a little bit to make it even better.
I’ll see you down the road.
Dave Kunz is the automotive reporter at KABC-TV Channel 7. He’s also a car enthusiast and owns several classics. Dave can be reached at TVCarz @ pacbell.net.