When it comes to building cars, Honda seemingly does no wrong. Roundly praised for its engineering prowess, Honda is one of the “Blue Chip” Japanese auto manufacturers doing business in the United States. Leading the charge is the company’s ubiquitous Civic. One of the most desirable cars available, Honda’s Civic enjoys a huge following and fittingly, many derivative automobiles have been fashioned off its platform over the years.
One of those vehicles, the CR-V, enjoys near cult status in it’s own right. Produced in response to the burgeoning demand for such vehicles engendered during the SUV boom of the latter years of the 20th century, the first Honda CR-V came to market in the United States in 1997. There have been varying explanations of the acronym CR-V, with some saying CR-V stands for Civic Recreation Vehicle. According to others, it’s Compact Recreational Vehicle, and still others claim Comfortable Runabout Vehicle. Wherever the truth resides, the fact of the matter is the CR-V has been a resounding sales success for Honda.
Three generations of the compact SUV have been offered since it was launched.
Honda CR-V: 1997 – 2001
The first Honda CR-Vto be offered in the United States was delivered with a 126-horsepower, inline four-cylinder engine, generating 133 ft-lbs of torque. The engine was paired with an automatic transmission, which fed either the front wheels, or all four wheels if Honda’s Real Time Four Wheel Drive System was specified. In 1998, a five-speed manual was offered in an attempt to assuage objections to the 2.0-liter four’s somewhat meager output.
Capable of mild offroad operation, Honda’s CR-V was introduced with only one trim level. It’s four-wheel double wishbone suspension system endowed it with superior ride and handling characteristics, while amenities like a folding rear seat and a picnic table stowed under the floor of the cargo area did much to attract attention to Honda’s compact SUV.
For 1999, Honda sought to improve the CR-V’s spec against its growing competition. Engine output was increased to 146 horsepower by changing to a different engine design, one also displacing 2.0-liters. Additionally, an overdrive button was added to the automatic transmission.
For 2000, a Special Edition CR-V was offered, which by the way, is how you can tell when Honda is about to replace a model. Anytime the company offers an SE version of one of its vehicles, within the next year or so, an all-new version debuts.
Typically, the SE version will incorporate all of the most popular optional offerings into the vehicle as standard equipment. In the case of the 2000 Honda CR-V SE, this meant body-colored bumpers and side moldings replaced the black trim pieces. Honda also added a body-colored hard spare tire cover, leather upholstery, a CD/cassette audio deck, rear privacy (dark tinted) glass, a Navtech navigation system, and a chrome grille accent.
Honda CR-V: 2002 – 2006
As is typically the case for so many autos, the second generation of the Honda CR-V was larger and more powerful than the first. For the North American market, the engine was a 160-horsepower, 2.4-liter inline four. In 2006, the SAE changed the way it rated engine output and the CR-V’s horsepower figure was revised to 156-horsepower, though no actual power decrease occurred.
A five-speed manual transmission was standard equipment, a four-speed manual was optional. From 2005 forward, the automatic was the only transmission you could get with a CR-V LX. If you wanted the five-speed, you had to get an EX. The automatic was upgraded to a five-speed that year as well.
Two trim levels were offered at launch — LX and EX. LX was the entry-level model, featuring a height adjustable driver’s seat, power-operated accessories, A/C and a CD player. For 2005, ABS, side, and side-curtain airbags were added as standard equipment to the LX specification as well.
The EX model featured such extravagances as alloy wheels, a sunroof, an in-dash CD changer and rear-passenger ventilation ducts. ABS, side, and side-curtain airbags were standard EX equipment at launch as well.
For LX models, front-wheel drive was the standard offering, all-wheel drive was an option. EX buyers got all-wheel drive — period. Then, for the 2006 model year, front-wheel drive was made available as part of the EX package as well.
The inevitable SE model arrived in 2005, signaling a change imminent for the 2007 model year. However the EX was so well equipped the best they could do for the SE model was body-colored bumpers and side-moldings, a hard spare tire cover, heated leather seats (front only), heated side-view mirrors, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel.
Other changes for the 2005 model year included drive by wire throttle, a recalibration of the four-wheel drive system, 16-inch wheels, new headlights and new taillights. ABS,
Electronic brake force distribution, traction control, front seat-mounted side airbags, and side-curtain airbags with rollover sensors for all occupants were incorporated as well. Vehicle Stability Assist was also added to improve rollover protection.
Honda CR-V: 2007 – Present
Remarkably, the third generation of the HondA CR-V is shorter and lower than the second generation, though wider. The spare tire was moved beneath the vehicle for the first time and this contributes significantly to the decrease in overall length. It also helps the CR-V handle better, as the move lowers the little SUV’s center of gravity.
The GEN3 CR-V’s 2.4-liter propulsion unit produces 166-horsepower and 161 ft-lbs of torque in North America; Honda’s new five-speed automatic transmission is the only offering in our market. Another change in tradition is the CR-V’s switch to a rear liftgate. Previously, the back door on the CR-V was a two-piece affair. While the glass lifted—the door swings.
Three models were offered at launch; LX, EX, and EX-L. Both front-drive and all-wheel drive were offered with all three, except this time front-drive was standard equipment, all-wheel drive was optional. With LX you’ll find powered accessories, air-conditioning and a CD player. For keyless entry, alloy wheels, an upgraded stereo, moonroof, and privacy glass, seek out an EX. If you want leather, a power driver’s seat, satellite radio, a USB audio jack, and a subwoofer, go for the EX-L. A touchscreen navigation system with a rearview camera and Bluetooth was the only EX-L option at launch.
The model refresh introduced for MY2010 saw a power increase for the engine to 180 horsepower—although displacement and the torque rating remained unchanged. Exterior styling enhancements included a freshened front fascia with a new grille and bumper design, a re-sculpted hood, and a new rear bumper shape. A 10-spoke alloy wheel, standard on EX and EX-L, replaced the previous seven-spoke design.
Honda CR-V: Current Model
For anyone doubting a new Honda CR-V is on the horizon, one need only consider the arrival of the SE model in 2011. Of course with the EX-L out there, the SE is now essentially an upgrade to the LX and features alloy wheels (replacing the LX’s styled-steel wheels), a 160-watt AM/FM/six-disc changer with six speakers (up from a single-disc CD and four speakers), steering wheel-mounted audio controls, and rear privacy glass.
Honda CR-V: Summary
Thanks to its tidy size, Honda badging, and its inevitable reliability, the CR-V quickly became one of the most popular small suvs on the market. The vehicle has won numerous awards in each of its iterations and continues to be highly regarded by automotive reviewers.
Of course, there have been recalls for Honda CR-V over the years, and build quality of the Honda has varied over the years as well. To learn what issues affect the model year of your interest, take the time to do an Internet search for “Honda CR-V recalls” —incorporating the model year you’re interested in. Once you have that information in hand, make sure your trusted professional mechanic confirms all the updates were made during your pre-purchase inspection.
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