As many a one-hit wonder has discovered, getting to the top of the charts is a cakewalk in comparison to how difficult it is to stay there. The key is to keep innovating without alienating loyal fans, and this applies to automakers as much as any pop-culture creator. Miscalculate when redesigning a satisfying vehicle and, well, remember the uninspired 2012 Honda Civic? Honda wasn’t about to risk alienating buyers of its top-selling CR-V crossover. With almost four million units sold since its 1997 introduction, it’s little surprise to find that the 2017 Honda CR-V, although entirely new, comes across as more of a thorough remix than an entirely new composition.
This fifth-generation CR-V, again built on a platform shared with the Civic, is slightly larger in every key dimension. The wheelbase is up to 104.7 inches from the previous model’s 103.1-inch measurement, overall length is up 1.2 inches to 180.6, width increases by 1.4 inches to 73.0, and height raises by 1.4 inches to 66.5. (Front-wheel-drive CR-Vs are 66.1 inches tall.) The rear spoiler and LED daytime running lights are now standard kit, while the choice of rolling stock is 17- or 18-inch aluminum wheels, skipping the steel 16-inchers that used to serve on base models. The AWD Touring example tested here wore the 18-inch wheels shod with 235/60 Hankook Kinergy GT all-season rubber.
A Familiar Tune
While the interior is familiar in terms of layout and ergonomics, the level of detail and quality of materials have been ratcheted up. Seats in the top-level Touring version are upholstered in leather that fits, feels, and looks better than most entries in this price class, and reserved faux-wood accents mingle nicely with a small amount of chromed plastic and brushed-satin finishes for a contemporary vibe. Kudos to Honda for restraint here—some other makes have succumbed to the urge to apply as many finishes as possible and ended up with The Brady Bunch living-room look, circa 1973. Cargo room behind the rear seat is now 39 cubic feet, 2 more than in the previous generation. Folding the rear seats flat makes for 76 cubes of space and can be done via handy levers set into the cargo-area walls; even better, the adjustable load floor can be configured to provide a flat floor and storage beneath. Up front, the center console benefits from improved cupholders and more storage.
HIGHS: Comfortable driving position, quiet interior, an audio volume knob is back, increased passenger and cargo space.
In addition to all this interior goodness, we particularly appreciate the reintroduction of a rotary volume knob to the center stack as part of the 7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system. Honda’s infotainment touchscreens require patience, and we’re pleased that operating one of the most essential functions has been “dumbed down” for the greater good. Equally encouraging is the effort to reduce interior noise levels; we measured 69 decibels at a steady 70-mph cruise, a 2-decibel decrease in ambient interior noise levels over a previously tested 2015 CR-V Touring AWD.
The most dramatic departure from the CR-V’s hit-making formula can be found under the hood. A turbocharged 1.5-liter engine comes as standard issue in EX, EX-L, and Touring trims, while the base LX carries over the previous model’s naturally aspirated 2.4-liter four-cylinder. Similar to the turbo 1.5-liter found in the current Civic, the CR-V’s has a slightly lower compression ratio (10.3:1 in the CR-V versus 10.6:1 in the Civic) and higher boost pressure to generate 190 horsepower and 179 lb-ft of torque. That’s 5 horses more, but 2 lb-ft less torque, than the former 2.4-liter made, yet it’s a significant 16 horsepower and 17 lb-ft more than this engine produces in the Civic.
Honda also updated its all-wheel-drive technology with a variable system capable of distributing torque fore or aft based on acceleration, wheelspin, throttle position, and steering-wheel angle. We found it seamless and virtually transparent in operation, detecting a shift in torque only during abrupt throttle inputs while cornering.
Although CVTs aren’t our favorite transmission type, the continuously variable automatic in use here is among the most tolerable. It simulates “shifts” at the appropriate time, so the rubber-band sensation is mostly absent. After a brief low-rpm lull as the turbo spins up, acceleration is linear and seamless, and the CVT and turbocharged four-cylinder are about as well matched as any automatic-transmission-and-engine combo these days. Considering that the engine’s maximum torque arrives at a relatively low 2000 rpm and hangs on until 5000 rpm, the CVT has a wide swath of grunt to work with, and what it gives up in instant response it makes up for with predictability and by largely staying invisible in operation.
LOWS: Infotainment system still demands too much attention to operate.
At full throttle, the CR-V hit 60 mph in 7.6 seconds and erased the quarter-mile in 16 seconds flat, clearing the traps at 89 mph. While far from earth-shaking, these figures shave six-tenths off the times we achieved with the aforementioned 2015 Touring model with the 2.4-liter and CVT. Those times also are comparable to those of the 2016 Mazda CX-5 2.5L AWD (7.7 and 16.0 seconds) and the 2016 Hyundai Tucson Eco 1.6T AWD (7.4 and 15.9 seconds). At the quicker end of the segment are the 2017 Ford Escape 2.0L EcoBoost AWD (7.1 and 15.6 seconds) and the 2017 Kia Sportage SX Turbo AWD (6.9 and 15.4 seconds).
When it comes to efficiency, though, the CR-V shames all compact-SUV comers. EPA-rated at 27 mpg in the city and 33 mpg on the highway, the AWD CR-V tops its peers by margins not usually seen within highly competitive segments. That’s a whopping 5 mpg better in both measures than the equivalent all-wheel-drive Escape, which also is powered by a 1.5-liter turbo, as well as the Toyota RAV4 AWD. In our real-world highway fuel-economy test, run at 75 mph, we recorded 32 mpg for the CR-V, just 1 mpg shy of its EPA highway rating.
Giving It a Spin
A new, variable-ratio electrically assisted power-steering setup is geared for quicker response than in the previous-generation CR-V. While the ratio change eases maneuvering in tight spots, we’re also happy to report that directional response and turn-in feel are a bit sharper. It’s not exactly sporty, but combined with its good straight-line stability and a smooth ride, the new CR-V certainly makes for pleasant travel for those focused more on the destination than on the next apex. We measured 0.82 g of grip on the skidpad, where our driver reported mild understeer. That won’t impress many in a world where some cars now routinely approach or surpass the magic 1.00-g figure, but it’s a lot more grip than the 0.75 g mustered by the last Toyota RAV4 AWD we tested, and it even tops the 0.81 g of the 2016 Mazda CX-5, long lauded as the spunkiest handler in the compact-crossover pack.
Although our first drive of the 2017 CR-V in Northern California concluded without raising a single brow of interest from fellow motorists, our experience in the Heartland was different. During our first quick sortie behind the wheel, we were approached by a particularly well-informed CR-V devotee who enthusiastically asked, “Where did you get that car? I’ve been checking all of the dealer inventories in a 150-mile radius!” After answering the usual questions—“How do you like the turbo? What kind of mileage are you getting?”—we informed him that, although a few examples were circulating in the press fleet, the 2017 CR-V wasn’t officially on sale yet (it arrives at dealers this month).
We predict loyalists like that fellow will be pleased with the new model and its expanded interior, comfortable trappings, increased refinement, and improved performance. We certainly were, as we put the CR-V at the top of its class in our 10Best Trucks and SUVs awards. Now we wait to see if the rest of America is as impressed and decides to keep the CR-V at the top of the sales charts.
2017 Honda CR-V AWD
front-engine, all-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 4-door hatchback
PRICE AS TESTED
$34,595 (base price: $26,245)
turbocharged and intercooled DOHC 16-valve inline-4, aluminum block and head, direct fuel injection
91 in3, 1497 cm3
190 hp @ 5600 rpm
179 lb-ft @ 2000 rpm
continuously variable automatic
Wheelbase: 104.7 in
Length: 180.6 in
Width: 73.0 in
Height: 66.5 in
Passenger volume: 101 ft3
Cargo volume: 39 ft3
Curb weight: 3508 lb
C/D TEST RESULTS
Zero to 60 mph: 7.6 sec
Zero to 100 mph: 21.5 sec
Zero to 110 mph: 28.8 sec
Rolling start, 5-60 mph: 8.1 sec
Top gear, 30-50 mph: 4.2 sec
Top gear, 50-70 mph: 5.3 sec
Standing ¼-mile: 16.0 sec @ 89 mph
Top speed (governor limited): 124 mph
Braking, 70-0 mph: 166 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad*: 0.82 g
EPA combined/city/highway driving: 29/27/33 mpg
C/D observed: 25 mpg
C/D observed 75-mph highway driving: 32 mpg
C/D observed highway range: 440 mi
c/d testing explained
Andrew Wendler brings decades of wrenching, writing, and editorial experience with numerous outlets to Car and Driver. A rust-belt native and tireless promoter of the region, he once won a $5 bet by walking the entire length of the elevated People Mover track that encircles downtown Detroit.