Close to the gold standard of compact SUVs.
- Montreal, Quebec
It's not easy to be considered the 'gold standard' of any given automotive segment, but for compact SUVs the 2016 Honda CR-V comes close. Locked in a perpetual battle for the number one spot with the Ford Escape and the Toyota RAV4, it's fair to say that the CR-V's reputation for reliability and versatility, combined with its affordable pricing, have helped keep it on the podium for well over a decade. Honda's generously-proportioned people mover is as effective at commuting as it is swallowing stacks of hockey bags and a tandem of chattering children, which is a hard claim for a comparably priced sedan to make.
You really don't have to give up much in terms of driveability, either, when comparing the 2016 Honda CR-V to any of the current crop of mid-size family cars. Credit goes to the automaker's engineering team for putting together a suspension that largely mitigates the fact that you're perched up considerably higher than normal, combining a good view of the road ahead with a ride that hides most of the effects associated with boosting the vehicle's centre of gravity. We found very little bounce in the CR-V's step when traversing the rough pavement that is common to the constant road construction that dominates Montreal's landscape, which in itself is an impressive achievement for an non-luxury hauler.
What do you get for splashing an extra $10K over the base CR-V?
Of course, the Touring model we drove for a week does qualify as Honda's attempt at putting together a premium SUV for less than $40,000. What do you get for splashing an extra $10K over the base CR-V? Aside from standard all-wheel drive (which is offered on every version of the 'ute past the entry-level model), you'll find features such as adaptive cruise control (with automatic emergency braking), 18-inch wheels, upgraded headlights, HD radio, navigation, and safety equipment that includes a lane departure warning and lane keeping assist system (dual zone automatic climate control and leather upholstery gets added to the equation at the next-step-down EX-L level). There's also Honda's LaneWatch camera that monitors your right-side blind spot, whose centre stack display we found incredibly distracting, and which we disabled almost immediately.
If that list of gear seems a little…underwhelming to you, then you're not alone. Although it's nicely laid out inside, there's no mistaking the Honda CR-V for a high end SUV of any description. In fact, compared to the recently-redubbed interiors found in the Escape and even the RAV4, the CR-V has fallen a bit behind the curve when it comes to refinement and materials.
It makes much more sense to approach the Honda with practicality in mind, rather than pizzazz - and considering that's what most buyers are looking for in a small SUV, this is no knock on Honda. In our estimation, it's better to aim for the mid-range of the trim spectrum to maximize value without paying more for features that don't add all that much to the overall CR-V experience - especially given that the touchscreen navigation and high-zoot infotainment system found in the Touring is fairly frustrating to use.
The CR-V is the real deal.
In the 'not at all frustrating' column: the huge amount of passenger and cargo room you'll find inside the Honda CR-V's cabin. With the seats fully folded forward you're looking at about 2,000 litres of total storage space, with a nearly flat load floor, and with the rear row in place there's plenty of room for genuine adult human beings to stretch their legs. Don't take this for granted, because there are a number of me-too SUVs out there that compromise actual utility in favour of style. The CR-V is the real deal, and this is reflected by how popular it has stayed among Canadian shoppers.
Honda (like Nissan and Toyota) has steadfastly refused to acknowledge that those same loyal buyers might want a choice as to what engine sits between their 'ute's front fenders, but fortunately for the CR-V the sole power plant on offer is fairly decent. Rated at 185 horsepower and 181 lb-ft of torque, the 2.4-litre 4-cylinder is far from weak, but it pales in comparison to the turbo brutes you can find in a Ford or Kia (Sportage) alternative to the Honda offering.
It would nice to see Honda start to expand engine availability.
Unless your foot is to the floor, you probably won't notice, as the CR-V's continuously-variable automatic transmission is transparent in how it delivers power, and acceleration is more than capable of keeping up with traffic around you. It would be nice, however, to see Honda start to expand the availability of some of its more interesting four-cylinder options found in similarly-sized vehicles like the Civic sedan. It might also help with fuel economy - the combined 7.9 L/100 km rating is excellent on paper, but a little harder to achieve in the real world when toting around a full load.
Maybe the best thing about the 2016 Honda CR-V is that it's so competent at covering all of the daily driving bases that you barely notice it's in your life at all. There's really never a question of 'can you do it?' when behind the wheel of the SUV, because whatever you ask of it - multi-day road trip, snowed-in sojourn to cottage country, 5:00 AM shuttle to the rink, supply run to a big box store - the CR-V has your back. It's the perfect lifestyle accessory for, well, anyone, and provided you've got something else stowed away in the garage that will ignite your automotive passions on the weekend, the Honda is worth a long, hard look.
Photos: Benjamin Hunting