The Honda CR-V represents certainly one of the best, if not the best all-round bargain in the 2004 SUV category. It has everything you want in an SUV: high seating position, 4-wheel drive option, spacious interior-and lots more you'd like to have but which you've had to learn to do without. It's quick away from stoplight; it cruises easily at highway speeds with four adults on-board; it's relatively frugal with gasoline and it's easy to drive. MSRP 2WD LX $19,000; Warranty: 3yrs/36,000 miles.
First Glance at the CR-V
The latest CR-V is the second iteration of this model. Its longer, wider, heavier and handles much better than the previous generation, which, incidentally, represented the benchmark in the early 90s for a new category of sports utility vehicles the so-called "cute utes". These included the Toyota RAV4 and the Ford Escape/Mazda Tribute. Since then, many other carmakers including GM, and in some markets (but not the USA) Nissan, have jumped into the fray with their own small SUVs. Ive only got one complaint with the CR-V but its a major one: What the heck is that 50s-style continental tire kit doing hanging off the back door? On a busy street, I found it seriously impeded my ability to parallel park. I was afraid to back up too far in case I touched the car behind. I ended up having to drive away from a scarce city parking space I should have fit in easily. Honda-San, in the next iteration of the CR-V, please put the spare tire back where it belongs under the rear floor. The CR-V is available with 2WD or Real Track 4WD.
In the CR-V Driver's Seat
Like all Honda products but one - OK, two if you count the S2000 - this Honda practically defines the term, "ergometric." The drivers seating position is exemplary. The seat is almost infinitely adjustable. Sitting behind the wheel, almost anyone of almost any proportions can see everything forward, backward (except that spare tire kit again) and sideward. You can also see all the instruments. The hand brake and the shifter have been conveniently positioned on the dash. There is a table between the two front seats that can be folded out of the way so that a parent can easily access the rear seat when disciplinary action is needed back there. Rear seating position is theatre-style. Forward vision over the front seat headrests is excellent. The rear seats are exceptionally roomy. Peter, a friend who is 64 and counting, sat back there for a ride across Vancouver. With another normal size person in the front passenger seat, he had at least 3 inches knee room and three inches headroom in the back. There is a huge carrying space behind the second row bench seat. The second row seats can either be folded down for bulky loads or removed altogether. The 5th or rear door opens to the passenger side curb. Not sure what thats about.
On the Road in the CR-V
The CR-V is not a performance vehicle per se. Its more of a family-type work vehicle. It's of particular use to a busy family doing the dozens of errands and little jobs that need to be done each day to keep the wheels turning. With its ultra clean, efficient and surprisingly powerful 2.4L, (160hp, 162 lb-ft of torque) in-line 4, iVTEC engine, the 3750 lb CR-V's also a relatively economical commuter. Don't be fooled by the horsepower number and vehicle weight. You dont need (or want) any more horses here. The competition's V-6s are pigs on gas and won't get you where you're going any faster than the CR-V. OK, if you're pulling a 7,000 lb Scarab ocean racer you'll need something bigger. The CR-V is not an off-road vehicle. The 4WD system operates only when needed. Based on the Civic platform, the CR-V is normally a front wheel drive. The power is only transferred to the rear wheels when the front driving wheels start to slip. This system makes it convenient for ascending slight grades on hard pack snow conditions. But chances are you'd get yourself real stuck if you tried to push through six or eight inches of loose snow or sand. That first full or near full rotation of the drive wheels would ensure that.
Honda Motor Company, currently Japan's second biggest car company, will have to really extend itself to beat this one when time for the next model rolls around. I can't think of a thing I don't like about the 2004 CR-V. I really enjoyed tooling around town in it too. When I took it back to the lot where the Honda/Acura press fleet is kept, a guy pulled in beside me with a GM Yukon SUV. I stepped back and looked at the two vehicles side by side. I thought the Yukon looked absurd. It was at least twice as big as the CR-V. Yet I'd bet the CR-V has more accessible or useable space inside. One single little guy was driving the Yukon. I'll bet he'd try to justify owning it because he has a boat, which he takes in and out of the water twice a year. More likely, though, its because he's thinking of buying a boat or an Airstream or something. But don't get me going in that direction. Let's just say that for 99.9% of what any normal family might need or want an SUV (heavy towing excepted), the Honda CR-V would be just about perfect. I tested the loaded EX model with 4WD and leather seats. It costs three or four thou more than the base 2WD but is well worth the extra coin if you can spare it.