VANCOUVER, British Columbia, Canada - Redesigns often don't change a vehicle quite as much as the manufacturer suggests.
Not so with the CR-V. In its redesigned 2007 form, Honda's long-lived crossover sport-utility vehicle barely resembles its predecessors. Not only is it bigger, with a wider track dimension and lower center of gravity, but the next-generation CR-V promises more power, greater fuel economy, and reduced emissions.
In its latest rendition, the CR-V has "evolved from SUV to a more sedan-like feel," said large project leader Mitsura Horikoshi. The rear-mounted spare tire from earlier models is gone, but Real Time four-wheel drive remains.
Honda's goal, according to Horikoshi: make the CR-V "solid and tight," as well as creating "advanced emotional styling." The center of gravity has been lowered, and track width (distance between left and right wheels) is greater. Coefficient of drag, an aerodynamic measure of how a vehicle slips through the air, has been cut by 10 percent.
Handling response is 32-percent better, according to Honda's measurement, reaching close to Accord level. Honda further claims that ride comfort has improved by "one rank." Vehicle Stability Assist strives to compensate for slipperiness, to provide flat cornering. Its Start Control feature can help on snowy roads, too.
Under the hood, the 2.4-liter i-VTEC four-cylinder engine develops 166 horsepower at 5000 rpm, and 161 pound-feet of torque at 4000. In addition to reduced emissions, the 2007 engine yields greater fuel economy: an estimated 22-mpg city and 28 mpg on the highway, according to Honda. Rather than on the steering column, as before, the gearshift lever has moved to the center panel. Honda also claims that the CR-V offers the only five-speed automatic transmission in its class.
Large self-illuminated gauges face the driver, who gets a "non-fatigue" seat, and all switches are illuminated. Honda's available navigation system is integrated with a rearview camera.
Dual gloveboxes are installed. So is a new top-opening tailgate, and the dual-deck cargo shelf at the rear offers "trunk-like" space below. Each segment of the 40/20/40-split backseat folds independently.
As for safety, Honda expects a five-star crash-test rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and a "Top Pick" ranking from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. However, the 2007 CR-V has not yet been tested by either agency.
Four trim levels will be offered when the CR-V goes on sale, on September 28: LX, EX, EX-L (with leather upholstelry) and GX-L, which includes a navigation system. Eight body colors and three interior choices will be offered. Available accessories include a tailgate spoiler, exhaust finisher, side steps, and running boards.
Honda anticipates sales of more than 160,000 units annually, keeping pace with the popularity of prior CR-Vs. Prices are expected to range from the low $20s to about $26,000.
Riders can expect a considerably nicer experience with the 2007 CR-V than in its second-generation predecessor. Despite the dramatically different styling, though, the new model is not as distinctive as the first-generation CR-V that debuted more than a decade ago.
Some drivers may be put off by the CR-V's relatively modest power, but it's actually not bad at all: better than before, at any rate, providing tolerable performance even on moderate upgrades. Only a little engine roar occurs during hard acceleration. Some road noise may appear on certain surfaces, though not enough to annoy. Otherwise, the CR-V is quiet while cruising.
In its new central location, the gearshift is in easy reach. Large, very easy-to-read white-on-black gauges - tachometer and speedometer - sit side-by-side, with an easy-to-see informational display between them (including bar-type fuel and temperature indicators).
Expect a satisfying ride, at least on good roads. Handling is surprisingly solid, controlled and secure, helped by firm steering feel with excellent feedback. Turning the wheel takes modest effort, which helps control. A bit of body lean appears in curves, but it's not bothersome unless pushed hard.
Except for a little elbow restriction, there's plenty of room up front, including head space. Highly supportive seats incorporate tall backrests and snug bolstering. Though inviting and comfortable, their bottoms feel a tad firmer and harder than some rival seats.
Good knee room and toe space greet backseat riders. They may also enjoy satisactory headroom, but if relatively tall outbound riders lean to the side, one's head may hit the edge of the roof. It's also possible for a person's shoe tongue to get caught at the top of toe space below the front seat. Overall, too, the backseat is on the hard side, especially the bottom. Each side of the backseat can slide forward.
By 2010, entry-level SUVs and CUVs (crossover vehicles) will be the second largest segment, behind full-size pickups, according to John Watts, manager of product planning. The growing CUV market is driven by rising gas prices and changing tastes, Watts added.
With the 2007 CR-V, Honda intends to embrace "higher-income, style-conscious buyers" as well as the prior customers, said product planner Christina Ra. That goal will be helped by "styling that meets the needs of self-expression," Ra added. Currently, 73-percent of CR-V buyers are female.
Moviegoers can expect to see CR-V ads before the film begins, as Honda intends to have in-threater advertising on 21,000 screens. Honda wants viewers to "crave" a CR-V, said Jeff Conrad, vice-president of advertising and public relations, with "almost a physical need or desire." CR-V, he added, could stand for "crave." Now, potential customers have "something new to crave."
In other Honda news, starting in October, all models will have side air bags and curtain airbags as well as ABS, except that the S2000 roadster has no curtain airbags Nearly all get Electronic Stabilitiy Control, too.