VMR Canada

1997-2001

 

Honda CR-V

Sensible in the Honda Way

 

 
As the SUV market in America went from a little niche through a developing trend to a full-fledged craze, one major player remained conspicuously on the sideline: Honda. They did have the Passport, but that was just a re-badged Isuzu rodeo. Against a sea of Rav4's, 4Runners, Cherokees, Blazers and Explorers, it didn't stand a chance.

Part of the tardiness to market was that Honda just wasn't all that comfortable with trucks. It excelled at building efficient, well-engineered automobiles; and it was doing just fine with them. But market forces have a habit of becoming irresistible, and Honda had to act. Enter the 1997 CR-V True to form, it was efficient in size and operation and it possessed the usual Honda attention to detail and engineering excellence.

What's Available

For '97 the CRV came one way -- a 2.0L inline 4cylinder engine mated to a 4spd, column-mounted automatic. An option package with alloys and anti lock brakes was optional. All were all-wheel drive. As time went on, more choices were offered. The model line split into LX and upper level EX trims, a 5-speed manual was made the standard transmission and an LX 2-wheel drive version (automatic only) was served up as well.

Exterior Design

No ground-breaking here. The CR-V is a conservative, boxy and roomy (for its size) design. Bumpers front and rear are covered with a dark grey plastic, as is the rub strip that runs across the doors. A roof rack was initially standard, but became optional in 98.

The front fascia looks very Honda Civic like and the rear features an offset externally mounted spare tire and C-pillar mounted taillights. the optional 15" alloys complement the design nicely and give the CR-V a bit of a more upscale look. The overall crisp design makes the CR-V look smaller than it actually is.

 

 

Interior Design

Once again, it's typical Honda inside: purposeful, functional, tasteful, and superb fit and finish. Don't look for extravagance -- you won't find it here. No leather, no wood (fake or otherwise), and no gadgets. Fabric design was changed a couple of times and a fold down center console tray and rear seat cup holders were added in '99.

The dash is very car-like, is well laid out with all controls easy to find and use. All controls have a nice tactile feedback, adding to the perception of quality.

Room/Comfort

The CRV offers a high seating position with great visibility all around. The front seats are comfortable, but leg room gets a little tight for tall drivers. The rear seat is comfortable for two, thanks to generous cushion area and plenty of leg, shoulder, and head room. In fact, even three adults can sit back there in reasonable comfort. That's in start contrast to most small SUVs.

The split rear seatback folds flat, offering a generous cargo area. The two piece tailgate is a bit odd. The top half flips up, while the bottom opens as a conventional door. One nice touch: the panel covering the under floor rear cargo well doubles as a picnic table.

Ride/Handling/Performance

The CRV rides firmly, but it's more of car firm than a truck firm. Ride motions are well-controlled with no bouncing or side to side pitching. Both models we drove (a '98 and an '01) were remarkably rattle-free, though they were not particularly quiet.  There is a fair amount of body roll (the generous 8.1" of ground clearance has something to do with that), but for an SUV the handling is pretty nimble. It tracks true and responds to steering inputs with confidence.

 

Acceleration is barely adequate in the '97 and '98 models.  Honda must have agreed, for in 1999 they increased power to 146hp (a 20hp bump) and it is noticeably peppier. The 4-speed automatic doesn't set any benchmarks in the smoothness department, but it does it's job. The 5-speed manual is a pleasure to operate.

As for the all-wheel drive system, the CRV is always in front-wheel drive mode unless the "real-time" 4-wheel drive system senses wheel slippage, at which point the rear wheels engage. It's not a silent and seamless operation -- you know when it happens. This may bother some people (it does us), but functionally it's hard to fault.

Safety ratings:

US Government

Institute of Highway Safety

Reliability

We've seen distributor/electrical problems at about the 80-90,000 mile mark and sporadic issues with the all-wheel drive system.  Data from our surveys and other published reports indicate above average performance in all other areas.

Recommendations

A practical, economical SUV, the CRV is ideal for our times.  For a family of four, it's a great choice.  We would not tow anything with it, nor would we do any off-roading with it (not that anybody does!).  Finally, while the earlier models are not something to stay away from altogether, we would advise that you opt for a '99 and up model with the more powerful engine.

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