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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
Institute of Highway Safety
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.
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