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2003 Honda CR-V Review:

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SEE ALSO: Honda Buyer's Guide



MODEL: Honda CR-V ENGINE: 2.4-liter inline four HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 160 hp @ 6,000 rpm/162 lb-ft @ 3,600 rpm TRANSMISSION: 4-speed automatic WHEELBASE: 103.1 in. LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT: 178.6 x 70.2 x 66.2 in. STICKER PRICE: $22.860

There are lots of small sport utilities on the market today, and it seems that more are entering the market every day. These mini-utes don't offer the size or power of their bigger brothers, but they're a lot more economical. And, as our test of the Honda CR-V showed, they're not totally lost off road, either.

Our tester is the Honda CR-V EX with 4-wheel drive. This is Honda's Real Time 4-wheel drive system that is always on. As such, handling is not affected when you're in reverse, as it is in some SUVs where you have to shift into 4WD mode. In the past few months we've driven SUVs of an assortment of sizes. Some work in reverse, some act as if all the tires are flat. But the CR-V works no matter what direction you're going.

The CR-V is based on a sedan platform. The platform that's used is from a car that isn't available in the United States, but if it was it would be a competitor for the multitude of Subaru AWD sedans. With the sedan platform, the ride is smoother than if it had been built on a truck platform.

We used the CR-V for a long trip to Virginia. In most any other vehicle in this class, we would have emerged from the vehicle at the end of the trip in great pain after a long, slow trip. As it was, we emerged with no back pain, thanks to comfortable seats. We also arrived in near-record time. At first I thought it was a fluke, but when we had almost the same time on the return trip while encountering more traffic, I knew we had a winner.

CR-V's 2.4-liter inline four-cylinder engine isn't the most powerful in the world. But with 160 horses at hand and a relatively light body, we had no problems. The four-speed automatic transmission that connected the engine to the wheels left us with no problems other than to keep our right foot firmly planted on the loud pedal.

For stopping, we had four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, so we felt pretty good on that side of the ledger as well. I was particularly impressed by the utility of this sport utility. By now, CR-Vs are famous for the picnic table that doubles as a cargo/spare tire cover in the rear. Lift it up, pull down the legs, and the cargo carrier is a small table.

In addition, there are 72 cubic feet of cargo capacity in the rear. The rear seats are called "fold-and-tumble," and they move out of the way giving enough room to stow two mountain bikes. You can't do that in some full-size SUVs. That rear seat also reclines 60/40, moves independently and features a center armrest with cupholders. All rear passengers have three-point seat belts and headrests, too.

Up front, there are cupholders and cubbyholes for stowing any amount of gear. We're certain that we forgot to bring back some of the stuff we carried because it was so well concealed.

The argument against the smaller SUVs has always been that they're incapable off-road. Sure, they're okay in snow and mud, but don't go too far off the highway and expect to make it back without calling AAA.

Well, we took the CR-V off road. My son-in-law had recently cleared a path through the woods on their property and we wanted to check it out without having to ride on the John Deere. The CR-V did a good job over slippery grass and mud and even handled a few hills. Now, we still wouldn't take it on the Rubicon Trail, but then normal people don't do that sort of off-roading. But for what we were willing to try, the CR-V did a good job.

One advantage was its small size. We were able to negotiate narrow openings between trees as well as a couple of turn-on-a-nickel turns that any vehicle short of an ATV would have trouble with.

The bottom line with the CR-V was $22,860, which resulted from a base price of $22,400 and a destination and handling charge of $460. I think it's a good value