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2011 Honda CR-V EX-L Review - VIDEO ENHANCED

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
2011 Honda CR-V EX-L



2011 Honda CR-V EX-L with Navigation

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
2011 Honda CR-V EX-L

The third-generation Honda CR-V has changed little since its debut for model year 2007, which only shows how well Honda hit its target. The CR-V is a perennial best-seller, so why mess with a good thing? Compact on the outside for easy maneuverability in the crowded streets and parking lots of its natural urban and suburban habitat, it's big enough inside for four or even five people and plenty of stuff, with an easily reconfigured rear seat and, in the higher trim levels, a dual-layer cargo area that give it plenty of versatility. A torquey 2.4-liter, 180-horsepower engine means no fear merging into even the nastiest speed-differential expressway traffic, with no compromise for fuel economy.

After 2010's freshening, which restyled the front end a bit, made improvements to interior comfort and space, and, more noticeably, got another 14 horsepower out of the engine with no loss of fuel efficiency, the CR-V would be expected to be mostly unchanged for 2011. It is. Mostly. In all forms, it's still offered with front-wheel drive or Honda's RealTime™ 4WD system. There's a new trim level, SE, that slots between the base LX and mid-level EX. It adds popular standard features including an upgraded audio system with steering wheel-mounted controls, privacy glass, and alloy wheels to the LX's already high level of standard equipment.

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2011 Honda CR-V EX-L interior

Above that sit the EX and premium EX-L, with leather, front seat heaters, and audio upgrades including XM satellite radio and a USB interface. Want a built-in navigation system? Then it's called the EX-L with Navigation. Which, in 4WD form, has been my daily driver for the past week, an early-winter time of mixed weather and holiday season shopping traffic. The CR-V got through all without fuss, and the extra power was pleasantly noticeable when merging into 70+ mph traffic via some marginally short onramps. It's comfortable and quiet, with good steering and cornering response for a small SUV. No, a tall vehicle like a CR-V is not going to get down the road like a Civic Si -- but the Si won't hold as much, in as many ways, as a CR-V. Nor does it have the CR-V's high-eyepoint seating for commanding visibility.

My EX-L with Navi was box-stock, no added extras. None needed, but there is a comprehensive list of attachments for things like skis, snowboards, and bicycles, and even a tent that attaches to the tailgate. It's not really meant for serious off-road adventure, but improved dirt and gravel should be fine, and the RealTime 4WD will help there as it does in rain and light snow. If Honda CR-Vs seem ubiquitous, there are good reasons.

Click PLAY to watch a short CR-V EX-L promo video

APPEARANCE: Details can make all the difference. While the third-generation CR-V's rounded two-box lines haven't really changed, a cleaner front end with a twin-tier grille, new headlights and bumper, and a bit less cladding all around does give it a cleaner look. Honda literature says it looks "sharper", and it does, in both the sharp-edged and better-looking senses. Chrome trim around the side windows is an upscale touch; a one-piece rear section is a detail unusual in the small crossover class. As before, the CR-V's trademark tall taillights distinguish it from the rear.

COMFORT: Space efficiency spoken here. There seems to be more inside to a CR-V than its modest exterior size would allow. No magic, just good design and execution thereof. Step-in is easy, even for shorter people, the view is good, and a flat floor adds both useful storage space and center-rear comfort. At EX-L level, appointments are near-luxury, with leather seating with two-level seat heaters in front and power adjustment for the driver's seat, leather trim on the doors, and aluminum veneer trim on the doors and instrument panel. All versions have manual tilt and telescope adjustment for the steering wheel, for the added safety and comfort of a good driving position. The EX-L replaces the standard folding tray table between the front seats with a real console. With the nav system, the six-disc CD changer is moved from the center stack to, nostalgically, the center console. The easy-to-read main instruments are shaded from glare, while audio, climate, and with the navigation system, nav system controls are in the center stack, easily accessible by both front seat passengers. The navigation system is reasonably simple and straightforward in operation, and the central screen is used for the backup camera display. A large compartment above the locking glove box has the USB port and a power point. The gearshift lever is in a projection at the bottom of the center stack, close to the driver's right hand.

The rear seat cushion is split 60/40; both sections flip and tumble. Importantly for passengers, each part is adjustable fore and aft to maximize legroom, and three-across comfort is helped by a flat floor. The seatback folds 40/20/40 for extra versatility. The EX and EX-L have a removable cargo shelf behind the rear seat for "double decker" storage of grocery bags or other relatively light items, as the top shelf is rated for 20 pounds. Honda claims that two mountain bikes can fit inside without disassembly; I didn't try that trick but it would require flipping the rear seat forward.

SAFETY: The 2011 CR-V was designed and built to meet the highest safety levels in both Federal and IIHS testing. Its unibody structure was designed and constructed for maximum occupant protection, including from impacts with larger vehicles, and for maximum pedestrian protection. Dual-stage, dual-threshold front airbags and front seat-mounted side airbags with passenger occupant sensing to control deployment according to front passenger size, and side-curtain airbags are standard in all versions, as are four-wheel antilock disc brakes with electronic brake force distribution and brake assist. Electronic vehicle stability assist, with works with the ABS and drivetrain electronics, is also standard across the line, as is a tire-pressure monitoring system.

RIDE AND HANDLING: A rigid unibody structure and fully-independent MacPherson strut/multilink suspension, along with a low center of gravity and wide track, give the CR-V good road manners. It's a tall wagon, really, not a truck, and feels like that on the road. Steering effort is light but not overly so, and cornering behavior is good for a crossover SUV. Interior noise levels are low for the class.

PERFORMANCE: Add 14 horsepower, use no more fuel? If that sounds too good to be true, Honda has an enviable record regarding fuel use, or lack thereof, and they've pulled it off again with the current CR-V. Detail revisions to the 2.4-liter dual overhead cam i-VTEC four-cylinder engine including higher compression and other internal changes result in 180 hp at 6800 rpm, with torque peaking at 161 lb-ft at 4400 rpm, still on unleaded regular. Don't let the high power peak fool you - the i-VTEC system, which combines variable cam phasing with Honda's VTEC variable valve timing and lift system, helps ensure a strong, broad torque curve. Yes, a Honda engine with good low- and mid-range torque! Both economy and performance are further helped by the five-speed automatic transmission, which features Grade Logic Control to improve performance and civility up- or downhill. CR-Vs with the Real Time 4WD single-range four-wheel drive system have up to 20 percent more torque automatically transferred to the rear wheels, to improve traction in low-traction conditions. The extra power and smooth transmission mean much better acceleration that was available from older CR-Vs, with 0-60 speeds improved over a second. Despite that, EPA ratings for the 4WD version are 21 mpg city, 27 highway. I got an average of 23 mpg in mostly city driving.

CONCLUSIONS: The Honda CR-V provides space, comfort, amenities, and now power in a small-outside, large-inside package.

2011 Honda CR-V EX-L with Navigation

Base Price			$ 29,895
Price As Tested			$ 30,675
Engine Type			aluminum alloy dual overhead cam
				 16-valve inline 4-cylinder with i-VTEC
				 variable cam profile and phasing
Engine Size			2.4 liters / 144 cu. in.
Horsepower			180 @ 6800 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)			161 @ 4400 rpm
Transmission			5-speed automatic
Wheelbase / Length		103.1 in. / 179.3 in. 
Curb Weight			3554 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower		19.7
Fuel Capacity			15.3 gal.
Fuel Requirement		87 octane unleaded regular gasoline
Tires				P225/65R17 102T
				 Continental 4x4 Contact m+s
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc / solid disc,
				 ABS, EBD, BA, VSA standard
Suspension, front/rear		independent MacPherson strut/
				  independent multilink
Drivetrain			transverse front engine,
				 single-range part-time 4-wheel drive

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		21 / 27 / 23
0 to 60 mph				8.7  sec

Destination and handling		$ 780