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New Car/Review

1997 Honda CR-V

by Nick Hromiak


SEE ALSO: Honda Buyer's Guide

As the latest entry into the already crowded sport utility vehicle market, Honda's 4-door CR-V falls within the mini or compact SUV category. Judging from its overall design, it appears to be a compelling rival to Suzuki's Sidekick, Chevy's Tracker and Toyota's RAV4. When compared to those competitors, the CR-V rides better, is quieter and because it carries the Honda name, instills quality and a large satisfied customer base. Because of this, Honda would like - in the least - to see a CR-V parked in the driveways of all Accord owners.

That aside, the CR-V is intended as an all-weather family sedan. It is not suited for hard-core off-roading. Its full-time all wheel drive system is basically a front-drive system that sends power to the rear wheels when slippage is detected. As such, it has no low range and undercarriage clearance (8.1 inches), while adequate for traversing most snow and mud conditions, is not suited for typical off-road obstacles. Yet the trade-off comes with an easy and comfortably low step-in height. In fact it is very minivan-like which was my impression when first driving the CR-V.

Power comes from a 2.0-liter DOHC four-cylinder that produces 126-hp and 133 ft/lbs of torque at 4300 rpm. As powered, the CR-V is peppy and has adequate acceleration for merging into high-speed freeways. Yet with four aboard, the relatively heavy vehicle (3,164 lbs curb wt.) is lethargic. Despite its 1,000 pound towing capacity, trailering anything sizable could be a lumbering affair.

Power from the transversely mounted engine is transferred to the wheels via a slick shifting 4-speed automatic transmission. There are no plans, according to Honda, for a manual trans.

The CR-V is nimble and agile. It parks easy, offers expansive visibility and is simply fun to drive. The pleasantly compliant suspension has just the right amount of firmness for good control while it absorbs a good portion of pavement roughness. Incidentally, the CR-V is the first SUV to use a 4-wheel double wishbone suspension, a set-up that allows the above qualities.

As a first model year vehicle, the CR-V has a few shortcomings. It took a while to get used to the dash-mounted power window switches, the column-mounted gearshift, or having to turn off the lights in dismal daytime driving conditions to check the gear shift indicator which dims when the lights are on. The cruise control master switch is located high on the dash which causes the green indicator light on it to fade in bright daylight. And I'd really like to see a remote rear window release particularly when having to load cargo during a rainstorm. As such, the window must be manually opened with the ignition key then the tailgate swung-open.

Honda engineers did a terrific job mounting the full-size spare. It's low on the tailgate which doesn't interfere with rearward visibility. And to accommodate the bottom portion of the tire, they nicely notched out an opening in the bumper for a low flush fit. Topping that fete, Honda included a picnic table in the carpeted cargo area. It serves as a removable floor under which is a sizeable plastic storage well to hide items or to stow wet or dry clothes. The table has metal folding legs and is stable enough for a variety of uses. A first for any SUV and a handy item to have.

The cockpit is comfy, cozy and nicely decorated in cloth trim. I did find that the tilt wheel could use another notch of lowering. As is, its angle gives the vehicle a minibus-like feeling.

Front bucket seats are supportive and have adequate cushioning. The rear seats split and fold, however the large headrests must be removed before the seat backs can be folded flat. Up to 67.2 feet of cargo space is offered with the rear seats folded. It'd be nice if Honda could incorporate bellows-type headrests for three reasons. One, to increase rear vis, two, to eliminate removing them when folding the seats, and three, so the rests could be tilted forward for long, tiring, trips where a head rest would ease driving tension.

All HVAC gauges and controls are large and easily read and distinguishable without having to consult the owners manual. With a large glass area, the view outward is expansive.

Turning radius is a relatively tight 34.8 feet and the vehicles possesses good stopping ability thanks to the optional anti-lock brakes.

While most in-the-know buyers would expect high-quality and good ride from a Honda product, the big surprise comes from the sticker price. The test vehicle carried a base of $20,300 and bottom-lined at $20,695 with a $395 destination charge. Without ABS, the base drops to $19,400. For either of these prices, Honda put the competition on notice.

Within the product line, the CR-V falls between the most expensive Civic EX Sedan and Accord EX 2-door Coupe with manual transmission.

And unlike most gas guzzling 4WD SUVs, the CR-V carries impressive EPA mileage figures of 22 city, 25 highway mpg.

With all these qualities and capabilities, it appears Honda has a winner in the compact SUV market.


ENGINE:            2.0-liter 16, valve, DOHC I-4
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 126-hp & 133 lb/ft of torque @ 4300 rpm
TRANSMISSION:      4-speed automatic
FUEL ECONOMY:      22 city, 25 highway mpg
WHEELBASE:         103.2 in.
OVERALL LENGTH:    177.6 in.
OVERALL WIDTH:     68.9 in.
OVERALL HEIGHT:    65.9 in.
CURB WEIGHT:       4,153 lbs. (w/ABS)
FUEL CAPACITY:     15.3 gallons
LUGGAGE CAPACITY:  67.2 cu. ft. w/rear seats folded
TIRES:             205/70-R15 
INSTRUMENTATION:   Large, easy to operate HVAC controls, 
                   large easy to read instruments
EQUIPMENT:         (Standard) A/C, Power windows/door 
                   locks/mirrors, cruise control, tilt 
                   wheel, manual drivers seat height adjustment, 
                   child safety door locks, rear wiper/defroster, 
                   dual vanity mirrors, roof rack, AM/FM  
                   Stereo w/clock, 4-speed automatic transmission, 
                   rear window wiper/washer. drivers front arm rest, 
                   picnic table, light group, beverage holders, 
                   passenger under seat storage bin, Micron air 
                   filtration system, green tinted, heat 
                   rejecting glass, alloy wheels, exterior spare 
                   w/cover; (Optional) ABS
STICKER PRICE:     $20,695 which includes ABS and a 
                   $395 destination and handling charge.