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New Car Review

1998 Honda CR-V

by John Heilig


SEE ALSO: Honda Buyer's Guide


ENGINE:            2.0-liter 16-valve inline four
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 126 hp @ 5,400 rpm/133 lb-ft @ 4,300 rpm
TRANSMISSION:      Four-speed automatic
FUEL ECONOMY:      22 mpg city, 25 mpg highway, 19.7 mpg test
WHEELBASE:         103.2 in.
OVERALL LENGTH:    177.6 in.
OVERALL HEIGHT:    65.9 in.
OVERALL WIDTH:     68.9 in.
CURB WEIGHT:       3,153 lbs 
FUEL CAPACITY:     15.3 gal.
LUGGAGE CAPACITY:  29.6/67.2 cu. ft. (rear seat up/down)
TIRES:             205/70R15
INSTRUMENTS:       Speedometer, tachometer, fuel level, 
                   water temperature, digital clock.
EQUIPMENT:         Power windows, power door locks,  
                   power mirrors, cruise control, 
                   air conditioner, AM-FM stereo radio, 
                   anti-lock braking, dual air bags.
STICKER PRICE:     $20,695

I have liked the concept of compact sport utilities almost from the time I first encountered a Suzuki Sidekick or Geo Tracker clone. The Samurai was a bit too small. The Sidekick, Tracker, Toyota RAV4 and now the Honda CR-V are an ideal size for people who don't need a full-size sport utility or don't need a truck-based SUV, but still would like the four-wheel drive capability and a vehicle that will not strand them if they choose to go off road.

The CR-V is probably the larger equivalent of the Subaru line of Outbacks and wagons. The CR-V is larger than a compact station wagon and yet it offers significant carrying capacity behind the rear seats and more road clearance than a compact sedan.

The CR-V is based somewhat on the Honda Civic in that it is compact. Unlike the Isuzu-built Passport, the CR-V was designed and is built by Honda. So you gain the advantages of a vehicle that is built by one of the most respected automobile manufacturers in the world.

However, it uses a new all-wheel drive system called Real Time 4WD. Normally a front-wheel drive system, Real Time 4WD only sends power to the rear wheels when there is insufficient front-wheel traction. The system consists of the conventional front-wheel drive system, a compact transfer case that distributes drive to a drive shaft running the length of the vehicle, a dual-pump system, the rear differential and left and right rear-wheel drive shafts. In operation, it is as invisible as any all-wheel drive system you'll use. There is no driver input required; if you need traction at a particular wheel the CR-V will figure out which wheel needs the traction and send it there.

CR-V is powered by a 16-valve 2.0-liter four cylinder engine that is rated at 126 horsepower. When I first started driving the CR-V I thought it was underpowered, but then I remembered I had just left the Porsche Boxster. After a few days I became used to the Honda's power and felt it was adequate for the vehicle. The engine is connected to the wheels through a four-speed automatic transmission.

At no time do you get the feeling you're driving a truck in the CR-V. Even the smaller American SUVs are still truck-based and are bigger than the CR-V.

The CR-V comes with all the accessories you would want, including a good HVAC system and a sound system with no cassette or CD. Our tester also had the ABS option. In the warm humid weather in which we drove the CR-V, the air conditioner was sometimes taxed to cool down the vehicle.

We used the CR-V for a long week, even though it was only seven days long. We went on several golf trips and found plenty of room behind the rear seat for our clubs and a pull cart. The rear seat does fold flat to increase carrying capacity. We also drove the CR-V on our favorite hillclimb road and the vehicle handled the curves like a champ.

The CR-V also has good amenities, like an extra power outlet and a lot of cupholders. One of the best goodies was a picnic table that doubles as the cover over the spare tire in the back. It's one of the most practical dual-use features in any automobile.

There is a fold-down cupholder/storage shelf between the two front seats. When it's retracted, front seat passengers have access to the rear seats, much like in a van. The driver's seat has an arm rest on the inside, but the passenger seat doesn't have one. This must be an oversight, and my wife complained about the missing arm rest for the whole week. Even the rear seat passengers have fold-down arm rests.

Except for the lack of a passenger arm rest, there's little not to like about the Honda CR-V. It is an interesting vehicle that did everything asked of it. The CR-V served as a truck at times, a bus once or twice, and even took us on a simple off-road trip. One time when we were driving too briskly we had to activate the ABS and it saved us.

At $20,000 it's not cheap, but it's a good price for a solid, well-constructed vehicle that does its job well. In the northeast, particularly, it is an ideal vehicle that can handle the exigencies of nasty winter weather with style and grace.