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2017 Honda CR-V First Drive Review – Vehicular Happy Meal

2017 Honda CR-V Green in forest, Image: © 2016 Mark Stevenson/The Truth About Cars

Update: An earlier version of this story stated the 2017 Honda CR-V was “American-made.” However, the CR-V is manufactured in both the United States and Canada for North American consumption. Sorry, Allistonians.

We sat down for dinner in a rented space shortly after arriving in Monterey, California. The food, standard fare for such a gathering, consisted of no less than three different types of meat, the usual suspects of sides, and one or two items my small-town mind couldn’t infer from the non-Anglo-Saxon names printed on the buffet placement cards.

This was normal for a manufacturer press launch dinner: provide just enough “exotic” items for attendees to feel fancy, privileged, and cultured, but make sure the usual assortment of normal standbys are present so as not to confuse the rest of us with indecipherable choice.

Not adventurous enough to take on that mystery sushi? Here’s some roast beef.

That sauteed vegetable of dubious origin giving you second thoughts? Here, have a potato.

To the front of the room stood two new 2017 Honda CR-Vs. Much like the edibles offered to the journosaur guests, one of the examples wore a resplendent, bright hue; the other a more muted pigmentation for those with more conservative sensibilities.

For 2017, Honda’s brand-new follow-up to its successful fourth-generation CR-V brings turbocharging, loads of technology, and updated (but not necessarily better) styling to American driveways. And in a bold move for Honda, it will even give you choice — so long as said choice is between two four-cylinder engines that offer up the same performance and nearly identical fuel economy figures.

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Less than 10

Much like our buffet dinner, the CR-V is both exciting and conservative under its newly shaped hood.

The same 1.5-liter turbocharged engine that debuted in the 10th-generation Honda Civic is now found in the company’s staple utility, though the CR-V’s engine does offer more performance than the Civic — 190 horsepower and 179 lb-ft of torque — to lug around its added heft. Yet, the base-model LX isn’t weak in the knees, as its 2.4-liter naturally aspirated four-cylinder is similarly rated at 184 hp and 180 lb-ft of torque.

Between the two engines, there isn’t a massive fuel economy spread, either: with identical drivelines, the difference between the two engines is 2 miles per gallon across the board.

So, yes, there are two engines, but it isn’t as if Honda’s new CR-V is spoiling consumers for choice. To illustrate the conservative level of difference between the CR-Vs engines, let’s do some math that doesn’t exactly matter.

The two engines are 6 horsepower apart, 1 lb-ft of torque apart, and 2 mpg apart, for a TTAC Differential Score of 9.

2017 Honda CR-V Engine Bay, Image: American Honda

Then consider the Toyota RAV4: two different powertrains (naturally aspirated and hybrid) separated by 18 hp and a whopping 10 mpg difference in city fuel consumption — though there’s virtually no difference in highway thirst. The Ford Escape spins an even greater tale: a 77-horsepower difference between the least and most powerful engine options (2.5-liter naturally aspirated four-cylinder vs. 2.0-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder) — and the most powerful engine is rated better for fuel consumption.

But those numbers don’t tell the full story. Choice is only good when the choices themselves are good. In the case of the CR-V, both options are solid.

The 2.4-liter four-cylinder wasn’t a dream in the previous CR-V, but it wasn’t a lambastable ingredient in Honda’s SUV special sauce. We didn’t get a chance to drive the 2.4-liter unit in the new CR-V, but it was wholly acceptable in the previous-gen.

2017 Honda CR-V 1.5-liter Turbocharged Engine, Image: American Honda

Instead, we drove a 1.5-liter-equipped Touring from base camp in Monterey to San Francisco, and it never seemed caught off-guard by our hamfisted pedal operation. I could go on and on about the new turbo motor, but the truth is it’s a choice chosen for you based on other criteria. If you opt for a CR-V in anything but base trim, this is what you’ll get. It’s rated at 28/34/30 mpg (city/highway/combined) in front-wheel drive trim, or 27/33/29 mpg if you opt for the pseudo-heroism of all-wheel drive.

Oh, and both engines send power to Honda’s new continuously variable transmission. That’s okay, too.

2017 Honda CR-V

Existing quietly with your volume knob

In 10 years time, when automakers start coming to their senses and adding buttons to the dashboard again, we’ll mark this move by Honda as the turning point. Yes, I’m talking about the triumphant return of the humble volume knob.

Any interior design element that causes the driver to not pay attention to the road should be binned posthaste. Thankfully, Honda realized this quickly, and the volume knob again takes its proper place at the left side of the center stack, right next to the infotainment screen.

Thank you, Honda.

If you’re interested in bagging a Civic but this blunder of design and cost-cutting is holding you back from signing on the dotted line, wait a couple of years until the Civic refresh. I’m sure — though nobody has said as much — the knob of all knobs will return to Honda’s compact, too.

That said, the volume control on the steering wheel is still a disaster. It’s a rocker switch you can also “swipe,” which means you’ll either lose audio or blow out your eardrums if you graze it inadvertently. This is the kind of design faux pas that happens when people get bored and start fiddling around with solutions that already work.

The rest of the interior provides a great place to relax in comfort: supportive seats, minimized NVH, plenty of storage, and easy controls. Still, you must contend with HondaLink, which isn’t pleasing to the eye nor intuitive to operate.

2017 Honda CR-V Cargo Area, Image: American Honda

However, if you’re reading this, chances are you have a family and want to know what’s going on aft of the B-pillar. After all, child seats need to be fitted, and Timmy’s stroller and all his toys are required for that jaunt to Auntie Kim’s so you can drop off the little rugrat for a few days of peace and quiet. Well, good news: you can hold more of Timmy’s toys thanks to an increase in seat-up cargo volume from 37.2 cu. ft. in the old CR-V to 39.2 cu. ft. in this one.

2017 Honda CR-V Cargo Area, Image: American Honda

The rear cargo hold has a trick floor panel to flatten out the cargo floor when the “one-motion dive-down” 60/40 rear seats are folded. It probably won’t help Timmy now, but it will come in handy when Timmy is old enough to go to college and he’s loading his three boxes of personal possessions into the rear. That seat-down cargo area is now 4.9 cu. ft. larger than before thanks to the aforementioned cargo floor panel “dipping” lower into the floor when you need that extra bit of cargo volume.

Middle of the road

As you can probably already infer, the CR-V is not a driver’s utility like the Escape, but it’s supremely comfortable on the road, and has no issue handling a pothole or two. That said, the CR-V is really great when you’re not driving it.

Honda Sensing, the company’s suite of safety and assistive driving aids, returns to the CR-V with new and improved features on EX, EX-L, and Touring trims. Of note are Adaptive Cruise Control with Low Speed Follow and Lane Keeping Assist System, which together provide one of the easiest ways to travel in a new compact crossover today.

2017 Honda CR-V Front, Image: © 2016 Mark Stevenson/The Truth About Cars

During our highway drive, I set the adaptive cruise control and — at the risk of sounding like an idiot — I literally forgot it was on. The CR-V plodded along, gently slowing down for traffic ahead, not once calling attention to itself.

Lane Keeping Assist wasn’t so transparent, but it makes itself known in the best way possible. For example: During our drive, we encountered a somewhat sharp left-hand bend on a downhill slope, giving the system’s camera less time to “see” the road ahead. Thanks to another road intersecting to the highway’s outside edge, the road was a jumble of road paint, and the conditions were made worse by the sheer density of traffic on this two-lane strip of highway.

Throwing caution to the wind, I let the CR-V figure out it.

At first, I didn’t think Honda Sensing would kick in soon enough for it to see a car ahead and turn the vehicle. However, as soon as it had a clear line-of-sight with the white shoulder line, it was smooth sailing. The CR-V slowed down for the car immediately in front of us, we rolled through the corner smoothly, and we unclenched as we shot out the other side. The whole experience was eye-opening. We now have sub-$30,000 vehicles, which weigh over 3,000 pounds, more-or-less driving themselves through busy intersections. It’s a marvel of programming and engineering.

Would you like turbocharging with that?

The North American-made Honda CR-V is a tour de force in the crossover/SUV segment and provides families an easily palatable choice for those seeking a supremely capable on-roader with utility and technology. It’s also the product of North American echo chamber groupthink. There’s nothing obtuse about the CR-V. It isn’t a looker, but it isn’t hair-raisingly ugly. Its performance is adequate. Its manners are polite. The choices are easily portioned for family decision-making.

Still, the CR-V is transparent to the process of driving. It’s an empty room that can be the meeting place for intimate conversation, a whiteboard upon which you plan a highly detailed road trip plan, a kitchen stove providing the heat for a great (or disastrous) family meal. In effect, the CR-V is an appliance for performing the tasks that life throws at us, and not a prized possession that drives a lifelong love affair of enthusiasm — nor is it meant to be, nor is that a bad thing.

The 2017 Honda CR-V goes on sale this month with a starting price of $24,945 (including a $900 delivery fee) for the base LX 2.4 FWD model. Pricing tops out at $34,595 in top-trim Touring guise powered by the 1.5-liter turbo sending power to all four wheels.

[Images: © 2016 Mark Stevenson/The Truth About Cars, American Honda]

2017 Honda CR-V Green in forest, Image: © 2016 Mark Stevenson/The Truth About Cars

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2017 Honda CR-V Front, Image: © 2016 Mark Stevenson/The Truth About Cars

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2017 Honda CR-V Cargo Area, Image: American Honda

2017 Honda CR-V Cargo Area, Image: American Honda

1 - 2017 Honda CR-V Ghost View

3 - 2017 Honda CR-V 2.4 L Engine

2017 Honda CR-V Engine Bay, Image: American Honda

2017 Honda CR-V 1.5-liter Turbocharged Engine, Image: American Honda

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