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2017 Honda CR-V Touring AWD Review – Effective And Efficient, If Not Effervescent

2017 Honda CR-V Touring Front 3/4, Image: © 2017 Timothy Cain

We’re all supposed to enjoy, or endure, an Alfa Romeo ownership experience at some point in our lives.

The 2017 Honda CR-V is diametrically opposed to everything the Alfa Romeo SZ stands for.

You’re supposed to drive a car that reveals its character through its flaws, as if a shifter that only slots into third at 2,755 rpm is somehow symbolic of soul.

The 2017 Honda CR-V doesn’t shift. At all.

You’re supposed to tell a great breakdown story that involves a leafy Vermont village, a greedy mechanic, and a 48-hour wait for a repair that resulted in the best drive ever with an ex-girlfriend who severed your relationship the next day.

Not a single word of that could possibly apply to a 2017 Honda CR-V.

You’re an enthusiast, you have taste, you’re vulnerable. We get it. But maybe you should just drive a Honda CR-V and accept the fact that boring, or dull, or soulless cars can be wonderfully effective ways of transporting one’s family.

I’m not thrilled by the realization. But I’m impressed by the all-new, fifth-generation Honda CR-V.

It’s an uncomfortable position for a car reviewer to be in: entirely unexcited yet with no compelling complaint to voice.

Tested here in top-end Touring trim with a $1,300 all-wheel-drive system, the new-for-2017 CR-V is a moderately powerful, surprisingly efficient, suitably spacious, and reasonably affordable family car.

So what’s the problem?

2017 Honda CR-V Touring Rear 3/4, Image: © 2017 Timothy Cain

Okay, so there’s a bit of wind noise at the A-pillar that’s manifested largely because road and engine noise is kept to a minimum.

At idle, the tiny 1.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder is annoyingly ticky.

Though remedied by a volume knob, the CR-V’s infotainment unit is still slow — and slow to start up.

There’s no hi-po engine option like you’ll find in the Subaru Forester or Ford Escape or Kia Sportage.

The only transmission is a continuously variable, which, despite its unobtrusive manners in practice, will offend some as a matter of principle.

The Touring’s wheels are ghastly; the exterior overall is questionable.

But these complaints are, at worst, trivial and subjective. They are far from the kinds of deal-breaking issues that will stop the 2017 Honda CR-V from selling more often than it’s ever sold before. Already, in its first full month of availability, the new CR-V set a January sales record with 29,287 units, 10,000 more than American Honda typically sells in the first month of the year.

It doesn’t take a Mitsubishi Outlander product planner to understand the reasons behind the new CR-V’s success.

2017 Honda CR-V Touring Profile, Image: © 2017 Timothy Cain

Start inside.

With four-way lumbar support, the leather-clad CR-V Touring’s powered front seats (with driver’s side memory) are terrific. Honda prioritizes separate storage cubbies throughout the center console. While plenty of audio functions are primarily controlled through the touchscreen, most core climate functions are operated with large, high-mounted buttons. A heated steering wheel and three-stage heated seats — paired with adaptive cruise control, largely effective lane keeping assist, and excellent visibility — make for a relaxed environment.

Rear seat space, while aided by a nearly flat floor, may not impress a Honda Odyssey owner once child seats are installed in outboard positions. But these are class-leading quarters. Lower anchors are hidden behind the seatbacks, not between the back and lower cushion, but they’re easier to grab onto than expected.

2017 Honda CR-V Touring Interior, Image: © 2017 Timothy Cain

Cargo room, meanwhile, is another area where most top-selling rivals come up short. The CR-V has 2 percent more cargo volume than the Toyota RAV4, 14 percent more than the Subaru Forester, and 15 percent more than the Ford Escape. Only the Nissan Rogue measures up. Tossing in a wheels-on Baby Jogger Summit X3 and a Stiga GT Snowracer, with plenty of room to spare, revealed that this is a world away from the trunks of sedans. Not only are there 24 additional cubic feet of storage compared with an Accord, access is far more straightforward, as well.

Though American Honda’s basic CR-Vs in LX trim carry forward with the fourth-gen CR-V’s 2.4-liter four-cylinder (184 horsepower and 180 b-ft of torque), all other CR-Vs now use a more powerful version of the Civic’s turbocharged 1.5-liter. Compared with the 2.4, power is up by only six units, but the power peak arrives 800 rpm sooner.

More importantly, though torque is down by a single lb-ft to 179 in the 1.5T, peak torque is produced across a plateau from 2,o00-5,000 rpm, rather than peaking at 3,900 rpm as in the 2.4.

These are meaningful differences that cause the CR-V to feel as though it verges on quick. It helps that fuel economy climbs by two miles per gallon in both city and highway driving. Wearing Bridgestone Blizzaks during a particularly snowy week, the cold temperatures and mostly urban environment in which we drove this 2017 CR-V for 250 miles didn’t stop us from observing 28 miles per gallon.

That’s not the kind of number that will cause consumers to walk away from “SUVs” when fuel prices spike.

2017 Honda CR-V Touring interior detail, Image: © 2017 Timothy Cain

Nor are the 2017 CR-V’s improved handling and ride quality going to be the kind of character traits that have loyal utility vehicle buyers seeking out sedans in a quest for greater dynamism. Decidedly more nimble, the fifth-gen CR-V also negotiates rough roads with greater tolerance than the previous model — and most of its rivals, too. The steering is mostly devoid of life, but the rack is quick to react, and the CR-V won’t feel wronged by an attempt to hustle down your favourite road.

Though lacking the Mazda CX-5’s lust for corners and the Ford Escape’s delightful overall balance, the CR-V takes its place among the more athletic members of the segment while also being the most comfortable.

The CR-V is also distinctly more refined than the CX-5 and noticeably more spacious than the Escape.

Indeed, relative to all of its competitors, the CR-V is a leader in almost every objective facet.

The 2018 Honda Odyssey’s seemingly far superior infotainment unit would be an improvement. A (clearly unnecessary) powertrain option to compete with the Escape EcoBoost, Forester XT, and Sportage SX would be welcome. An exterior freshening for a premature 2018 model year refresh wouldn’t go amiss.

But after claiming all-time record annual sales with the old CR-V at the end of its tenure and outselling every other utility vehicle in America, Honda upped its game with an even more quiet, serene, powerful, efficient, and spacious CR-V for 2017.

In Touring trim, it’s also quite luxurious.

Yet where the new CR-V truly impresses is at the lower levels. A 2017 Honda CR-V EX AWD costs less than $29,000 and includes the 1.5T, the HondaSensing suite of safety gear, a power driver’s seat with four-way lumbar, heated front seats, dual-zone climate control, proximity access, 18-inch alloys, and a sunroof.

Alas, Honda does not include a four-clover badge or an ex-girlfriend with any of the CR-V’s trim levels.

Timothy Cain is the founder of GoodCarBadCar.net, which obsesses over the free and frequent publication of U.S. and Canadian auto sales figures. Follow on Twitter @goodcarbadcar and on Facebook. This CR-V was loaned for the week by Honda Canada.

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