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1997 HONDA CR-V Review - Base Price $19,695

Practically small.


In addition to booming, the sport-utility market is also evolving, and the new Honda CR-V is yet another proof.

Like a number of current sport-utility vehicles, this appealing little four-door wagon wasn't designed to tackle tough terrain. That's because most sport-utilities rarely leave the pavement, let alone venture into tough terrain. For most of us, a little extra ground clearance and four-wheel traction are enough to satisfy our SUV needs--a trek to a summer cabin, battling winter slush and/or running family errands.

That's what the CR-V is all about--lots of utility, all-wheel drive traction, car-like driveability. Do you hear minivan attributes here? Yes, you do. The CR-V combines SUV style and image with minivan usefulness. And it does so very effectively.


Like all Hondas, the CR-V's interior is subdued, comfortable, thoughtfully designed and nicely finished.

The front bucket seats are well contoured and spacious, and the split-folding rear seatbacks can be reclined, a rare feature in any vehicle.

The instrument panel is straightforward and logical, with secondary controls that are, in general, instantly recognizable, particularly to anyone who's ever driven a Honda.

We have a couple of asterisks to the foregoing. The power window switches, for example, are located on the dashboard, to the left of the steering wheel, and they're a trifle awkward to get at when the vehicle is moving.

And the column-mounted shifter felt out of place in something that calls itself a sport-utility.

On the other hand, putting the shift lever on the steering column allowed Honda to create a minivan-style pass-through between the front seats, a minivan feature that plays very well here.

We also liked the removable tray, with integrated cupholders, that flips up between the front seats. Two more cupholders slide out below the climate controls, and the interior has an abundance of storage pockets and bins, another typical Honda touch.

For all its engaging detail touches, though, the most endearing trait of this interior is roominess. Lots of front legroom, which is common enough, and abundant adult-size rear legroom, which isn't.

Headroom is also plentiful, fore and aft, and there's a sizeable cargo space behind the rear seats. The rear seatbacks flip and fold individually to expand cargo capacity.

And how's this for neat: the CR-V includes a picnic table that stows in the rear floor. Pop it out, flip down the legs and it's party time.

Besides all-wheel drive, the CR-V's standard equipment list includes air conditioning, an AM/FM/cassette sound system, cruise control, map lights, a rear window washer-wiper, and power windows, mirrors and locks.

Most of these items are extras on the Rav4, and a similarly equipped Rav4 would cost about $1000 more.


Honda marketing messages will pit the CR-V against Toyota's spectacularly successful Rav4, a strategy that's both logical and shrewd.

It's logical, because the CR-V is similar in concept and execution. Unlike most sport-utilities, it's based on passenger car components, specifically the subcompact front-drive Civic line. Toyota used the same approach with the Rav4, which is an amalgam of pieces from the Camry, Corolla and Celica.

It's shrewd, because the CR-V is considerably bigger and roomier than the Rav4. In fact, its dimensions are close to those of the four-door Jeep Cherokee, and it packs about the same cargo capacity.

Although it has the familiar Honda grillework, and a fairly steep rake to its windshield, the CR-V's exterior design is otherwise classic sport-ute, which is to say boxy.

There are two very good reasons for this. First, that's the way we keep telling the manufacturers we like 'em. Second, it maximizes interior volume.

Like the Rav4, the CR-V carries its spare tire on an external rack mounted on the tailgate. Unlike the Rav4, and a lot of other external mounts, the CR-V's spare is low enough so that it doesn't interfere with vision to the rear.

The tailgate is a two-piece affair. The glass upper portion lifts up, while the lower portion swings open like a door.

Both functions are operated by the key, and it's not the handiest arrangement if you're juggling an armful of something or other. The operator must first unlock the window portion, flip it up, and then swing the door open.

Toyota's one-piece rear door is easier to use.

The CR-V's engine is a 2.0-liter twin cam 16-valve aluminum four-cylinder hybrid from the Civic inventory, rated at 126 horsepower and 133 pound-feet of torque. That's a little more power than the Rav4's 2.0-liter four, but the CR-V is a little heavier, so power-to-weight ratios are similar.

During its first year in the U.S. market, the CR-V will be offered in one trim level, well equipped, with a four-speed automatic transmission and full-time all-wheel drive as standard equipment.

Like many all-wheel drive setups, the CR-V's Real-Time system operates primarily on the drive wheels, which are, in this case, up front. When the system sensors detect traction loss on the drive wheels, it feeds torque, via hydraulic pumps, to the rear wheels until proper grip is restored.

There's no locking feature for the center differential, no low-range four-wheel drive feature and no limited-slip option for the rear differential, which limits the CR-V's effectiveness in stuff like deep, loose sand (beware on the beach).

Suspension, Honda's effective four-wheel double wishbone system, is independent at all four corners, and the rack-and-pinion power steering features variable assist--high boost for easy steering at parking lot speeds, low boost for good feedback at highway speeds.

The only options are aluminum alloy wheels and antilock brakes, which are offered as a $1000 package.

With this package, and Honda's $395 destination and delivery charge, our CR-V tester stickered out at $20,695.


At 103.2 inches, the CR-V's wheelbase is long for its overall size--a little longer than the Cherokee, 8.3 inches longer than the four-door Rav4. That's typical of current Honda designs, and it's one of the reasons for Honda's success with ride quality.

Good ride quality is a CR-V strong suit. It's supple enough to absorb the nasty little irregularities of warty pavement without excessive compromise in handling response.

The CR-V isn't quite as quick on its feet as the Rav4, but it's thoroughly competent, and its steering is precise, with excellent feedback.

Overall, the CR-V feels like a compact station wagon--which is essentially what it is. There's nothing remotely truckish about its behavior.

Low-end torque, the engine commodity that gets you up and running when the light turns green, isn't particularly abundant in the CR-V. The torque peak is 4300 rpm, and standing start getaway is a tad sluggish.

Once it builds up a head of steam, though, the CR-V is significantly quicker to 60 mph than a Rav4 automatic, and the engine is reasonably quiet at most operating speeds.

However, the Rav4's standard transmission is a five-speed manual, and a Rav4 with a manual transmission provides livelier performance.


Aside from the absence of a manual transmission, the CR-V is an excellent piece of work. It's much roomier than the Rav4, has all sorts of nifty features and a respectable load of standard equipment.

It's not the best choice for tough off-road use, even though it has 8.1 inches of ground clearance. But for the kind of duties that most sport-utilities perform, its all-around practicality and comfort are tops at the small end of the spectrum.

Find more reviews at New Car Test Drive. The wolrd's leading provider of Automotive Reviews.

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