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2003 Honda CR-V

Roomy interior, agile handling make this an appealing car.

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by Tom Lankard April 2003


The Honda CR-V is roomy and convenient and easy to drive. You can put lots of stuff in it and the back seats are roomy and comfortable. It rides nice and smoothing, without the jouncy harshness of most SUVs. It's surprisingly maneuverable in tight quarters and handles well on winding roads.

The CR-V has grown up. Literally: Last year, a new model was launched that was larger, roomier, and more powerful than the first-generation model, and the new CR-V reclaimed its leading position in the compact sport-utility race.

Along with the Toyota RAV4, the CR-V was one of the original cute-utes: Not quite a sport-utility, but more than a car, offering an upright seating position, all-wheel drive and decent cargo space. Since it was built on a car platform (the Honda Civic), its highway-friendly ride and handling made it drive more like a car. This combination attracted buyers who needed a minivan, but wanted something smaller and more maneuverable, and something that didn't look like a minivan. That was in mid-1997.

Since then the field has become crowded with competitors, including the Ford Escape, Mazda Tribute, and Hyundai Santa Fe. The Chevrolet Tracker and Suzuki Vitara offered more truck-like engineering for better off-road capability. Land Rover introduced its luxurious and highly capable Freelander, while Jeep launched its highly capable and slightly larger Liberty.

With the 2002 model, however, the CR-V got back in the hunt. It still isn't any good off-road, but it's quite competent on the highways and byways where most of these vehicles are driven most of the time. The Honda bests many of its immediate competitors in both qualitative and quantitative measures, while trailing in a few minor areas.

For 2003, Honda has added coat hooks in the rear compartment and enlarged the front storage console to better accommodate cassettes and CDs. Otherwise the CR-V remains unchanged.

Model Lineup

The CR-V is offered in two trim levels, with a choice of two or four-wheel drive. Options are extremely limited; as Honda firmly believes that the fewer the options, the less a car costs to build. It's available with front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive.

The base LX is well equipped for $18,900. It comes standard with air conditioning with micron filtration, AM/FM/cassette/CD stereo, cruise control, an adjustable steering column, power mirrors, power windows, power four-wheel-disc brakes, front and rear power outlets, and a removable folding picnic table. Also standard is an automatic transmission, which is an $800 option on other models.

A five-speed manual transmission is available on the four-wheel-drive LX ($19,300). With the automatic, the 4WD LX costs $20,100.

Side-impact air bags add $250. Aluminum wheels are available as a dealer-installed accessory.

EX comes with four-wheel drive only, and adds a premium stereo, anti-lock brakes, privacy glass, remote keyless entry, aluminum wheels, and a power moonroof. It lists for $21,600 with the five-speed manual, $22,400 with the automatic.


The CR-V is growing up. This latest version shows less activity in the body panels, suggesting a more robust persona. The front end is blunter and shorter, for a more functional off-road look.

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The tailgate sports a rear window that opens on its own, which is good; but it is side-hinged on the right, which means you have to walk around it when you're loading cargo from the curb.

Still, the overall look is a plus. You know it's a Honda CR-V, but it's somehow beefier, fuller, better proportioned. For lack of a better comparison, it's like a puppy that's filled out as it has grown up.

Interior Features

The Honda CR-V has a friendly interior that's easy to live with, convenient in the daily hustle. Getting in and out is quick and easy and doesnt require climbing or stooping. For 2003, rear coat hooks have been added and the center console-mounted storage area has been enlarged to accommodate CDs and cassettes.

Gauges are easy to read, with white numerals on a black background, avoiding the twilight wash-out afflicting the black-on-white arrays that are the current fad. Cruise control is standard, as is an adjustable steering column.

The front seats are comfortable. In nearly every measure of interior room, the CR-V bests its competition. Only the Toyota RAV4 beats the CR-V's front seat headroom, and by less than half an inch. The Ford Escape and RAV4 provide more front-seat leg room, by 0.3 and 0.9 inches, respectively, over the CR-V's still-generous 41.3 inches.

Likewise, the rear bench is comfortable with lots of room. The rear bench seat has three-point belts and head restraints at all three positions, something not all SUVs offer.

In terms of cargo hauling, the CR-V is the undisputed champion, with 72.0 cubic feet of cargo space. By comparison, the second-place Escape offers 64.8 cubic feet, while the Freelander provides just 46.6 cubic feet.

There's a cool, collapsible tray table betwixt the front seats, with a couple of cup holders and a recess for a cell phone or whatever. A picnic table in back does double duty as the cover for the spare tire bin. Everything else is where it should be, and there are no less than 21 storage bins adroitly spread about the cabin.

We really liked it the AM/FM/cassette stereo with 6-disk in-dash CD changer. Honda does not provide a compass, however.

The parking brake is disguised, subtly integrated into the vertical panel forward of the center console. It looks like a grab handle, until you decipher the icon in the grip. As odd as the placement might seem at first, over time it begins to make ergonomic sense.

Driving Impressions

The Honda CR-V rides well, whether the roads are smooth or rough. That makes for very pleasant motoring around town over busy, beat-up streets.

There's enough power on tap to thrust you off the on-ramp and into traffic. The CR-V's engine delivers 160 horsepower and 162 pounds-feet of torque, more than other four-cylinder SUVs. Torque is that force that propels you away from intersections and up hills and the CR-V's torque peaks at just 3600 rpm. That means when you put your foot to the floor the acceleration force comes on quickly, which makes for safer merging into traffic and allows greater margins of safety when making a pass.

Honda is a leader in engine technology and the CR-V benefits from a 2.4-liter, 16-valve, DOHC four-cylinder with "intelligent" i-VTEC. Through the miracles of valve timing, Honda is able to generate lots of power while keeping fuel economy at an impressive EPA-estimated 22/26 mpg city/highway. All CR-Vs meet the new LEV-II low-emissions standards.

The CR-V's handling is reassuring. It feels sure-footed on twisting roads. The handling is neutral and the tires offer lots of grip in corners. The CR-V drives more like a car than a truck. That's because it is more car than truck. It's based on a front-wheel-drive Honda Civic with a unit-body and four-wheel independent suspension. It's a car and that's a good thing.

The CR-V is more maneuverable in tight parking lots than a Toyota RAV4 or Ford Escape. That's a benefit of its tight turning radius (33.8 feet for the CR-V verses 35.4 feet for both the RAV4 and Escape).

In terms of crashworthiness, the CR-V rates highly. The CR-V earned 5-star ratings from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for both front and side impact, the highest rating possible.


With its expanded cargo and passenger volume and more mature styling, the latest Honda CR-V has graduated to less cute, more ute. In the process, it has not only caught up to its competition, but passed most of it.

Yes, a V6 would be nice, but it's not necessary, given the impressive torque output of the CR-V's Inline-4. Most importantly, Honda's reputation for quality and durability make the CR-V a top choice in the small-sport-ute field.

Model Line Overview

Model lineup: LX 2WD ($18,900); LX 4WD ($19,300); and EX 4WD ($21,600)
Engines: 160-hp, 2.4-liter dohc 16-valve Inline-4
Transmissions: 4-speed automatic, 5-speed manual
Safety equipment (standard): front-seat airbags, three-point belts and head restraints at all five seating positions
Safety equipment (optional): side-impact air bags, ABS
Basic warranty: 3 years/36,000 miles
Assembled in: Sayama, Japan

Specifications As Tested

Model tested (MSRP): Honda CR-V 4WD EX automatic ($22,400)
Standard equipment: tachometer; variable-assist power steering; power-assisted ABS; 5-speed manual transmission; Real Time four-wheel drive; cruise control; adjustable steering column; air conditioning with micron air-filtration system; power door locks, windows and outside mirrors; maintenance interval indicator light; pre-tensioners on front-seat seat belts; manual height adjustment on driver's seat; front and rear accessory power outlets; waterproof rear storage well; interior grab handles for each side door; AM/FM stereo cassette/CD changer; removable picnic table
Options as tested (MSRP): None
Destination charge: ($460)
Gas guzzler tax: N/A
Price as tested (MSRP): $22,860
Layout: all-wheel drive
Engine: 2.4-liter DOHC 16-valve inline-4
Horsepower (hp @ rpm): 160 @ 6000
Torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm): 162 @ 3600
Transmission: 4-speed automatic
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy: 22/26 mpg
Wheelbase: 103.1 in.
Length/width/height: 178.6/70.2/66.2 in.
Track, f/r: 60.35/60.55 in.
Turning circle: 33.8 ft.
Seating capacity: 5
Head/hip/leg room, f: 38.9/54.5/41.3 in.
Head/hip/leg room, m: N/A
Head/hip/leg room, r: 39.1/53.5/39.4 in.
Trunk volume: 72 cu. ft.
Payload: N/A
Towing capacity: 1500 Lbs.
Suspension, f: independent
Suspension, r: independent
Ground clearance: N/A
Curb weight: 3287 lbs.
Tires: P205/70 R15
Brakes, f/r: ventilated disc/disc w ABS
Fuel capacity: 15.3 gal.

Unless otherwise indicated, specifications refer to test vehicle.
All prices are manufacturer's suggested retail prices (MSRP) effective as of October 08, 2002.
Prices do not include manufacturer's destination and delivery charges. N/A: Information not available or not applicable.
Manufacturer Info Sources: 1-800-33-HONDA - www.honda.com

Copyright © 1994-2003 New Car Test Drive, Inc.

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
2003 Honda CR-V - Autotrader