Base Price (MSRP) - $19,000
As Tested (MSRP) - $23,010

Introduction

The Honda CR-V is roomy, convenient and easy to drive. You can put lots of stuff in it and the back seats are quite comfortable. It rides smoothly, without the jouncy harshness of many SUVs. The CR-V is surprisingly maneuverable in tight quarters and handles well on winding roads. It's also stable in stiff crosswinds at freeway speeds.

In short, the CR-V has grown up. Literally. This recently redesigned SUV is bigger, roomier and more powerful than the first-generation CR-V, and it has reclaimed its spot among the best small sport-utilities offered by any manufacturer.

Like Toyota's RAV4, the CR-V was one of the first so-called 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), CR-V's 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.

Since the CR-V was introduced in 1997, the field has grown crowded with competitors such as the Ford Escape, Mazda Tribute and Hyundai Santa Fe. Jeep offers its slightly larger Liberty, which offers off-road capability. A thorough re-do for 2002 put the CR-V squarely back in the game. It still isn't much good off-road, but it's better than competent on the highways and byways where most SUVs are driven most of the time. This Honda beats most of its immediate competitors in both qualitative and quantitative measures, and trails the competition in only a few. Changes for 2004 are limited to a new of power-lock switch on the front passenger door, and new color matching inside.

If you're looking for a reasonably priced, all-purpose vehicle with a sense of adventure and fine foul-weather capability, the CR-V is hard to beat.

 

Model Lineup

The CR-V is offered in two trim levels, with a choice of two or four-wheel drive. Honda has long believed that the fewer the options, the less a car costs to build, so options on its small SUV are few.

The base LX ($19,000) is the only CR-V with just front-wheel drive. It comes well equipped. Standard equipment includes 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. An automatic transmission is also standard with this front-drive model.

LX 4WD comes standard with a five-speed manual transmission ($19,400), but is also available with an automatic ($20,200). Side-impact air bags ($250) are optional. Aluminum wheels are available as a dealer-installed accessory. It's unfortunate that Honda offers ABS only as part of the high-trim CR-V EX package. A buyer shouldn't be forced to buy things he or she may not want in order to get this important system. Honda says in the future it will be including more safety features as standard equipment.

The EX comes only with four-wheel drive, and adds a premium stereo with CD changer, anti-lock brakes, rear privacy glass, remote keyless entry, aluminum wheels, and a power moonroof. EX 4WD comes with a choice of five-speed manual ($21,750) or automatic ($22,550).

Compared to 2003 models, these prices (MSRP) reflect a modest increase of $100 for the LX and $150 for the EX.

 

Walkaround

The CR-V has grown up, and there's no better evidence than its styling. The emphasis now is less on cute, more on ute. The body panels are smoother and not quite so busy, suggesting a more robust persona than the original CR-V. The shorter, blunter front-end creates a more rugged off-road look.

The CR-V still sports its trademark high-mount tail lights on either side of the rear window. The rear glass opens on its own, separately from the tailgate, which is good. Unfortunately, the lower part of the gate is side-hinged and opens to the right. That's a nod toward Honda's right-hand drive models in Japan; in America, you'll have to walk around the tailgate when you're loading cargo from the curb.

Regardless, the overall styling is an improvement. You know it's a Honda CR-V, but it's somehow beefier, fuller, better proportioned. Think of it as a cute puppy that's filled out as it's grown up.

2004 Honda CR-V
2004 Honda CR-V

Interior Features

 

The Honda CR-V has a friendly interior that's easy to live with, and quite convenient in the daily hustle. Getting in and out is quick and easy and doesn't require climbing or stooping. Gauges are easy to read, with white numerals on a black background, eliminating 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.

Improvements the last two years have been focused on the interior. For 2004, there's the power-lock switch added to the front-passenger door on all trim levels. For 2003, Honda added coat hooks above the rear seats and enlarged the center-console storage area to accommodate CDs and cassettes.

We loved the stereo and 6-disk in-dash CD changer in our test EX. Just a few years ago, these convenient changers were the preserve of true luxury cars. On the other hand, Honda does not provide a compass in the CR-V, and you'll find one is some other small SUVs. 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, using the hand brake gets more comfortable in short order.

It's the small, thoughtful touches that make the CR-V a pleasant place to go about the business of driving. 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 odds-and-ends. The cover for the spare-tire bin does double duty as a folding picnic table. Almost everything else seems to be where it should be, and there are no less than 21 storage nooks adroitly spread through the cabin.

The front seats are excellent. In most measures of interior room, the CR-V beats its competition. Only the Toyota RAV4 tops 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. The moonroof in our EX was nice, but it reduces headroom by nearly 2 inches. Taller drivers or those who like to sit upright might notice.

More surprising than the front-passenger accommodations is the space and comfort provided by the CR-V's rear seats. The rear bench is neither too soft nor too hard, and allows passengers to travel for more than a few minutes without getting numb-reared or fidgety. All three rear positions have three-point belts and head restraints, something not all SUVs offer.

In terms of cargo hauling, the CR-V is the champion among the small SUVs, 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: not a lot more than the 33.5 cubic feet the CR-V provides with the rear seat up. Better still, the CR-V's 60/40 split rear seat slides forward and back over a range of six inches to maximize either passenger or cargo space when the seat is up.

 

2004 Honda CR-V

Driving Impressions

Most small SUVs offer an optional V6 engine. The CR-V doesn't, but there's enough power on tap to readily thrust you off the on-ramp and into fast-moving traffic. With 160 horsepower and 162 pounds-feet of torque, the Honda overpowers other four-cylinder SUVs. Torque is that force that propels you away from intersections and up hills; in the CR-V torque peaks at just 3600 rpm and remains strong over a broad swath of the engine's range. When you put your foot to the floor, acceleration comes on quickly, which makes for safe merging and allows greater margins of safety when passing on two-lane roads.

Power isn't a problem. The four-cylinder engine isn't as smooth as a V6, and because it revs higher it sometimes seems like it's working harder. It isn't really, and you can be sure Honda's big four-cylinder is sturdy. Honda is a leader in engine technology, and the CR-V's 2.4-liter, 16-valve, DOHC engine benefits from "intelligent" i-VTEC. Through this miracle of variable valve timing, Honda is able to generate lots of usable power while keeping fuel economy at an impressive EPA-estimated 22/26 mpg city/highway. Like all Hondas, the CR-Vs are clean-running vehicles. It meets the LEV-II low-emissions standards, meaning 10 CR-Vs generate fewer pollutants than a single car did just 10 years ago.

The four-speed automatic is fairly responsive. Downshifts come quickly, and full-throttle upshifts come smoothly just before the redline. As four-cylinder/automatic combinations go, the CR-V's is first rate. Nonetheless, if milking the best response and performance is a priority, or rush-hour commutes aren't part of the daily ritual, we recommend the five-speed manual.

The CR-V all-wheel-drive system operates full time, with the bulk of the power directed to the front wheels. It's a great aid when winter snowstorms hit, adding confidence and sure-footed tracking in slippery conditions. In the snow or on dirt and gravel roads, Honda's Real Time AWD enhances stability and maximizes traction. This is not a true off-road system with a dual-range transfer case or locking differentials or anything of the sort. With its standard smooth-tread tires, the CR-V is not suited for backcountry off-road travel.

Whether the roads are smooth or rough, the CR-V rides well. It rides more smoothly than most SUVs, which makes for pleasant motoring around town over busy, beat-up streets. Handling is reassuring. It feels sure-footed on twisting roads. Even when it's driven harder than most owners are likely to go, the CR-V doesn't push excessively at its front end or slide at the rear, and the tires provide good grip on pavement. In short, this cute-ute drives more like a car than a truck.

That's because it is more car than truck. The CR-V is based on a front-wheel-drive Honda Civic, with a unit-body construction and four-wheel independent suspension. It's more maneuverable in tight parking lots than a Toyota RAV4 or Ford Escape, thanks to its tighter turning radius (33.8 feet, compared to 35.4 feet for both the RAV4 and Escape). Given the way most folks drive their SUVs, being more like a car is a good thing.

In terms of crashworthiness, the CR-V rates highly. It earned 5-stars from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for both front and side impacts, the highest ratings possible. Remember, though, that NHTSA's tests compare cars in a given class (in this case small SUVs) rather than across all categories (big SUVS, sedans or minivans).

 

2004 Honda CR-V

Summary

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. Honda's four-cylinder engine delivers impressive power and excellent fuel economy. The CR-V offers good road manners, class-leading interior space, and lots of conveniences. Add Honda's reputation for quality and durability and the CR-V remains a top choice among small sport-utilities.


Model Line Overview

Base Price (MSRP) $19,000
As Tested (MSRP) $23,010

Model lineup: Honda CR-V LX 2WD ($19,000); LX 4WD ($19,400); and EX 4WD ($21,750)
Engines: 2.4-liter DOHC 16-valve inline-4
Transmissions: 4-speed automatic
Safety equipment (Standard): front-seat airbags, three-point belts and head restraints at all five seating positions, front belt force limiters and pre-tensioners
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 ($22,550)
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: None
Destination charge: 460
Gas Guzzler Tax: N/A
Layout: all-wheel drive
Engine (Optional): 160-hp 2.4-liter dock 16-valve Inline-4
Horsepower (hp @ rpm): 160 @ 6000
Torque(lb.-ft. @ rpm): 162 @ 3600
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy: 22/26 mpg
Transmission (Optional): 4-speed automatic, 5-speed manual
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, r: 39.1/53.5/39.4 in.
Cargo volume: 72 cu. ft.
Payload N/A
Suspension F: independent
Suspension R: independent
Ground Clearance: N/A
Curb weight: 3347 Lbs.
Towing capacity: 1500 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 08/Oct/2003.
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.hondacars.com


Copyright © 1994-2003 New Car Test Drive

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Copyright © 1994-2009 New Car Test Drive, Inc.

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