The second-generation 2002-06 Honda CR-V sticks closely to the formula outlined by the original CR-V, but adds more power, more interior room and more styling. Although the 2002-2006 Honda CR-V SUV is bigger and heavier than the previous generation, fuel economy remains the same and horsepower is actually increased. This is due to a more efficient 2.4-liter engine with variable valve timing, as well as a revised five-speed automatic transmission introduced in 2005. Early model EX trims offer anti-lock brakes and side curtain airbags, two safety features that would later become standard on 2005 and newer models. Other small SUV?s competing with the CR-V included the Toyota RAV4, Subaru Forester, Ford Escape and the Mitsubishi Outlander. Of course, only the Toyota RAV4 can match the 2002-06 Honda CR-V?s excellent resale and reliability ratings, followed closely by the Subaru Forester.

Why You Want It

In the compact SUV class, the 2002-06 Honda CR-V is our favorite used vehicle pick. It?s cute, compact, and very roomy, with a ton of rear seat legroom, ample headroom and a generous cargo hold that can be expanded by flipping and folding the rear seats forward. Clever features, like the concealed fold-out picnic table speak to the CR-V?s fun and versatile side, while its peppy 160 horsepower engine is more than sufficient to pull a loaded CR-V to the beach or, with the available Real Time 4WD, to a mountain ski resort. The CR-V is good on gas too, although more so on the open highway than in around town driving. And, other than a few well-known minor problem areas, the 2002-2006 Honda CR-V is very reliable used car buy that holds its value well even as its mileage pushes past the 100,000-mile mark.

Notable Features & Options

The base 2002-06 Honda CR-V trim is the LX. Available with front-wheel- or 4-wheel drive (4WD) and a choice of 5-speed manual or 4-speed automatic (5-speed automatic after 2005), the LX trim is nicely equipped. Included on the LX trim are black bumpers and mirrors, 4-wheel disc brakes, air conditioning, power windows, removable fold-out picnic table, a rear wiper/washer, tilt wheel, 15-inch steel wheels, power mirrors, power locks, cruise control and an AM/FM/CD/Cassette stereo. The EX adds color keyed mirrors, anti-lock brakes, front side airbags, remote keyless entry, a power moonroof, alloy wheels and a 6-disc CD changer. After 2005, all models gain anti-lock brakes, electronic traction and stability control, front side-impact airbags and side curtain airbags. Both trims are powered by a 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine teamed to a 5-speed manual transmission. 4WD is also available on both trims. In 2005, the SE trim is added bringing heated front seats, leather interior, heated side mirrors, color keyed bumpers, mirrors and door handles as well as color keyed side molding and a hard spare tire shell.

Model Milestones

2003 - Other than a CD case-friendly center console upgrade, there are no major changes for 2003.

2004 - A passenger side power door lock switch is added, and a new tan interior option is made available for both trims.

2005 - The CR-V gets a mild face lift and a new 5-speed automatic transmission (replaces the previous year?s 4-speed auto). New standard safety features include anti-lock brakes, electronic traction and stability control, front side-impact airbags, and side curtain airbags. The SE trim is also introduced this year.

2006 - No major changes for 2006.

Engines and Performance

The 2002-2006 Honda CR-V offers only one engine choice: A 160-horsepower 2.4-liter 4-cylinder. Equipped with Honda?s VTEC (variable valve timing and lift) technology, the 2.4-liter delivers excellent power, smooth operation and great fuel economy. The standard five-speed manual is a rarity in the field, and usually difficult to find as most owners opted for the automatic. Honda?s Real Time 4WD option is a part-time system that engages when the front wheels slip, but there is no two-speed transfer case or locking low gear, so off-roading is off the table. On the road, the CR-V feels balanced and poised. Despite having nearly 7-inches of ground clearance, the CR-V rounds corners with the confidence of a small sedan. The steering is direct and very responsive and the automatic transmission shifts smoothly with little gear hunting or abrupt gear changes. We found the CR-V?s brakes to be good, but the brake pedal feels a bit soft and has a long travel. Interior sound levels are okay, with a bit of tire and wind noise creeping in at highway speeds, but not obtrusively so. The EPA rates the front drive Honda CR-V with a manual transmission at 20 mpg city/ 26 mpg highway. The 2005 and new CR-V?s with the five-speed auto and AWD are rated at 20/25 (19/24 with the 5-speed manual).

Recalls, Safety Ratings and Warranties

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, or NHTSA, has issued the following recalls for the 2002-2006 Honda CR-V.

2002 - Recalls were issued for possible defective front seat belt pretensioners, and a defective driver?s side airbag that can become overly pressurized causing the inflator to rupture. Further recalls include a problem with metal particles interfering with the ignition switch allowing the key to be removed with the transmission not in park, and a faulty front seat belt anchoring nut that could come lose.

2002-2003 - A recall was issued for vehicles equipped with an automatic transmission that may suffer excessive corrosion of the shift cable linkage, causing the transmission no to shift into park.

2002-2004 - A recall was issued regarding faulty driver?s side airbag wiring that may be cause the airbag not to inflate.

2005 - A recall was issued for a possible defective side passenger occupant position detection sensor.

2006 - A recall was issued for a possible defective driver?s power window switch that could fail or melt.

Recall repairs are required by law even if the vehicle is out of warranty. Your dealer can check to see if the repairs were performed and if not, will fix the car at no charge to you.

As for safety, the 2002-2006 Honda CR-V earns good marks from both the government and the Institute for Highway Traffic Safety (IIHS), with better marks going to vehicles equipped with side impact airbags. In NHTSA?s test, the CR-V scores five out of five stars in both front end and side impact test with or without side airbags. IIHS gives the 2002-06 Honda CR-V a GOOD rating in the frontal off-set crash test and side impact test for cars with side airbags. CR-V?s not equipped with side airbags received a rating of MARGINAL in the side-impact test.

The 2002-2006 Honda CR-V has a 3-year/36,000 mile warranty that has long since expired. The 2002-2006 Honda CR-V is too old to qualify for Honda?s Certified Pre-Owned program.

Word on the Web

For the most part, you?ll find nothing but glowing reviews and excellent scores from consumer and customer sites alike. Consumer Reports gives high marks to the 2002-06 Honda CR-V, with the notable exception of the climate control and brakes. We found numerous customer complaints on line regarding the faulty air conditioning compressors on 2002-2004 models, as well as complaints of soft brakes and excessive brake pad and rotor wear. There was also an early warning to those who change their own oil (or take it to a place like Jiffy Lube) to be sure the oil filter is properly tightened. If not, oil can leak onto the catalytic converter and cause a fire.

Competitive Set

In as much as resale and reliability matter, the Toyota RAV4 is the best equal to the CR-V. But, the 2002-2004 RAV4 isn?t as refined, nor is it as powerful as the CR-V. In 2005, the RAV4 was given a bigger engine on par with the CR-V, and in 2006 a new larger model is given a third-row seat. You could look at the Ford Escape, which offers as much room as the CR-V and the option of a V6 engine, but its resale and repair history are both lack-luster. The 2004 Mitsubishi Outlander is a little known competitor to the CR-V, but actually isn?t a bad choice, offering many of the same features for less money. The Outlander?s repair and reliability ratings are also pretty good. The Subaru Forester isn?t as roomy inside, especially in the backseat area, but it does offer permanent all-wheel drive, a turbocharged engine option and equally good resale and reliability ratings. However, the Forester will probably cost more than the CR-V, and its 2.5-liter boxer engine has earned a well-earned reputation for blowing head gaskets around the 100,000 mile mark.

Auto Trader Recommendations

While we don?t think you can go wrong with any of the 2002-2006 CR-V trims, we would pick a 2005 or newer EX or SE with all-wheel drive. The CR-V?s all-wheel drive doesn?t ding the fuel economy figure in any meaningful way, and the standard VSC stability and traction control, along with side curtain airbags, make this the best all-around choice for comfort, features, safety and resale.

author photo

Joe Tralongo started in the industry writing competitive comparison books for a number of manufacturers, before moving on in 2000 to become a freelance automotive journalist. He's well regarded for his keen eye for detail, as well as his ability to communicate complex mechanical terminology into user-friendly explanations.

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