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).