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2017 Honda CR-V First Drive

Victoria, British Columbia. The Mile 0 monument on Douglas Street in Victoria, B.C. is a testament to just that: the beginning (or end, of course, depending on where you’re starting) of the Trans-Canada Highway. Indeed, you really can’t go much further west than Vancouver Island, at least not on the ground anyway.

It’s fitting, then, that the launch of the all-new 2017 Honda CR-V is happening in the picturesque capital of Canada’s third-most populous province. The CR-V, for all intents and purposes, could wear a “Mile 0” badge of its own, assuming we’re talking about compact SUVs and crossovers, as it really was one of the first truly mass-market examples of this type of vehicle. 

Having said that, the segment in which the CR-V competes has exploded in the 20 years since it arrived, and will likely continue to do so, especially in Canada where AWD is king. Jeep, Mazda, Nissan, Hyundai, Kia, Chevrolet, you name it—they’re all making one of these. Don’t forget Ford with its all-conquering Escape, the No. 1 seller in this class, ahead of the Toyota RAV4

It used to be the CR-V’s spot, mind you. Honda will be the first to admit that its small SUV fell off the pace because it didn’t look bold enough, the performance wasn’t quite there, the cabin was plain, and value lagged behind the competition. So, what has the Japanese manufacturer done to get back to the top?

Styling statement
You don’t have to look twice to see the styling changes that have been made to the 2017 Honda CR-V. While the previous, fifth-generation model got a slight update not too long ago to keep up with the rest of the Honda family, the sixth generation has taken that and doubled down.

Chief among the changes is a more obvious application of Honda’s signature 3D grille. It’s a look that has been a bit divisive, especially when talking about the all-world Civic, but one that I rather like: I find it distinctive, but not so much that we’re all clamouring to have the chief designer’s head. Here, it’s flanked by nicely aggressive, yet classy headlight lenses that get standard LED daytime running lights and available LED headlights.

The 2017 Honda CR-V lineup consists of four trim levels, and all of them except the base come with AWD and turbo power as standard: LX ($26,690 FWD, $29,490 AWD), EX ($32,990), EX-L ($35,290), and Touring ($38,090). These MSRPs represent slight increases over the outgoing model, but every 2017 edition has at least 16 additional features (the base LX gets you 20 additional features for just $400 more). The standard 17” alloy wheels are one example, replacing the 16” steel wheels. 

It’s good that Honda has gone with the bigger wheels (18” alloys are standard on the EX, a single trim level up from base), because one of the defining traits of the CR-V’s new shape are the fender flares that have been added to all four corners, requiring bigger wheels to adequately fill. The result is a much squatter and more athletic silhouette, augmented by the addition of twin tailpipes as standard, plus a newly shaped hood that really looks the business. The Honda CR-V has become a tremendously attractive crossover with the styling chops to go toe-to-toe with anyone else in the segment, especially in the all-new Molten Lava red paint seen here. 

Big interior, big tech
The 2017 Honda CR-V manages to pack the most cargo space in the segment into its snug frame (though it does see its wheelbase grow by 40 mm, for a total of 2,659 mm), which is going to be a bonus for anyone thinking of a vehicle of this size. Better still, for 2017, we no longer have to first fold the bottom cushion into the floor before we can get the seatback to lay completely flat. Instead, a flip of a single lever will do the trick, providing a perfectly flat, 1.8m long loading surface. No problem getting the hockey sticks in there, which is good. The new CR-V also boasts an adjustable load floor in case you need to fit taller items behind the rear seats. 

Accessing the cargo area is now easier, too, thanks to a power liftgate that’s standard on EX-L and Touring models. It can be set to open to an infinite number of heights, so if you park in a tighter garage, it won’t hit the roof when you open it. Foot activation (one of the most heavily requested features, according to Honda) means you can get the hatch open without using your hands. It would occasionally hiccup when we tried for ourselves, but it worked flawlessly most of the time. 

In addition to the cargo space, that larger wheelbase frees up an additional 53 mm of rear legroom, which can really be felt. I’m 6’3”, and when sitting behind a driver’s seat adjusted for my frame, my knees didn’t even touch the seatback. That’s impressive, and coupled with the low-profile rear centre armrest, it makes for a comfortable journey. You do, however, feel the Honda CR-V bounce a little more over undulating surfaces when sitting in the back. It’s not a deal-breaker, but it is noticeable. 

Even more noticeable is actually something that shouldn’t be noticeable at all, shouldn’t even make a blip on a buyer’s radar, but does. It’s such a simple thing: the way the radio is turned on and off, and the way the volume is adjusted. Until now, the CR-V has made do with a teeny-tiny button for your power, and two teeny tiny buttons for your volume. There are steering wheel-mounted controls, of course, but drivers are creatures of habit, and Honda admits that adjusting the volume via the steering wheel is simply a habit that few possess. The buttons were so small that finding them while driving was a nuisance, and the problem was enough to have potential CR-V buyers and owners alike up in arms. Consequently, designers have gone back to a traditional knob that serves the purpose of both functions. It’s a fantastic application of reverse engineering that I’m all for.

The rest of the 2017 Honda CR-V’s media interface is quite good: a responsive 7” touchscreen is standard on all trims, as is Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, with a handy, non-slip storage shelf atop the centre console to store your device once attached. In a smart move, said shelf can be slid fore and aft, so you don’t lose access to the storage bin beneath it. That being said, I would have preferred a wireless charging surface, as Toyota offers in the RAV4.

The navigation system is of the Garmin variety, but you can only get it in Touring trim. As for comfort, both a heated steering wheel and heated rear seats (exclusive to the Canadian market) have been added to the EX-L trim. 

Tech for the road and turbo power
While many will make a slightly tongue-in-cheek reference to the volume knob being the biggest tech addition for 2017, that honour actually goes to the Honda Sensing safety suite, which is now available on all AWD-equipped CR-V models. It adds automatic collision mitigation, active lane keep assist, road-departure mitigation, and adaptive cruise control, with the latter two being all-new for 2017. 

Adaptive cruise control is quite handy and subtle in the way it reads traffic and adjusts speed accordingly. Trouble arises with the lane keep assist and road-departure mitigation systems, which are overly sensitive on straight roads and way too invasive as soon as even a modicum of a curve arrives. Granted, these are not systems that should be used on twisty roads, but we’re not talking switchbacks here, just minor-degree turns that should require no braking if you’re driving at anywhere near the speed limit. It’s good to have them, but some need to be used sparingly.
While you can switch most driving aids on and off to your heart’s content, the same can’t be said for the other big story when it comes to the drive: the engine. 

The 2017 Honda CR-V uses the same 1.5L 4-cylinder as the Honda Civic, but generates 17 more horsepower (190 to 173) and 179 lb-ft of torque. That’s a lot more than what’s made by the RAV4 or the 1.6L turbo-equipped Escape. Also, EPA testing has shown the CR-V to be more fuel-efficient than both of those, not to mention anything else in the segment.

That’s pretty amazing stuff, achieved in part by adding active grille shutters and a flat underbody for better aerodynamics. The drive is quieter, too. Speaking of which, active noise cancellation is standard on all trim levels. 

Back to the turbo engine, which really does wonders for the CR-V drive. Pickup from start is brisk, and apart from some climbs on steeper grades, I rarely found myself wanting for more power.
You’ll have to live with the sole transmission choice, however, which is a CVT. Normally, these are acceleration-sapping things, and while you don’t feel as much of that with the new CR-V, the amount of noise it makes is a little grating. There are pre-programmed shift patterns including D, S, and L, with that last one really being saved for steep climbs and the occasional passing manoeuvre.

As we move down from the engine to the chassis, we get another helping of all-new features. Different bushings, bigger, more powerful brakes, and new suspension tuning at all four corners make for an agile-handling machine, but one that rides incredibly well, too. Throw in a smart AWD system that can move 40% of torque to the rear axle when needed and also gets brake-based torque vectoring for better turn-in and stability, and you’ve got a pile of added driver confidence. The greasy roads we were on gave us a chance to try this out, and it worked like a charm, not stepping in so abruptly as to shock, but just enough to keep us on the straight and narrow.

Conclusion
As we outlined at the beginning of this review, Honda had a very clear checklist when it came to redesigning the CR-V. They needed it to once again become the standard for compact SUVs and crossovers.

I’ve driven all of the competition, and I must say that the numerous changes and improvements make a very compelling case for the top spot on the podium. In other words, Honda has returned to Mile 0 for 2017. 

 

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2017 Honda CR-V
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2017 Honda CR-V
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