2017 Honda CR-V first drive

Bigger, bolder, and boosted: Honda's new CR-V remains the compact SUV to beat

Honda’s brawny people-mover gets beefier but it also gets a smoother ride for its latest iteration.

Honda is in the midst of a product renaissance. Over the next four years, nearly every model in their portfolio will be re-launched, and that aggressive product cadence is a key component of their ongoing strategy to keep the company’s vehicles at the forefront of modernity.

The latest case in point is this all-new fifth generation CR-V. Even with 2016 shaping up to a record sales year and the fourth generation CR-V already enjoying the notable distinction of being the best-selling SUV in the United States, Honda isn’t willing to rest on their laurels.

This new CR-V is starting to push the boundaries of how we define a compact CUV.

Considering the current model’s success, we’d forgive them for simply putting a fresh coat of paint on what’s already proving effective, but it’s also safe to assume that isn’t the sort of mindset that got Honda to the top of the food chain in the first place.

Instead, the 2017 CR-V comes packing a new turbocharged power plant, a heavily revised chassis that expands the CR-V’s dimensions, a revamped suspension that seeks to simultaneously improve both ride quality and handling, and a more sophisticated aesthetic to go along with the crossover’s range of content. The latter of which comprise the most expansive list of standard and available features than have ever been offered in the vehicle’s history.

Indeed, the tweaks to the formula for the fifth generation CR-V are fairly extensive, but as we’ve seen past that’s not always a sure-fire recipe for a better vehicle. We headed out to Monterey, California to put the all-new iteration of Honda’s crossover through its paces to see if all the revision would help the CR-V retain its title as the benchmark for the segment.

Boosted, bigger and bolder

Changes to the CR-V start as its very core with a new chassis that boasts a lower center of gravity while expanding the crossover’s footprint. It makes the CR-V slightly larger than the outgoing vehicle in nearly every dimension, as evidenced by its longer wheelbase, which has grown for the first time in the model’s history from 103 inches to 104.6.

Those expanded dimensions are part of a design strategy to not only give the CR-V larger sense of presence but to yield significant improvements in interior space, resulting in improved rear-seat legroom and a cargo area that’s nearly 10 inches longer than the outgoing model’s.

But a larger footprint can negatively affect drivability and overall vehicle dynamics, so Honda was keen to address these potential pitfalls. It does so with a more powerful braking system, a revised suspension system with fluid-filled bushings, a quicker variable ratio electric power steering rack that requires significantly less rotation from lock-to-lock, and a 190 horsepower, 1.5-liter turbocharged DOHC four cylinder motor that’s equipped in EX trim models and above.

While there’s big changes afoot here, there’s also numerous subtle additions as well, like rear-seat USB ports, a programmable lift gate that allows the user to determine the stop point when raising it, and a less convoluted rear fold-down seat design.

Honda Sensing – the company’s suite of active safety technologies – is now equipped as standard equipment on EX and higher trim levels, offering features like collision mitigation braking, lane keep assist, blind spot warning, and rear cross traffic alert.

All in, Honda’s changes for the fifth generation CR-V look to elevate the crossover in nearly every aspect while keeping it accessible from both a drivability and financial standpoint, though whether or not the larger dimensions of the vehicle give it a “just right” size as Honda sees it or make the CR-V slightly more cumbersome in practice is something of a subjective call on a per-case basis, as the move seems to buck the current industry trend of reduction rather than expansion.

Behind the wheel

Before even settling into the new CR-V, the changes versus the outgoing model are obvious – this new CR-V is starting to push the boundaries of how we define a compact CUV, and that notion is accentuated not only by the expanded wheelbase, raised ride height, and larger wheels but also by the CR-V’s new, more athletic bodywork that’s bolstered by the crossover’s 1.4-inch wider stance.

It yields the new CR-V a new level of aesthetic sophistication that thematically carries over into the interior, where passenger space has grown noticeably and overall material quality has been ratcheted up a notch. While it isn’t a clean-sheet design approach, new elements like the 7-inch information display in the center of the gauge cluster on EX trim models and higher give the cabin a sleeker, more modern feel that jives with Honda’s assertion that they targeted class-above benchmarks here.

It’s a similar story once things get moving as well. Honda provided a current generation CR-V to test back-to-back with the new fifth generation crossover, and the refinements made to ride quality are perhaps the most immediately noticeable improvement, while enhanced road noise isolation bolsters the new CR-V’s more premium feel over the outgoing model.

2017 Honda CR-V first drive
Bradley Iger/Digital Trends
Bradley Iger/Digital Trends

Yet the new CR-V feels no less responsive at speed despite bulking up, due in part to the quicker steering, larger brakes and turbocharged power plant. Honda points out that the new 1.5-liter motor gets the CR-V to 60 mph from standstill 1.5 seconds quicker than the outgoing car, and newfound wealth of mid-range torque we discovered out on the road seems to support that claim.

Although you’re aware of the larger dimensions at speed, Honda’s efforts to upgrade the crossover’s dynamics in tandem result in a vehicle that’s as easy to drive as the outgoing model while also providing the benefits of that more substantial footprint. And perhaps best of all, the infotainment system now has a physical volume knob.

The road ahead

The fifth generation CR-V goes on sale December 21st of this year, starting at $24,045 in LX trim and topping out in Touring guise at $32,395. Only time will tell if this new model will be able to maintain the current CR-V’s position at the top of the most hotly contested battleground in the industry, one which has recently eclipsed full-sized pickups as the largest automotive segment in America.

Although all comparative trim levels see a slight bump in MSRP versus the outgoing CR-V, it’s hard not see the fifth generation model as a value proposition just sheerly based on its mechanical enhancements, which is to say nothing of the improvements found in the interior and its more evocative outward appearance. While the buying public have been known to be a fickle bunch on occasion, this new CR-V looks to have all the ingredients necessary to continue carrying the torch.

Highs

  • Improved ride quality
  • Excellent road noise isolation
  • Extensive range of features

Lows

  • Turbocharged motor a bit lethargic at low RPMs
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