First Drive: 2015 Honda CR-V

With an unprecedented amount of tech, class-leading fuel economy, and top-notch safety equipment, the 2015 Honda CR-V has set the bar for crossovers yet again.

The last time I drove a Honda CR-V, I was in a 2004 Clover Green EX, rambling down I-5 to visit friends in Sacramento. In the 14 hours and nearly 1,000 miles I spent with the compact crossover, I became quite fond of the little workhorse. So, naturally, I had high expectations for the 2015 model.

I returned to California to test the latest CR-V, and, simply put, it didn’t just feel 11 years newer than my road trip companion; it feels like a glimpse into the future of its segment.

Not your average facelift

The 2015 CR-V is technically billed as a mid-cycle refresh, but that’s a very conservative interpretation. In fact, this is probably the most ambitious minor model change in company history.

Yes, the CR-V rides on the same platform as the 2014 model, and it may not look enormously different throughout, but that’s where the similarities end.

Honda has developed an entirely new ‘Earth Dreams’ powertrain for the car, which includes a 2.4-liter i-VTEC four-cylinder and a gas-saving CVT transmission. Output holds steady at 185 horsepower, but it comes on at 6400 rpm, 600 rpm lower than before. Torque is up from 163 pound-feet to 181 lb-ft., though, and peaks at 3900 rpm – 400 rpm sooner.

The technology packages available for this car really set it apart from its predecessor. Adaptive Cruise Control, Lane Keeping Assist, Collision Mitigation Braking, and the blind spot-monitoring LaneWatch features are all highlights for 2015, and they come wrapped up in the available ‘Honda Sensing’ package.

There’s also an upgraded display audio unit, rear ventilation system, and an aft-facing camera that now comes standard on every CR-V. All of these features are available in the range-topping Touring trim line, one that sits atop the CR-V range and is new for this year.

And as far as aesthetics go, the CR-V has a much more distinct and handsome face than its antecedent. The desk fan wheels might be a bit flashy for some, but overall the styling is a huge improvement.

This may be a minor, mid-generation revamp officially, but the changes to this car feel anything but.

Stacking up

Honda was nice enough to provide a selection of the CR-V’s competitors during our jaunt through Orange County so we could test them all side-by-side. Aside from the array of technology that’s simply unprecedented for a car in this class, the Honda’s driving experience as a whole simply felt more refined.

The 2015 CR-V feels like a glimpse into the future of its segment.

Sure, there are crossovers out there with more power, the like Ford Escape Titanium. And there are compact SUVs with a lower base price, like the Nissan Rogue. Few put everything together as well the CR-V, though.

With an affordable starting MSRP of $23,320 (LX 2WD) and improved creature comforts, the CR-V just felt like a well-rounded car. It has tons of room inside, yet its re-tuned suspension and linear braking kept it remarkably composed in the corners. The 2.4-liter’s increased torque felt great powering up hills as well, but the 27 city/34 highway fuel economy rating (2WD) will keep owners sane at the gas pump.

In typical Honda fashion, the CR-V does its best to keep all bases covered.

Snapshot of the future

Honda envisions a collision-free society by 2040, which may sound optimistic, but positivity is kind of Honda’s thing. It’s not just a selling point, however; the proof, as they say, is in the pudding.

Step one is simply situational awareness, which allows the driver to become more cognizant of his or her surroundings. This is achieved with the addition of rearview cameras, side mirror-mounted LaneWatch cameras, expanded view driver’s side mirrors, and the like.

Distractions, lapses in judgment, and plain old bad luck are a part of every day life. Accordingly, Honda has always invested heavily in crashworthiness, garnering IIHS Top Safety Pick honors for the new CR-V. What will separate the vehicles of today from the cars of tomorrow, however, is the ability to avoid collisions before they happen.

That’s where Honda Sensing comes back in. Honda Sensing has taken the slabs of Clover Green metal I drove to Sacramento and nudged it gently toward self-awareness, with a helpful smattering of alerts and semi-autonomous aids.

The CR-V will stop on its own from speeds up to 40 mph, thanks to its Collision Mitigation Braking System (CMBS). CMBS will also keep the car at a safe highway distance with the help of Adaptive Cruise Control.

2015 Honda CR-V

The compact crossover even keeps itself in lane with its Lane Keeping Assist technology, although the system still felt a bit ping pong-y for my liking at times.

In fairness, may of these technologies have been seen before, and will continue to develop over time. Until recently, however, systems like these simply weren’t seen this price bracket, so the CR-V definitely signals a shift toward autonomous driving for the sake of safety.

Conclusion

The Honda CR-V was a crossover before crossovers were cool. However, unlike its segment-founding brethren, like the Toyota RAV4, Honda’s compact champion is still striving to innovate, to change its class, while other automakers seem to rest on their laurels.

The Honda CR-V is exactly what you expect it to be in 2015: safe, practical, efficient, and fun. It’s a bit of a chameleon as well, as it feels just as comfortable on the winding farm roads of Orange County as it does navigating the urban jungle of downtown anywhere.

At the end of the day, the 2015 Honda CR-V is what owners need it to be.

The 2015 Honda CR-V starts at $23,320 for 2WD LX models, while 2WD Touring models start at $31,250. AWD upgrades come at a $1,250 premium. The CR-V goes on sale October 1st.

Highs

  • Incredible amount of tech for the money
  • Impressive fuel economy
  • Improved low-end torque
  • Excellent interior space
  • More distinct styling than predecessor

Lows

  • Lane Keeping Assist function needs refinement
  • CVT is better than most, but still a bit whiny
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