2009 Honda CR-V

Cute-utes for all! - The CR-V is popular for a reason

2009 Honda CR-V

FAST FACTS

1. 166hp engine is great for most needs

2. Ultra-Low Emissions Vehicle designation

3. “4WD” system is really just part-time all-wheel-drive

I know the world isn’t a popularity contest, but jeez.

If you’re shopping for a compact sport utility vehicle (automakers call them CUVs), the default choice is usually between Honda’s CR-V or Toyota’s RAV4. Sure, the segment includes vehicles from nearly every manufacturer, including hybrid models (the Ford Escape Hybrid and Saturn Vue Hybrid spring to mind) — but customers still see the CR-V and RAV4 as the benchmarks.

And why shouldn’t they?

HISTORY OF THE CUV

Introduced in North America back in 1996, both the CR-V and RAV4 were almost a decade ahead of the current shift to crossover vehicles and the demand for greater fuel efficiency. Both are still available with a 4-cylinder engine, but unlike Honda, Toyota now offers a high-powered V6 model.

Honda’s philosophy is simple: give people what they need in a vehicle. The CR-V comes with a 166 horsepower 2.3-liter 4-cylinder engine; seating (and luggage space) for five; a choice of drivetrains, including all-wheel-drive; and just about any comfort and convenience feature you could imagine using on a daily basis.

Fuel economy? The 2WD model is rated for 20 mpg city and 27 mpg highway, while all-wheel-drive versions lose 1mpg on the highway.

Prices start at $21,245, but can climb to $30,000 if you get wild with the salesman.

THE COMPETITION

That price is competitive with the base price of other CUVs: Toyota RAV4, $21,500; Subaru Forester, $19,995; Nissan Rogue, $20,220; Saturn Vue, $23,975; Ford Escape, $20,100; and Hyundai Tuscon, $17,420.

At its most spartan, the CR-V comes with an automatic transmission, 60/40 fold and tumble rear seats, air conditioning, power windows and locks, a tilt and telescoping steering column, cruise control, a conversation (IE “Check up on the kids”) mirror, cargo area tie-downs, a 160-watt AM/FM/CD/MP3 stereo with auxiliary input and a trip computer.

Safety-wise, standard are dual front airbags, dual side airbags, dual curtain airbags, ABS, electronic brakeforce distribution (the tires with the most grip get the most braking force), vehicle stability control, and a tire pressure monitoring system.

Must-have options? Maybe there aren’t any.

On the $23,495 EX model, additional features include a sunroof, security system, and upgraded stereo.

The $26,045 EX-L (‘-L’ denotes “leather” on all Hondas) adds leather, another stereo upgrade, a center console, and a few other niceties. A navigation system is also part of the package, and only offered on this trim level.

All-wheel-drive is an additional $1,200 on all models.

DO YOU NEED ALL-WHEEL-DRIVE?

I won’t bore you with technical details, but many people aren’t sure if they ‘need’ all-wheel-drive — or if the standard front-wheel-drive layout is sufficient. I’d recommend the all-wheel-drive to snow belt owners, those driving on dirt roads, or regularly in adverse conditions — but keeping a set of winter and summer tires is likely a better investment. All-wheel-drive and winter tires, though, makes the CR-V very easy to live with in deep snow; as long as you keep momentum.

However, I’d wager that the “surefootedness” feeling many drivers credit all-wheel-drive for is somewhat absent in the CR-V. Why?

Honda calls their all-wheel-drive system “Real Time 4-Wheel Drive.” According to Honda, “When there is insufficient traction at the front wheels, the ‘Real Time’ 4WD system automatically uses dual hydraulic pumps to transfer power to the rear wheels. There is no need for driver intervention. The greater the degree of front-wheel slippage, the more torque is directed to the rear wheels.”

I hate to be a stickler, but Honda’s marketing department just described what should be called all-wheel-drive. The difference? 4WD vehicles, like Jeeps, some trucks, and some SUVs, can drive all four wheels at once — with little or no electronic intervention.

Unfortunately for those who find themselves in extreme conditions, Honda’s system relies on the front wheels to lose traction before it sends power to the rear tires. And if the front wheels are spinning, it’s likely you A) have the accelerator depressed and B) are trying to steer.

To Honda’s credit, most other vehicles in the CUV class (RAV4 included) use similar systems. One reason for this is that during normal driving, fuel economy isn’t adversely affected. For a more natural feel in slippery conditions, though, I’d give the nod to the Forester and its full-time all-wheel-drive: all four wheels are always being driven, with a small loss in fuel economy.

Towing capacity (if you’re into that sort of thing) is a meager 1,500lbs — and you’ll need a $484 trailer hitch package.

THE VERDICT

Driving the CR-V is, well, largely unexciting. Its 4-cylinder engine is punchy and moves the vehicle well, and is about all you’d ever need. Around town, you can tell that Honda put a premium on ease-of-use, driver comfort, convenience, and fuel economy.

If you’ve done your research, buying the CR-V largely becomes a matter of price, styling — and if the dealer has your color. I’d love to be hugely critical, but it’d be like kicking the washing machine because it cleans your clothes too well.

That’s just what owners expect from their transportation; it means that moving from a sedan into a CUV is an enticing prospect — especially to one like the CR-V with so few drawbacks.

POSITVE

Fuel economy Great resale value Interior versatility

NEGATIVE

Power-hungry drivers will have to go elsewhere No hybrid option As exciting as home schooling was in 1782

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