HONDA CR-V IS THE 2018 MOTOR TREND SUV OF THE YEARNov 29th, 2017
27 November, 2017 Motor Trend Staff Words and Photos, Michael Shaffer Photos
The quiet achiever: outright excellence in the industry’s most competitive segment
Whether it’s a car, truck, or SUV, the winners of Motor Trend’s Golden Calipers tend to fall into two categories. There are the dashing, dazzling disruptors such as Nissan’s GT-R or Tesla’s Model S. Then there are the quiet achievers: mass-market vehicles with thoughtful engineering and design, rigorous attention to detail, and a deeply intuitive understanding of the demands and desires of the customer. The 2018 Motor Trend SUV of the Year, the Honda CR-V, falls into the latter camp—a supreme example of calm, confident composure that delivers in all categories.
“Honda made sure it kept its crown jewel ahead of the field by paying attention to a wide range of details,” Detroit editor Alisa Priddle said. “Others might excel in certain fields, but others don’t put the whole package together the way the CR-V does.”
This is the second CR-V to take home the calipers in the 20-year history of the award: A thorough rework and refresh of the previous CR-V platform was enough to garner the 2015 SUV of the Year title, narrowly edging out Jeep’s Cherokee to take the win. Now, three years later, the comprehensively redesigned CR-V has bested another sporty European—this time Alfa Romeo’s surprisingly accomplished Stelvio—by just one vote.
Against 23 contenders, the 2018 Honda CR-V is a worthy winner. Here’s why.
ADVANCEMENT IN DESIGN
Like every new Honda launched in America in recent years, the new CR-V looks bigger and more substantial than the model it replaces, and that perception is reinforced by exterior styling that is a touch heavy-handed in places. Nevertheless, the CR-V is mercifully free of the riotous mess of lines and surfaces that blights the sheetmetal of some contemporary Japanese crossovers, relying instead on bolder graphic elements such as the grille and taillights to establish its identity. But in a field that boasted some beautifully styled SUVs, most notably the Volvo XC60 and V90 Cross Country and the aforementioned Alfa, it’s fair to say the Honda’s exterior wasn’t among the leaders when the judges’ discussion turned to design.
Inside, it’s a different story. “This is about the swankiest interior ever seen on the CR-V,” technical director Frank Markus said. Apart from some reflections on the instrument panel and some obviously fake wood, it’s carefully executed, with the high-mounted PRNDL gate, climate and audio controls, and infotainment screen within easy reach even for drivers of modest stature. Additional controls on the steering wheel are unobtrusive yet intuitive to use. “The overall design is logical and high-tech, and it feels loaded,” editor-in-chief Ed Loh said.
More important, the CR-V’s cabin is also supremely functional, with a ton of storage space up front in the doors and center console. The rear doors open wide, ensuring easy entry and exit to a rear seat that offers legroom and headroom aplenty, even for adults. Vents in the center console direct air to rear-seat passengers, and two USB charging ports keep their devices charged. At the rear, a low load floor and square dimensions help deliver a class-leading 39.2 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seats up. And the CR-V is still one of only a handful of SUVs in the segment to offer the ability to lower the 60/40 split rear seat via levers in the load space area. It is a masterpiece of packaging, a true accomplishment in the compact SUV space.
The eye doesn’t lie: The 2017 CR-V is bigger than the previous model—longer and taller overall, with a longer wheelbase. But the scales also tell an intriguing truth. Although you get more CR-V, it weighs 113 pounds (51 kg) less, which helps both handling and efficiency.
Two engines are available, both of which drive through a continuously variable transmission. The entry-level CR-V LX is powered by the 184-hp, 180-lb-ft 2.4-liter naturally aspirated inline-four carried over from the previous generation. New for the 2018 EX, EX-L, and Touring CR-V models is a 1.5-liter turbocharged inline-four that develops 190 hp and 179 lb-ft.
Offering two engines with essentially identical outputs might seem a little odd, but there’s a method in Honda’s madness. Carrying over the 2.4-liter engine enables the entry-level LX model to be priced at just under $25,000 USD. For a $2,750 USD premium the new 1.5-liter turbo delivers its peak power at lower revs and peak torque across a much broader range than the naturally aspirated one, delivering noticeably better drivability, performance, and fuel economy. The 2018 CR-V Touring is not only 0.8 second quicker to 60 mph than the previous model but is also about 8 percent more fuel efficient around town, according to the EPA numbers. Our Real MPG figures show a 22.3 (10.5 L/100km) percent gain on the highway.
On the road, the CR-V chassis is consistent and predictable; it doesn’t do anything that will surprise you. That’s not to say it’s boring to drive. The steering is light but accurate and the ride tightly controlled, keeping the CR-V confidently planted through corners. The CVT works beautifully with the new 1.5-liter turbocharged four-banger, keeping the engine humming right where the torque curve is fattest to ensure good throttle response. “I’m impressed by how quickly this Honda is capable of going down a canyon road,” associate editor Scott Evans said. And on the high-speed oval, executive editor Mark Rechtin found the CR-V planted and stable at 115 mph (185 km/h)—not that you’ll ever need to go that fast, but it’s an excellent measure of chassis engineering.
Although impact harshness is well-suppressed, tire noise seeping into the cabin—a consistent bugbear with Hondas—is intrusive on some surfaces. And without lockable AWD or hill-descent control, the CR-V is definitely a soft-roader, though the AWD versions cope well with rutted, low-traction surfaces, thanks to a system that sends up to 40 percent of torque to the rear wheels.
The entry-level CR-V LX matches the previous generation’s EPA-rated fuel economy, at 25–26/31–32 mpg (9.4-9/7.6-7.3 L/100km) city/highway with front- and all-wheel drive. Although one of the lighter SUVs among this year’s contenders, the fully loaded CR-V Touring nevertheless weighs 3,481 pounds (1,579 kg) and has a relatively large frontal area for a 1.5-liter engine to deal with, even one with a turbocharger. The Touring’s 27/33 mpg (8.7/7.1 L/100km) city/highway EPA rating is therefore impressive. Our Real MPG test results fall behind the EPA in the city and combined but outperform EPA’s highway rating.
When it comes to passive safety—the stuff that protects you during a crash—the CR-V has scored a solid five-star safety rating from NHTSA. And in terms of active safety—the stuff that can help you avoid a crash in the first place—the CR-V’s Honda Sensing driver-assistance system, which includes lane keeping assist, active cruise control, and collision prevention and is fitted to all but the base LX model, leads the segment.
Honda Sensing is easy to use and effective. The lane keeping assist function drew particular praise for being one of the few to infer a right edge of the road without needing a painted white line and for its ability to activate independently of active cruise control. Road test editor Chris Walton reckoned it to be perhaps the best lane keeping system available short of Tesla’s.
Evans was equally impressed. “It’s seriously impressive, especially for the price,” he said of Honda Sensing. “This is one of the most advanced driver-assistance systems on the market, and you can get it in an everyday family crossover.”
With prices ranging from just under $25,000 USD for a front-drive LX to $34,735 USD for the top Touring AWD model, the CR-V crash-tackles America’s most competitive market segment. No matter which version you choose, Honda delivers a lot of compact SUV for your money.
Standard equipment levels are high. Volume-selling EX models, which start at $27,735 USD for a front-drive version and $1,300 USD more for the all-wheel-drive variant, come equipped with smart entry locking, a 7.0-inch touchscreen, and, of course, the deeply impressive Honda Sensing safety system.
PERFORMANCE OF INTENDED FUNCTION
Offering a compelling mix of fun and functionality, value and versatility, comfort and connectivity across a range of body styles and price points, today’s compact SUVs are attracting everyone from first-time car buyers to cost-conscious families to empty nesters. This broad appeal is why demand for compact SUVs has exploded over the past decade, with U.S. sales zooming from 1.5 million units in 2010 to nearly double that amount last year—and still climbing.
With the CR-V, Honda took aim right at the heart of this white-hot segment—and hit a bull’s eye. “If you’re buying a family crossover, I’m not sure why you’d consider anything other than the Honda CR-V,” features editor Christian Seabaugh said. “It checks all the boxes.”
It’s clear that Honda sweats the details. The CR-V is not just roomy, well-built, and well-equipped. It’s also thoughtfully conceived and executed. It has space for your stuff. It won’t punish you at the pump. It keeps you safe on the road. It’s packed with features at an affordable price. It’s even fun to drive when you want it to be. And it’s made in the U.S. and Canada to boot. “Overall, it’s the best in one of the toughest classes around,” Loh said. “That’s saying something.”
You bet. That’s saying the new Honda CR-V is good enough to make it Motor Trend’s 2018 SUV of the Year.