Honda CR-V: Leader in the Compact Sports Utility Class

Article excerpt

Byline: Dave Boe Daily Herald Auto Coordinator

Background: While the Honda CR-V compact sport utility did not invent the small, car-based SUV genre, it learned from the competition and created the most popular offering in the segment.

Vehicles like the CR-V, Chevrolet Tracker, Toyota RAV4, Hyundai Santa Fe and Kia Sportage all are car-based, front-wheel-drive vehicles with the headroom and exterior resemblance of a larger sport utility design. While most offer four-wheel drive capabilities, none are designed for ultra-serious off-road duties. But that doesn't mean these stylish, comparably low-priced SUVs are any less desirable .

The five-passenger CR-V first came on the scene in 1997 as the first Honda designed and engineered sport utility vehicle. The Japanese automaker already had the mid-size Passport SUV in its marketing mix, but Passport was a joint venture with Isuzu. The Isuzu Rodeo was the automotive twin of the Passport.

The mid-to-late 1990s saw an explosion of these compact "cute utes" in dealerships and driveways. Many shoppers enjoyed the slightly higher seating position these compact vehicles offered. One of the first compact SUVs on the scene was the Suzuki Sidekick and automotive twin, the Geo Tracker in the mid 1980s. These low- cost, first efforts didn't possess as many creature comforts as today's versions and found themselves sidestepping bad press.

The 2002 model year marks the second-generation introduction of CR-V, which went on sale in mid-November. It's key competitor, the Toyota RAV4, received a next-generation update in 2001. The CR-V update is quite extensive and includes an all-new chassis, body engine and larger interior volume, all of which are designed to retain its position as the segment leader.

The crowd-pleasing CR-V continues offering a popular feature first introduced in the first-generation version. The square cargo floor in back is removable, and doubles as a picnic table with built-in folding legs on the underside. Table dimensions get supersized a bit in 2002. Honda continues assembling CR-V in Japan.

Engine/Trim level: Honda offers one CR-V powertrain upgraded for 2002. It's a 2.4-liter, four-cylinder, double overhead cam engine using 16 valves and dual stage intake manifold to deliver 160 horsepower, one of the most potent in the four-cylinder compact SUV class. The 2001 engine produced 146 horses.

The new engine also features iVEC (intelligent valve-control system) which continuously adjusts camshaft phase with variable valve timing and lift electronic control that changes valve lift, timing and duration. One of the benefits is higher torque resulting in better towing capabilities. While compact, front-wheel-drive SUVs are not designed for heavy towing, the CR-V is now capable of pulling 1,500 pounds, up 500 pounds from 2001, which is now on-par with RAV4, but less towing capacity than the Hyundai Santa Fe. In addition emissions are cleaner and fuel economy is slightly improved.

The CR-V is available in two-wheel, front drive or full-time four-wheel-drive which operates automatically and only when four- wheel drive is needed. Drivers don't have to push any buttons or pull any levers to summon four-wheel drive. The system sends power only to the rear wheels when there is insufficient traction for the front-wheel drive system.

Two trim levels are available: LX and up-level EX. The LX comes with the choice of two-wheel drive or four-wheel drive while EX is exclusively four-wheel drive.

Some competitors including the Hyundai Santa Fe and Chevrolet Tracker offer the choice of four or six-cylinder engines. The Santa Fe's 2.4-liter four banger generates 149 horses while the 2.7 six cylinder cranks out 181. The Tracker's 2.0-liter pumps out 127 horses and the 2.5-liter, V-6 generates 155 horsepower. The Toyota RAV4 is strictly a 2.0-liter four cylinder with a 148 horsepower rating. …