As usual, the class leader. We're tired of gushing about the 2021 Honda CR-V. Yes, really. Can't someone else step up and dethrone the popular compact Honda crossover?
Many have tried to do just that, but beating the CR-V at its own game is a fool's gambit. This is one of the most practical vehicles on sale today. Even its closest adversaries, the Ford Escape and Toyota RAV4, can't quite mimic the Honda's sheer objective excellence in nearly every category that matters to buyers.
Space maestro. Take, for instance, the interior. Most vehicles of this class offer about 30 to 35 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seats and 60 to 65 overall. The CR-V? Nearly 40 cubic feet of space can be found behind the back seat, and 75 open up with it folded down. These are class-leading figures.
That trend continues into the rest of the cabin. Leg room in the backseat measures out to 40 inches and change, and the wide doors make hopping into the cabin a cinch; buckling a tot into their car seat is no trouble either. Head room and shoulder room are also generous, though three adults sitting across won't be the most comfortable seating arrangement for anything more than a trip across town.
The front seats offer a desirably high seating position with an easy view out and around. The seats are offered with cloth or real leather, though we'd skip the real hides for the durable, attractive cloth upholstery found on the affordable mid-tier LX and EX models.
Safety first. Besides maximizing space, the Honda CR-V also maximizes safety. From the front seat, the relatively thin side pillars don't create massive blind spots, enabling quick and confident lane changes even for models not equipped with blind-spot monitoring. All models are further equipped with automatic emergency braking. Together, these two traits alone go a long way in putting even the most skittish drivers at ease.
Besides the standard automatic emergency braking, all CR-Vs are also equipped with the other safety features included with the HondaSensing suite of active safety technologies. The list includes adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assist, lane departure warning, and automatic high beams.
The government and the IIHS have bother been happy with the CR-V's crash test results. The NHTSA gave it five stars overall, while the IIHS named it a Top Safety Pick. It lost out on the vaunted Top Safety Pick Plus designation for subpar LED headlights; competitors with better lighting that took home that top honor include the Subaru Forester and Mazda CX-5.
Indifferent performance. We've so far neglected talking about what's under the CR-V's stubby hood. That was intentional. The thing about the CR-V is that performance is an afterthought – the engine is only relevant as an unfortunate necessity required to get moving. While some competitors offer hotter powerplants or a jazzed-up chassis, the CR-V focuses on practical, efficient mobility. A CR-V Type R? Not in the cards.
To that end, the base engine is a 1.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that manages 190 horsepower. It has decent acceleration to scoot about around town and pull up on an on-ramp. It doesn't like being caned, and ham-fisting it invokes no joy.
Most importantly, it can return an EPA-estimated 28 miles per gallon city, 34 mpg highway, and 30 combined when equipped with front-wheel drive. Adding all-wheel drive drops things to 27/33/29 mpg (city/highway/combined).
Last year, Honda introduced for the inaugural CR-V Hybrid. This fuel-sipper is here to spar with the popular Ford Escape Hybrid and Toyota RAV4 Hybrid which currently dominate the hybridized compact crossover segment. Using a 2.0-liter four-cylinder, a small battery, and two electric motors, the hybrid Honda is good for 40/35/38 mpg. That falls short of the 44/37/41 mpg posted by the Escape Hybrid and the 41/38/40 mpg of the RAV4 Hybrid.
Neither the hybrid CR-V nor the conventional model are particularly fast or sporty, so it's no surprise both use a chassis tuned for comfort. Expect lazy cornering but decent isolation of bumps and potholes. Wind and road noise is minimal, and neither engine makes much of a racket either, unless they're being harped on. Predictability is the keynote of the CR-V.
Final thoughts. Efficient, affordable, roomy, and practical – these traits won't endear the 2021 Honda CR-V to enthusiasts, but they make for a near-perfect commuter car that has no trouble enduring the rigors of daily driving and indifferent treatment. It's a quiet, unassuming workhorse that can help make life a little easier. In this segment, that's more important than anything else.
Do we have quibbles about the CR-V? Oh, sure. The base 5-inch infotainment display is small, chintzy, and lacks smartphone compatibility. The styling is as tepid as the performance. The warranty could be longer.
We don't think any of this will stop buyers from snapping up CR-Vs. As it stands, it remains the second best-selling compact crossover in America, trailing only the Toyota RAV4. With its wide range of skills and competencies, we don't see the CR-V losing its enviable podium spot anytime soon.
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