The qualities that have made the CR-V such a winner – driver-friendliness, usability, thrift and driveability – are still very much in evidence in the newest iteration of this Honda mainstay.
I spent some time with the 2020 CR-V and liked just about everything about it.
Available in five trim levels, with front- or all-wheel drive, the CR-V is powered by a 1.5-litre four-cylinder engine mated to a continuously variable transmission (CVT).
While the engine is an absolute marvel of engineering, the transmission is the car’s biggest drawback.
Considering its relatively small size, the engine in the CR-V is kind of remarkable. It develops some 190 horsepower, thanks to a turbocharger. I love this little powerplant – it’s responsive, well-behaved, almost silent in operation and, with a combined fuel economy rating of 8.0 litres/100 km, reasonably cheap to run.
No one builds better small displacement engines than Honda (it’s how the company got started) and the CR-V continues the tradition.
However, the transmission is a mess. It’s unresponsive, vague and lacking enough bite to match this vehicle’s comparatively small power plant. Were I in the market for a compact sport utility, the CR-V’s transmission would be a deal-breaker for me.
In every other way, the CR-V is the benchmark of this market segment, but the transmission lets it down at virtually every turn. It robs the engine of any kind of power, seems to take forever to spool up and makes parking much more complicated than it should be.
For example, if I’m parallel parking on a busy street, I want the car to click into reverse immediately, not waffle around while it makes up its mind and then suddenly lurch into gear. That’s really annoying.
That said, there’s an “econ” button that almost functions as an overdrive. Press this console-mounted button and performance – such as it is – goes out the window. Release it and you get a bit more snap and get up and go. I just left it in the “off” position.
The CR-V has excellent storage space. Fold down the back seat and you get some 2,146 litres (59 cubic feet) of cargo area. This beats just about everything else in this category, including the Toyota RAV4, Mazda CX-5 and Hyundai Santa Fe. Full marks here.
And, if you overlook the awful transmission, it’s a pleasure to drive.
One of the things that cemented the original model’s popularity was its sheer driveability and easy-to-get-along-with nature. The latest iteration is no different.
I grew to appreciate its non-complicated switchgear and ergonomics. Unlike some of Honda’s products – the Acura MDX is virtually undriveable – the CR-V presents no obstacles when it comes to figuring out how things work and making the cabin comfortable and usable.
This is a state-of-the-art compact sport utility vehicle, at the head of the class in every department, except for its transmission, which changes everything. Too bad the company doesn’t offer a non-CVT model.
2020 Honda CR-V
Engine: 1.5-litre turbocharged four-cylinder
Transmission: continuously variable (CVT )
Drive: front-wheel or all-wheel
Horsepower: 190 at 5,600 rpm
Torque: 179 foot pounds at 2,000 to 5,000 rpm
Price range: $27,690 at $39,090
Fuel economy: 8.7 litres /100 km city and 7.2 highway, with regular gas
Some alternatives: Toyota RAV4, Mazda CX-5, Ford Escape, Nissan Rogue, Kia Sorento, Hyundai Santa Fe, Volkswagen Tiguan, Chevrolet Equinox.
Ted Laturnus writes for Troy Media’s Driver Seat Associate website. An automotive journalist since 1976, he has been named Canadian Automotive Journalist of the Year twice and is past-president of the Automotive Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC).