Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: March 3, 2020
If you’re looking for a modest family SUV and aren’t willing to spend a fortune, then you’re in luck. There are more than a handful to choose from with nearly every mainstream manufacturer fighting for a slice of the pie. The two most popular examples are the Toyota RAV4 and the topic for today, the Honda CR-V. Both have been locked in a deep rivalry since their introductions back in the 90s, and our sentimental alliances uncontrollably jump back and forth with each new iteration. Both are so effective at their jobs that the line can blur between emotional appeal and objective satisfaction. We loved the new RAV4 when we drove it a few months ago. Not only was it a refined and honest SUV, but its ride quality, interior craftsmanship, and optional hybrid tech, was enough for us to consider it over the more expensive Lexus NX. So we thought it would also be a good time to check out the new 2020 Honda CR-V in Sport trim, to see what makes it jive, what makes it so popular in Canada, and if it’s any better than the RAV4.
The 2020 model year sees a few minor changes to the CR-V. New bumpers, a slightly different grill surround, revised headlights, and new wheel designs complete the aesthetic revisions. Inside, the center console has been redesigned for more storage, and Honda has added more standard features across the entire trim lineup like remote engine start, heated front seats, and safety and driver assistance systems. You can now get a heated steering wheel on the new mid-level Sport trim, which also comes with leatherette and fabric seats, sport pedals, 12-way adjustable driver’s seat, a leather wrapped shift knob, power tailgate, moonroof, unique 19-inch wheels, and blind spot monitoring.
Overall, the refreshed CR-V still appears generic, blending well into the concrete jungle but does little to stimulate visual attraction. Parked next to the more rugged RAV4, sleeker Volkswagen Tiguan, or even the new Mazda CX-5, and the CR-V doesn’t seem to have aged very well. The interior however, remains an ergonomic showpiece of Japanese engineering. The fit and finish is a step above the Subaru Forester, and there are a myriad of efficacious storage options like the slidable and liftable center console lid that reveals a deep cubby underneath. The gear shifter is mounted on the center stack at a 45-degree angle to not interfere with passengers reaching the cup holders and USB ports underneath, the latter of which are located within arm’s reach and aren’t hidden away like forbidden treasure.
Furthermore, large dials are found along the center console to control high-traffic features like volume and temperature, leaving the rest to the rather basic and uninspiring touchscreen interface. This Sport model comes with a synthetic fabric seat texture, which appears scratchy in photos but is softer than it looks, and the surface isn’t as susceptible to extreme temperatures either. Furthermore, the rear cabin is cavernous and offers more than enough wiggle room for my six-foot figure in both headroom and legroom. You won’t even find this much cabin space in the luxury compact SUV segment, like in the Lincoln Corsair, BMW X3, or even the Mercedes-Benz GLC.
Yet despite the overengineered cabin, there are some foibles that managed to slip past engineers. After hitting the ignition button, everyone loves grabbing the shifter, pushing the side release, and slamming it down to the furthest gear to engage Drive. Except here, when you pull it down all the way, it doesn’t stop at Drive. Instead it goes straight to ‘L’ gear. It’s a small complaint, but there is no lock or side-gate that prevents you from slinging past D. So most of the time I overshot the landing, having to finesse my way back up to the desired gear, an annoying quibble that admittedly makes my blood pressure rise.
The CR-V drives with purpose and borrows some of that Civic vigour that we can’t stop praising about. Utilizing the same 1.5-litre turbocharged four-cylinder as before, the CR-V produces 190 hp and 179 lb-ft of torque through a Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) to either the front wheels or all four wheels depending on the trim. The power is a bit flat and lacking, forcing quick highway overtakes into pre-meditated events. That said, there’s a bit more forward shove than the turbo-less Forester, the handling is neutral and balanced, the steering has moderate feel, and the ride is damped well enough to warrant its role as a long distance cruiser. These praises may not seem applicable to the average driver simply cruising from A to B, but will go heavily appreciated the moment they slip into a less refined example like the Jeep Compass or Chevrolet Equinox, where their lack of reflexes and rigidity have you questioning how they made it into the market in the first place.
The buzzing drone of the CVT pierces the cabin at wide open throttle, though it’s the same story with the Subaru Forester. It’s only the gas-powered Toyota RAV4 that comes with a more conventional 8-speed automatic gearbox, which is not only quieter at high revs but fires off shifts with more polish. In the CR-V, we averaged an impressive 6.8 L/100km on the highway alone, and 9.9 L/100km when city driving was added to the mix. Not bad. The CR-V’s brakes are a sore spot though. The pedal is spongy and nonlinear, more so than the RAV4 Hybrid that uses springy regenerative brakes, and makes smooth stops tricky to modulate. We’re not sure how Honda engineers considered that acceptable.
The Honda CR-V is an impressive automotive tool that has constantly improved over the years, and while there may be little emotion attached to the badge, there’s no denying the logic and rationality that went into its design and cabin ergonomics. As much as we prefer sedans and wagons over these high-riding monkeys, the competency of the CR-V is unquestionable, but if it were my own money on the table and I required a family hauling SUV, I would choose the more visually arresting, better driving, and more efficient RAV4 Hybrid instead.
Model: 2020 Honda CR-V Sport
Paint Type: Radiant Red Metallic
Base Price: $34,990
Price as Tested: $34,990
Length/Width/Height (mm): 4,626 / 1,855 / 1,689
Curb weight (kg): 1,615
Engine: 1.5-litre turbo-four
Horsepower: 190 hp @ 5,600 rpm
Torque: 179 lb-ft @ 2,000 - 5,000 rpm
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, AWD
Fuel Consumption ( City / Highway / Combined ) L/100km: 8.7 / 7.4 / 8.1
Observed Fuel Consumption (L/100km): 8.9