By Derek Price
Since it debuted 22 years ago, Honda has sold more than 5 million units of the CR-V crossover.
That makes it the most popular vehicle in America’s most popular category over the past two decades. And after driving the latest version, it’s easy to see why.
This is a CUV with no glaring downsides, including how it looks, how it drives and how it functions for family transportation. Even within the red-hot, highly competitive midsize crossover segment, you have to search far and wide to find vehicles that outdo it in specific areas.
The Mazda CX-5 is more fun to drive, by a sliver. The Toyota RAV4 looks more rugged and has a special package for off-roading, something the CR-V lacks.
But as a whole package, the CR-V is compelling for five reasons: fuel economy, interior packaging, handling, value and reputation.
My tester came equipped with the 1.5-liter turbocharged engine, which is now standard equipment after being an upgrade on lower trim levels last year.
Not only does it offer much better acceleration than last year’s naturally aspirated base engine, but it also offers gas mileage that could be celebrated on Earth Day. Even with the extra traction and drag of all-wheel drive, my tester was rated at an impressive 27 mpg in city driving and 32 mpg on the highway.
As for the interior, Honda has long been one of the best magicians for making small vehicles feel and act bigger than they are. Every tiny pocket of space in the CR-V seems like it’s been carefully carved out to be as useful as it possibly can be.
It keeps getting better, too. One example is the new center console this year, which allows several options for configuring the storage space and moves the USB plugs to more convenient spots. The overall feel inside is one of thoughtful design, solid construction and generous spaciousness.
From the driver’s seat, there’s an added benefit: a responsive, quick feel.
The CR-V’s steering, brakes and suspension work in tandem to make you feel connected to the road, not isolated from it. And despite the rewarding sensations, it still seems as quiet — perhaps even quieter — compared to the last time I drove its Toyota nemesis, the RAV4.
Its mixture of fun in corners and comfort on the highway is unmatched at this price point.
Honda aims to deliver not just a quality product, but also a lot of equipment per dollar, a big reason it’s sold so briskly. That continues in 2020 with the addition of bigger, 19-inch wheels, wireless phone charging and a heating steering wheel on the Touring grades, more standard safety equipment on the lower grades and, the most important change, the standard turbo engine this year.
And if you believe in reputations, Honda has one of the best long-term track records for dependability in the world.
To get picky — as anyone buying a midsize crossover this year should be — there are two things I’d change on it.
One is the infotainment system. The CR-V doesn’t have Honda’s latest platform this year. It still works fine for what I use it for, primarily running my phone through Apple CarPlay, but the graphics and responsiveness aren’t the best I’ve seen from this brand, much less the whole market.
The other is its continuously variable transmission (CVT). In a vehicle that otherwise seems designed by people who care about the driving experience, a CVT saps some fun from what could be an even better, more responsive vehicle.
Pricing starts at $25,050 for the base LX, a $600 increase over last year but considerably less than the previous turbo upgrade would have cost.
The EX-L grade with leather seats, a power tailgate and other upgrades is priced at $30,050, while the Touring luxury grade costs $33,250.
A new CR-V Hybrid is also available this year starting at $27,750.
At A Glance
What was tested? 2020 Honda CR-V 1.5T AWD Touring ($34,750). Options: None. Price as tested (including $1,095 destination charge): $35,845
Wheelbase: 104.7 in.
Length: 182.1 in.
Width: 73 in.
Height: 66.5 in.
Engine: 1.5-liter turbocharged four cylinder (190 hp, 179 lbs.-ft.)
Transmission: Continuously variable
Fuel economy: 27 city, 32 highway
Why buy it?
Snappy handling, good fuel economy and brilliant storage solutions in the cabin make it one of the strongest all-around crossovers for sale today.