Utility Sport: Honda CR-V (2002)
I’m happily single, working and glad to be driving a sedan—so when news of the new CR-V came out, I didn’t really jump for joy. You see, the first one was a sedate little number. Compared to the Toyota RAV4, it looked every bit dated and dull. The dynamics was nothing to praise either; it ran like clockwork, revving and shifting when needed, but nothing more.
Now, as I find myself shopping for a car, I find the all-new CR-V’s value a too hard to ignore. For just an asking price of PHP 966,000 you could get an automatic transmission version with a 2.0-liter i-VTEC engine, dual airbags, four-wheel disc with ABS, EBD and Brake Assist—the works! Heck, Honda has even thrown in an extra bench to bring the seating up to 10 people! Could this be what I was looking for all along? Could you (the regular sort of Filipino driver) really ditch the Toyota Corolla Altis or Nissan Exalta Grandeur off the window and go the soft-roader route? After spending some time with the new CR-V, the answer is more difficult than a simple yes or no.
Given the fact that the 2002 Honda CR-V is all-new, it’s hard to swallow the fact that this looks too much like the original. Sure enough, Honda didn’t want to alienate possible buyers as the old one sold millions worldwide, but couldn’t they have come with something more original? The front is a bastard child of the original CR-V with a touch of the new Civic. To be positive, at least it looks cleaner than the outgoing model. It is as if Honda took the genes of all their new cars, put them into a blender, baked it and out came the CR-V.
However, if I had to take potshots at the CR-V, then I would have to say that I don’t really dig the front end. It looks like it had been poked in the ass with a pin hence the headlamps’ surprised look. The extensive black bumper that covers half the front end also gives the impression of it having permanent car bra.
The side and the rear are generally inoffensive and better to look at than the original. The back is a mix of old CR-V and its funky little sister, the HRV, and because of this, the 2002 model looks more refreshing and sportier.
What gives the thumbs up to the new CR-V is the great build from Honda’s Laguna plant. Despite being locally assembled, the CR-V’s panel gaps shame even the likes of the CBU Toyota RAV4 or Subaru Forester. Imagine, the panel gap from the bumper to the door is visually similar to the panel gap between the tail lamps to the door—everything is consistent. Surely, it doesn’t have the authoritative door slam sound, but it has been greatly improved from any Honda launched locally.
Inside, the same derivative and dullsville styling story holds true. Everything in here is black—no shades of gray, not even some shiny bits. The only saving graces here are the instrument binnacle and the ventilation controls. The instrumentation is very easy to understand and read. The silver-lined facia is easy on the eye and amazingly simple, yet elegant in its own way. The ventilation controls on the other hand are downright funky and chunky—therefore they are easy to use and understand.
Ergonomically, the new CR-V is a mixed bag. On the good note, the new dash-mounted parking brake and automatic stalk are very easy to reach and use (it opens up much needed interior space too). The window switches and stalks also fall into the right places, making the CR-V a very easy car to drive.
Unfortunately, some minor gripes go to the radio and ventilation control locations. Because of the high-mounted volume controls, the 2-DIN Kenwood stereo intrudes with the automatic transmission stalk—this means changing the volume could be quite a hassle for the dad cum driver. The ventilation controls also require arms as stretchable as Mister Fantastic’s to reach over them properly. This could be a bigger problem if someone decides to sit in the middle—especially if it’s your dream date in a miniskirt (unless you don’t mind feeling her legs as you go cool the temperature down—on second thought…not bad Honda).
The knee and leg room is bigger than anything from the soft-roaders. However, some seating positions are a bit awkward. The middle person in the front for example need the height of a Hobbit with feet the size of elves to fit in properly. The moquette / leather seats have ample support, but it’s not anywhere as good as the Toyota Corolla Altis. This is especially true since everyone but the driver has to content with seating in a flat bench—it does, however feel comparatively better than similarly priced AUVs.
Luggage space is huge. It beats the RAV4 into a pulp in this department and the separate glass hatch and door make it more convenient to stuff things in it. In fact, I have to give my kudos to Honda for actually fitting the rear door with a gas strut instead of a hinge! This makes the door less prone to swing open or close unintentionally during a windy day.
Now, to the most important question: can it seat 10? Err…in your dreams! Yes, the CR-V is indeed classified as an AUV (!) now with seating capacity for 10, but in reality it seats 6 at best, 8 in a tight squeeze. According to the Honda press kit, the CR-V could seat 3 + 4 + 3, in reality it’s closer to 3 + 3 + 2—this kind of seating arrangement is plausible, but let me warn you that personal space will be violated, so make sure you seat beside someone whom you consider special or who just took a bath. It’s funny too, since the middle row contains four seatbelts—an amazing feat considering that wearing one makes you feel like a venerable lumpia ubod or suman. If there was an option to make the second row a strict three-seater, I would gladly take it.
The last row is nothing to praise about either. It’s every bit as cramped as the first two rows is comfortably huge. There’s no leg room and headroom is practically non-existent—that’s why Honda opted to remove the third brake light, because if there was one, you’ll probably have more bumps on the head than Popeye on a bad day.
Driving the all-new CR-V back-to-back with the Toyota RAV4 brings out the strengths and weaknesses of each of these soft-roaders. However, I’d like to talk about the CR-V more this time right? The loss of the Real-Time all-wheel drive means that the CR-V is now strictly a front-driver. What this means is that the CR-V can’t go mud plowing (oh, the original one did?). It’s strictly a tarmac vehicle. This would have been fine, but it seems that the front-wheels lack the bite since the 205 / 70 TR 15 Bridgestone tires are too thin. Torque-induced wheel spin is a reality, especially when merging to fast highway.
The ride is soft and plush—though a bit harder than the original CR-V. This is because of the McPherson / Double Wishbone suspension (unlike the Double Wishbone / Double Wishbone of before) configuration as well as the stiffening of the body to accommodate additional human payload. However, it rides leagues better than the often bump-nervous Toyota RAV4. The CR-V has longer suspension travel which means the springs can absorb the rough stuff better; add softly sprung shocks—it equals a great and comfortable ride that’s nearly an equivalent to bigger sized sport-utes.
Handling is nothing great, but because of the stiffened body structure, the CR-V goes over long bends with more agility, albeit less steering feedback than before. The car’s tendency is to under steer, especially during tighter turns—but this is something to expect from a car that’s tuned for comfort rather than out-and-out performance.
The automatic transmission is still a clear second-best to the Toyota’s Super ECT, but the CR-V silences the terrible shift-shock sensation complaints that have plagued the Honda Civic. It has successfully put more meat than the original model. Thus, the CR-V feels more mature and contained even during highway traveling, but don’t go expecting it to scream all the way to it’s redline like an SiR can. This time, it seems that the transmission is well suited to the engine.
Speaking of engines, the CR-V’s brand-new 2.0-liter i-VTEC engine is the car’s overall pride and joy. The engine cranks out 150 bhp at 6500 rpm and 194 Nm of torque at 4000 rpm. Great on paper and surprisingly great in reality too! Because the VTEC unit now modifies both valve timing and lift (think VVTi + VTEC-3), the power delivery and torque curve are less peaky making the CR-V a relaxing and joy to drive. It revs smoothly and requires fewer revolutions than the Toyota making the CR-V an overall champion when it comes to the interior noise challenge. If you’re not convinced yet about this new power plant, put this into mind: it’s the same one that powers the ass-kicking Civic Type-R and Integra Type-R (detuned, of course).
Lastly, stopping the CR-V is a less of a dramatic event than ever before. Thanks to Type-R sized four-wheel disc rotors with anti-lock brakes and electronic brakeforce distribution with brake assist, the CR-V is surefooted compared to its sedan base Civic. However, Honda still has to make improvements to the slushy brake pedal feel that has plagued their cars (even top end Type-Rs). The preferred choice when on the limit is still the Toyota RAV4 because the fatter tires and better pedal feel give it more driver confidence.
So, what’s the final word on the Honda CR-V then? Well, it definitely puts into question the general thinking when it comes to soft-roaders. Typically soft-roaders have become playthings of the rich—think Toyota RAV4 or Suzuki Grand Vitara. They commonly have all the looks and none of the utility—or at least in the case of the Grand Vitara, it’s a half-half thing. Now, with the all-new CR-V, it definitely puts the ‘Utility’ back into equation. With ample space for 6 adults (8 in a sardine-like squeeze), the CR-V can carry more than your average sedan. Additionally, the extra length added to the CR-V’s rear means it could fit more stuff than any of its class competitors.
Generally, the Honda CR-V’s one fine car, thanks to its creamy smooth i-VTEC engine, revised transmission system, improved dynamics and complete safety equipment. Space isn’t a premium as well since it has it in strides, as long as you’re not seating the entire clan. Warranty and service interval package is great too, as the CR-V has the same 3-year / 100,000 kilometer warranty as the Civic—something than even BMW here can’t offer.
However, it is not without faults. Nonetheless, because of its new price, the CR-V will open up an entire new market made up of first-time Honda buyers, who look at value for money more than anything else, and this is where the CR-V makes its mark. I may be you’re so-called yuppie, but even if I don’t plan to start a family any time soon, I feel as if the CR-V is still great purchase that’s hard to ignore. This CR-V is definitely a winner.
By Ulysses Ang | Photos By Ulysses Ang and Jason Ang
Originally Published in April / May 2002 Issue