Honda CR-V Sport – a pretty nice vehicle, but Sport?
By Jim Bray
Honda's CR-V has been around nearly as long as the so-called "cute ute" market niche and, as is Honda's wont, there's a lot to like about it.
But is the Sport version really sporty?
Nope. And that's a shame because, other than the "sportiness gap" it's a pretty nice vehicle in its own right, Honda-isms notwithstanding.
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The good stuff starts with a 1.5 litre turbocharged four banger Honda says puts 190 horsepower @ 5600 rpm and 179 @ 2000-5000 lb.-ft. of torque @ rpm. Hardly world-shattering figures, but competitive in this niche: the current Toyota RAV4's 2.5 litre "non-turbo" four-cylinder engine is rated at 203 HP, while Mazda's CX-5 puts out 187/186 hp/torque, for example.
Alas, Honda has chosen to inflict a continuously variable transmission onto the CR-V and it's enough to suck any potential sportiness out of the equation. It's typical of the species, in that it's loud and whiny and tends to make it feel as if you're driving a vehicle powered by an elastic band rather than a real, live (well, not really alive…) automatic transmission, of which there are many good examples these days.
Making it worse is the lack of paddle shifters to help at least make the CR-V's CVT pretend to be a conventional manual like some other CVT's do. In fact, there's no sport or manual mode at all other than a "S" setting on the shift selector, which does little (if anything) to impart a sporty feel.
Okay, no one in his/her/its right mind buys a CR-V thinking it's a Porsche Macan, and there's plenty of other reasons to like the vehicle anyway – but why call it a "sport" model when it's clearly not a case of truth in advertising? Beats me.
While the CR-V isn't all-new for 2020, Honda has given it a bit of a refreshing, including such stuff as a newly-styled front end and some new equipment, most of which focuses on driver-assist nannies such as emergency braking, pedestrian detection (so you don't have to keep your eyes open while driving, I guess), adaptive cruise control, lane keeping nanny, blind spot monitoring and the like. These were options before but, except for the blind spot monitoring, are now standard equipment as long as you order all-wheel drive.
The Sport version also adds 19-inch wheels to the equation, as well as fog lights, a powered sunroof and tailgate and even chrome tailpipe ends. Nice stuff, but sporty?
Base CR-V's come with a front-wheel drive configuration, but AWD is optional there – and it's standard on the higher trim levels. Combine that with the CR-V's independent suspension (struts up front with a multi-link rear), good-feeling electric power steering and disc brakes (ventilated up front and solid in the rear) and you have a vehicle that's perfectly decent to drive as long as you can get past the CVT.
Speaking of driving, does anyone at Honda actually drive its vehicles any more? I mean, besides the lack of sporty pretensions there are also such things as Honda's current eschewing of a tuning knob for the audio system (they used to eschew the volume knob as well, but wisely put it back in for this generation), which means you have to use the virtual buttons on the touch screen – forcing you to take your eyes off the road more than would be necessary if you could just twist the knob rather than keep poking your finger on the screen. Still, it's better than it used to be.
On the other hand, the audio system is pretty thin anyway, though you can choose from better ones if you like, in other trim levels.
The seats are comfortable (with power adjustment for the driver and, depending on the trim level, front passenger) and the vehicle will remember your seat heater and steering wheel heater settings when you shut it off – a great feature I wish all vehicles had.
The dashboard/instrument panel is laid you well and very legible from the driver's seat – and thanks to steering wheel-mounted controls you can get around the lack of tactile buttons on the centre stack a certain amount (though not enough).
You can also option heat for the outboard rear seats and if you opt to drop those split/fold second row posterior perches, you'll find a nearly cavernous cargo hold – which is always a handy thing.
Not so handy as far as I'm concerned in Honda's "Lane Watch" system, which mounts a camera to the passenger side rear view mirror. I seem to be a voice in the wilderness here, but I find the image that takes over the centre stack LCD (showing the view to the rear/right of the CR-V) to be obtrusive, in that it takes my eyes off the road.
You can set the Lane Watch so it defaults to "Off," which is what I do and I find it much more rewarding that way. You can also activate/deactivate it by pressing a button on the end of the turn signal stalk.
Other interior highlights of the CR-V include an abundance of USB ports, a tilt/telescope steering wheel, power windows and locks, remote starting, automatic locking, etc. And of course, you can opt for leather if you want.
CR-V's start, according to Honda Canada's website, at $30,131.25 for the base front-drive model. Step up to the Sport and you'll raise the bill to $36,431.25. And there are trim levels above that.
How does the price compare? Well, a RAV4 starts at $28,090 (or about $37,400 for the "XLE AWD" version) and the Mazda CX-5 can be had for $30,026 (basic or $39,726 for the "base" GT trim level). Then there's the Kia Sportage ($25,795 base, $37,995 for the EX "Tech" model, and there's one trim level above that) and the Hyundai Tucson ($26,049 base, $35,499 for the "Urban Edition").
Looking for a European comparison? How about the VW Tiguan, which starts at $29,770 and rises to $37,670 for the second-from-the-top IQ.Drive model?
These are as close to being apples-to-apples comparisons as I could find on the companies' Canuck websites – not quite top of the line versions but equipped nicely anyway. So, clearly, the CR-V is right on target pricewise, if not "fun to drive-wise". I'd give the Mazda and/or the VW the fun driving title – though to be fair it's been ages since I drove either of the South Korean entries so they could be right up there now, too.
The Honda's chief "fun to drive" issue is, of course, the CVT transmission and the obtrusive nannies, but if such things don't matter to you (if, for example, you're merely looking for efficient and dependable transportation, and there's certainly nothing wrong with that), the CR-V could be a good choice. Just make sure you drive the competitors before you buy – which, of course, is good advice regardless of what vehicle you're looking to purchase or lease.
Copyright 2020 Jim Bray