Honda CR-V
By Greg Whale

No more than 1.3 in. was added to any outside dimension on the new CR-V, yet it's 3.6 in. wider inside and cargo room is up by 10 percent. It resembles an animated character from the front, yet is more angular elsewhere for space efficiency, and it's more handsome than its predecessor.

Based on the newest Civic, the CR-V uses what amounts to a stroked RSX engine (see sidebar) for a substantial gain in torque. Even in top-line EX trim, it cut almost 2 sec off the earlier CR-V's 0-60 time, and it does so smoothly enough that one driver noted, "It thinks it's a V-6." Our all-wheel-drive CR-V had a four-speed auto well matched to the powerband and exhibited no hunting or busy-ness.

MacPherson strut front and double-wishbone rear suspension offered crisp turn-in, good ride/handling compromise, and stability under braking; the only rear discs of this quartet kept braking confident under heavy load. Ultimate grip is limited by the narrowest 15-in. tires, and the AWD system proved effective and quick to react. When pushed on a track, the CR-V tended to oversteer, yet in spirited street driving no fault is found in driving dynamics.

What the CR-V may lack in sport, it handily makes up for in utility. There's decent seating for five, and the flat floor allows you to walk between the front seats to stay out of the rain, although we all wished the driver seat had more rear travel. The split rear seats slide almost 7 in., recline 45*, fold forward without removing headrests, and when stowed, two mountain bikes will stand in the cargo area. Where the spare would normally be found is a waterproof well for muddy camp stuff or wet beach towels, and the top to this compartment is the removable 30x33-in. picnic table.

There are storage areas (21 in all) everywhere, though those in the dash don't hold CDs. The shifter is mounted to the dash, not the column, so it takes some familiarizing and doesn't lend itself well to manual shifting, yet the parking-brake lever is well integrated. Automatics have a flip-up table between the front seats, the air-conditioning is effective and quiet, and it's easy to see the radio. Apart from some rear-tire/road-noise creeping in, it's an other wise quiet and comfortable cabin. EX standards include side airbags, six-disc in-dash CD, and a power moonroof switch by the mirrors where kids can't get to it.

If the new CR-V comes in priced anywhere near the old one, expect it to remain a good seller.