For its 10th year on the market, the new CR-V has unapologetically shed its boxy sport/utility wrappings to reveal its true crossover identity. It's always been a car-based SUV, with a hint of off-road capability thrown in, but as sales trends move toward smaller, lighter vehicles, the little Honda is now free to be itself. The dramatically changed 2007 model looks elongated and squashed, but the physical dimensions haven't changed much: It's shorter (by 3.0 inches--the spare's now underneath), wider (by 1.4 inches), lower (by 0.1 inch), and rides on a shorter wheelbase (0.2 inch). Also gone is the left-to-right side-swinging rear cargo door, which forced owners to walk into traffic to retrieve groceries. The rear door is now hinged on the roof.

The previous generation's 16-valve i-VTEC DOHC I-4 has been improved in order to get 10 more horsepower and one more pound-foot of torque from the 2.4-liter engine. Combine those small gains with the 60 or so pounds the CR-V amassed in curb weight, and it's no surprise it doesn't blow the doors off the competition, all of which have an available V-6 option. However, it's always been our contention that this compact's more about smart value than performance. It's tough not to peek over the fence at the similarly sized Acura RDX, with 74 more horses and 99 pound-feet more torque from a smaller (turbocharged) engine.

Power quibbles aside, there's no question that this new CR-V is tighter in turns and quieter on the highway than in the past. Steering is responsive and linear, and the revised MacPherson-stut front and multilink rear suspension offer a decent balance between agility and comfort. As with many vehicles in this segment, the CR-V comes with plenty of standard safety equipment, all trim levels have front, front-side, and dual-row side curtain airbags, ABS, stability control, brake assist, and a tire-pressure-monitering system. While overall brake-pedel feel was good in both pre-production units we drove, there was a significant difference in pedal feedback. We spoke with a few of the engineers, who assured us a smooth and progressive pedal feel is their target on all production models.

Inside, the cabin blends upper-level fit and finish with the clear, easy-to-read labeling many compact SUV buyers are looking for. In addition, the fold-and-tumble 40/20/40 rear seat can hold two child seats at the same time or a single child seat in the middle, with the center seat able to slide forward and back.

Honda has taken the positive attributes that make the CR-V its perennial bestseller and added style, better handling, and a hint of cool. Final pricing hadn't been announced as of press time, but given the automaker's low-$20,000 estimated starting point, it looks like it'll continue to be a great value.

2007 Honda CR-V
Price range $21,500-$26,250
Layout Front engine, FWD/AWD, 5-pass, 4-door
Engine 2.4L/166-hp I-4, DOHC, 4 valves/cyl
Transmission 5-speed automatic
0-60 mph, sec 10.9 (est)
On sale Currently