Gee, I've been here before. It just takes closing my eyes to rewind the calendar to 1984, to Honda R&D's Tochigi Proving Grounds, and into the front seat of the then-futuristic new Civic Wagon. At the time, tall, razor-edged boxes like this were experiencing a micro-eruption of popularity: Besides the Civic there were also versions of Toyota's Tercel and Nissan's Stanza with comparable refrigerator proportions. But to most of us at that time, the Honda was the best of the bunch.
Partly this was because the Civic Wagon was exactly the sort of space-efficient, fuel-sipping, Leatherman-like multitasker Honda's engineers seem to respond to like catnip. It's also a configuration that Honda has subsequently revisited, like a moth around a flame, sometimes approaching it from this angle, other times from that one. But the fleeting muse in the fire has always been the same. The same one that -- now opening my eyes -- is represented again here, by the 2008 CR-V surrounding me.
For Honda, perhaps uniquely, the CR-V really isn't a "cute 'ute," a description that implies it's some sort of shrunken afterthought, half-hidden in the shadow of the full-size real McCoy. In Honda's world, this is the real McCoy, the present incarnation of that old Civic Wagon concept -- which found itself revived under the CR-V banner in 1996, at the height of the SUV frenzy. Now in its third generation, how evolved is the CR-V, Gen3?
Stylistically, you have to say this new one has visually morphed from the deflating SUV-category into the expanding crossover one. It's more jelly-bean-shaped, far more emotional in its details. The headlights are flare-back like an extreme facelift; the pursed-mouth grille is now slightly opened, as if it might snap at you.
The stylistic melting that's transformed the bodywork's old right angles into French curves probably helps aerodynamics, but it doesn't benefit many aspects of the CR-V's usability. The parabolicly-shaped side glazing slightly impedes over-the-shoulder glances at adjacent-lane traffic. It also requires taller rear passengers to dip their head getting in and out. And, unfortunately, while the CR-V's rear cargo portal has become rounder, the boxed stuff you get from Home Depot is still as rectangular as ever. On the other hand, the CR-V's crowded with amenities, from always one more cupholder than you could possibly ever need to reclining rear seats. Only Toyota's RAV4 and Subaru's new Forester can compare in this sort of detailing.