The interior is also a case study of the level of artistry that can be achieved with lowly hard plastics. A subtle variety of tones is deployed and arranged to highlight the dash's shapes and functional bits -- but they do no more than highlight. The treatment's restrained and tasteful. The textures are equally sophisticated. And the gauges and controls would make sense to somebody raised by wolves and suddenly plopped behind the wheel. As with all Hondas, there's plenty of front legroom available, novel in an era when so many other manufacturers have decided that six feet shall be mankind's maximum stature.

On the road, the CR-V isn't powerful -- its 166 hp and 9.2-second 0-to-60-mph time (produced by this front-drive version) -- will keep you happily abreast of traffic, but will also probably dissuade you from any particularly daring maneuvers. Our car's five-speed automatic transmission (a rarity in this category that's packed jowl to jowl with four speeds) also has an odd trait: For some reason you can't manually select fourth. But this is probably more a curiosity than a nuisance.

As with all tall vehicles, once you're underway in the CR-V you experience lots more lateral motion than in traditional sedans. But we've also noticed these new CR-Vs have a tendency to periodically "tramline" on certain surfaces -- a quirk wherein the tire tread momentarily follows the highway's rain grooves. It can be fairly unsettling until you realize what's happening. Why does the CR-V use these tires? Maybe the guy who blocked out fourth gear has some idea.

So how far has latest iteration of the quarter-century-old Honda theme progressed? Compared with those old mid-'80s Civic Wagons, the difference feels like 50 years. Six airbags, Honda's ACE crash-safety body structure, and a laundry list of the latest electronic features combine with a feel of sheer substance and quality that make the CR-V a genuine standout -- a vehicle that could wear a three-pointed star as comfortably as Honda's 'H' badge, we'd venture.

And that definably can't be said for those old Civic Wagons. I ought to know -- I still have one in my driveway.