2016 Compact SUV Comparison – Part 6: Honda CR-V EX

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In case you’re new to Dad Kingdom, we’re in the midst of reviewing 7 different compact SUVs that sticker for around $26,000 (including destination/handling): The CR-V EX, Rogue SV, Rav4 LE, Tucson Eco, Equinox LS, CX-5 Touring and Escape SE. (Click here to check out our previous reviews.) I’m comparing everything from styling and standard features, to price and physical dimensions. I’ve only got two more reviews, the perennial contenders from Honda and Toyota. Then, after I’m done comparing all 7, I’ll purchase the winner!

The Honda CR-V was given a substantial refresh last year (2015). Normally mid-cycle refreshes are cosmetic. But, the CR-V received aesthetic improvements as well as mechanical ones. Keep reading as I dive deeper into all these areas of improvement as well as interior impressions and a review of standard features.

I should take a minute to note that the CR-V EX is the most expensive entry in this comparison, landing with a total MSRP of $26,725. That’s up $300 from last year, and about $600 more than the next closest competitor in this test. ($500 less than the RAV4 XLE though.) However, in this case, you get what you pay for. The CR-V comes with an impressive list of standard features, a great powertrain, and a stellar history of reliability and resale value.

Sleek headlights with LED accent strips and fog lights give the CR-V’s new front end a modern look.

EXTERIOR

The front fascia redesign is the most obvious change. Sleek headlights with LED accent strips and fog lights give the CR-V’s new front end a modern look. The rear fascia is tweaked too, with a little more chrome, but nothing major. Nice 17″ wheels tie it all together (wheels shown below, not the sharp Touring wheels in the cover image). In my opinion, the tailgate design with vertically oriented tail lights has been a weakness of the CR-V’s appearance for the last couple generations. The large “D” pillar also creates a sizable blind spot. Aesthetically, the 2016 CR-V isn’t a show-stopper (probably never will be) but it looks more upscale than ever before and gives other entries in this segment a run for their money.

It’s not all ribbons and trophies when it comes to the CR-V’s exterior. The EX model doesn’t have side mirror turn signals or halogen projector lamps. Those features aren’t included until you surpass the $30k mark for a Touring model. Roof rails are optional, which is fine by me, but if you want them they are overpriced at $490. Admittedly minor demerits, but these exterior features are standard on competitors such as the Tucson and the CX-5, both of which are less expensive than the CR-V EX.

Honda CR-V

INTERIOR & SAFETY

As far as standard features, the Honda CR-V starts off with some good equipment that is fairly common at this price point. You get a power driver’s seat, backup camera, steering wheel audio controls and a 7″ touch screen infotainment system. Then, the EX adds a few premium features to sweeten the pot: A moonroof, a proximity key and heated front seats. The CR-V may be a little more expensive than the competition, but none of them include a moonroof or heated seats; the EX includes both! (To be fair, the RAV4 XLE includes those features, but I opted to include the RAV4 LE due to a $1,000 price hike.)

The EX has comfortable seats with a little texture. They’re supportive, but more soft than firm. The same cloth adds comfort to the door and center arm rests. The Rear seat is a little too firm, but not as brick-like as some competitors’ rear seats. Also, the rear seat reclines, though not as far as some rivals. Speaking of the rear seat, the CR-V and CX-5 are the only peers to have seat-release handles in the cargo area. That – combined with a low floor height- make for easy cargo loading.

The CR-V may be a little more expensive than the competition, but none of them include a moon-roof or heated seats; the EX includes both!

Overall, the interior of the Honda CR-V is near the top of the class, although the bar isn’t extremely high. The dash has attractive aluminum trim and an upscale 7″ touchscreen with a user-friendly interface. My only gripe being that the secondary buttons are small and hard to distinguish. All the primary controls feel very solid. The backup camera might be the best in the group. It has 3 different lens options: regular, wide-angle/fish-eye, and a magnified view for backup situations that require the utmost precision. Last year Honda added rear air vents – the only contender to provide them. Unfortunately, the vents come at the expense of about half of the storage space in the center console.

As I’ve mentioned before, most of these compact SUVs are IIHS Top Safety Picks, packed with air bags, ABS and traction control. The Honda CR-V goes a step further than the pack by including “Lane Watch”. When changing lanes, the central display shows the lane adjacent to the passenger (not the driver’s side). Lane Watch is fancy, but I prefer a simple blind spot warning light, like the one featured on the Mazda CX-5. Looking at the 7″ screen just doesn’t feel intuitive while changing lanes. I actually think Lane Watch is more useful as a parking assistant to keep you from scratching the CR-V’s 17″ rims on a concrete curb.

Honda CR-V

PERFORMANCE

As I touched on previously, mid-cycle refresh jobs are usually just cosmetic. Not so with the CR-V! For 2015, Honda re-tuned the 2.4L 4-cylinder and added direct injection to maintain class-leading horsepower (185) and also achieve class-leading MPGs (26 city/33 hwy). They managed to simultaneously increase torque and gas mileage. Curiously, gas mileage for 2016 ticked down 1 mpg compared to 2015, although the 29 mpg combined rating stayed the same. I suppose there was a tweak in the EPA’s test. Honda also replaced their aging 5-speed automatic with a smooth continuously variable transmission (CVT). Way to stay on top of the ball, Honda!


Tire Rack Gift Guide

(+) Comfortable interior with great standard features.

(+) Smooth ride and an advanced powertrain.

(+) Attractive and classy exterior styling.

(-) Not the most thrilling driving experience.

Power is adequate for the Honda CR-V. It accelerates as necessary without straining, but it doesn’t inspire excitement either. The CVT feels refined compared to Nissan’s unit – the only other CVT in this comparison. Monotonous RPM drone is a common characteristic of CVTs. However, the CR-V doesn’t suffer from this plight, mostly thanks to sufficient torque provided by the direct-injected 2.4L. All that said, the powertrain is as smooth as butter, but I still prefer the engagement of a traditional transmission. (I particularly like the Tucson’s 7-speed.)

As is the case with most aspects of the CR-V, handling is oriented more towards comfort rather than performance. Not a bad thing per se, as long as it aligns with your priorities. Steering is reasonably precise but slightly numb; typical with electric power steering systems. Overall, handling is confident without being track-worthy and comfortable without being too soft.

SUMMARY

The 2016 Honda CR-V EX is a small dose of adrenaline shy of crossover perfection. It has classy looks, a well-appointed comfortable interior, a smooth competent powertrain, and all the safety and utility you could ask for in a compact SUV. Its $26,725 price tag is tops in the bunch, but its robust list of standard features more than offsets the few hundred extra bones. I wish it was more performance oriented, but the CR-V is no slouch. Sure, the CX-5 is more fun to drive, but is that enough to overthrow the mighty leader-of-sales from Honda? Come back soon for the conclusion of our massive comparison!

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