DETROIT (McClatchy) — For a company that builds some very quick cars, Honda sometimes moves with glacial slowness.
The 2017 CR-V compact SUV (I give it four out of four stars) is a prime example. After years of complaints about its over-reliance on touch screen controls, Honda gave the new SUV’s audio system a volume dial but inexplicably retained the annoying touch screen for functions like tuning and switching from audio to navigation and among audio sources.
That’s one of the new CR-V’s few faults. It’s likely to remain America’s best-selling SUV despite Honda’s aversion to simple controls.
The CR-V is roomy, fuel-efficient, comfortable and loaded with useful features. It’s also a terrific value.
It competes with small five-seat SUVs like the Chevrolet Equinox, Ford Escape, GMC Terrain, Hyundai Santa Fe, Mazda CX-5, Nissan Rogue, Subaru Forester, Toyota RAV4 and VW Tiguan. New versions of the CX-5, Equinox, Terrain and Tiguan go on sale shortly but are not available for evaluation. This review does not compare the CR-V to them.
These compact SUVs are among America’s most-popular vehicles. Sales have skyrocketed as their sophistication and fuel economy improved and buyers deserted compact and midsize cars for the SUVs’ height, look and four-wheel drive.
CR-V prices start at $24,045 for front-wheel drive and a 184-horsepower 2.4-liter engine. An all-wheel drive model with the same engine costs $25,345. All CR-Vs have a continuously variable automatic transmission.
A turbocharged 190-horsepower 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine powers all other CR-Vs, starting at $26,695 for FWD and $27,995 for AWD. All prices exclude destination charges.
I tested a top of the line AWD CR-V Touring with voice recognition, navigation, blind-spot alert, lane-departure alert and assist, forward collision warning, heated front seats, a 7-inch touch screen, adaptive cruise control, backup camera, Bluetooth compatibility, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
It stickered at $33,695. That’s less than some competitors that have lower fuel economy, fewer features and less interior room.
Honda builds the CR-V at three plants in North America — East Liberty, Ohio; Greenburg, Ind., and Alliston, Ontario.
The 2017 model’s wheelbase grew two inches to improve rear legroom and cargo space. The result is an accommodating cabin with plenty of passenger and cargo room.
The interior of my test vehicle had leather upholstery, soft plastic covering the dash and door uppers and attractive faux-wood trim. The front seat has loads of storage space, including a deep and accommodating bin in the center console. The seats are comfortable for long drives. Big windows deliver good sight lines that are complemented by blind-spot and cross-traffic alerts.
There’s noticeable wind noise at highway speeds, however.
The gauges are big and clear, but the controls for audio, navigation and other systems are cumbersome. The touch screen is too slow and many of the touch points are too small for easy use in a moving vehicle. The result is too much time with the driver looking at the touch screen rather than the road. It’s hard to understand why an outstanding automaker like Honda for repeated mistakes the whole auto industry should have learned from Ford’s problems with its over-reliance on touchscreens and flat panel controls years ago.
The CR-V is pleasant to drive, with a suspension that absorbs bumps and good steering. Honda’s CVT is unobtrusive, effectively mimicking the feeling of a fixed ratio automatic, but delivering outstanding fuel economy.
The AWD CR-V’s EPA rating of 27 mpg in the city, 33 on the highway and 29 combined tops all competitors.
The 1.5-liter engine provides plenty of power for driving around town and highway cruising. It’s noisy under acceleration.
Keep an eye open when pricing and fuel economy are announced shortly for the new The 2018 Equinox, Terrain and Tiguan but, until further notice, the 2017 Honda CR-V is the best that go on sale shortly will be worth watching.