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article details
Author Jeff Palmer
Categories CR-V, Element
Create Date November 30, 2016 08:00
Last Update April 07, 2017 16:25
First Drive: 2017 Honda CR-V

It's hard to believe that Honda is already introducing the 5th generation of its "Comfortable Runabout Vehicle". You might know it better as the CR-V. The TOV and the CR-V go back a long ways. See, in its original form, the TOV hit the internet somewhere around late 1994. Part of our thing has always been to spread the word about all the cool things Honda is and was doing. And back then, one of the sensations we kept hearing about for Honda was the CR-V. It was basically a crossover that was produced by taking the Civic platform and jacking it up a few inches. Meanwhile, in the US, Ford was setting sales records with a truly underwhelming (and as it turns out, very dangerous) vehicle called the "Explorer". People were inexplicably buying these horrendous vehicles as fast as Ford could build them. At that point, we knew there would definitely be a market for a true Honda SUV. So we expressed these ideas right here on the TOV. Bring the CR-V to the USA, and the sales will come.

In those days, from a sales perspective, things were already going rather well for American Honda in the USA, so it took them a few years to decide that the time for a true Honda SUV was right. We don't know this for a fact, but surely at some point, one of the decision-makers in Torrance finally got tired of looking at the sales figures for the Explorer and said "Why the hell not?". So after the 1st-gen CR-V had been on sale for a couple years in Japan (and selling like hotcakes), we finally got our own US-market version in the 1997 model year.

Fast-forward 20 years and now we're looking at the 5th generation CR-V. Sales have been gangbusters for pretty much the entire history of the CR-V. In fact, Honda claims that it's the best selling SUV over that 20-year time span. This is impressive. The bottom line is that throughout the years, the CR-V has always been a solid purchase, providing a combination of utility, a certain degree of "Fun to drive", and tremendous value.

With all of that said, imagine the pressure that the 5th generation CR-V development team had to face. When you consider the fact that the 2017 CR-V features a completely new architecture and a brand new 1.5L Turbocharged 4-cylinder powertrain, the challenge seems immense. But, as we discovered, the team was more than up to the task.

What's the Story?
In short, the story with the 2017 CR-V is Value. Loads of Value. It's more luxurious, more feature-rich, delivers better performance, more refinement, more efficiency, more functionality, more safety, less weight, and depending upon trim level, it's only $150-650 more than the outgoing model.

You might ask about the Value proposition. Well, let me tell you. I recently purchased a 2016 Honda CR-V EX AWD (from our good friends at MotorCars Honda, in Cleveland, OH). I like our 2016 CR-V a lot - it has a lot of nice features. But the 2017 CR-V EX lists for merely $600 more than the 2016 EX, and for this $600 you get a LOT of stuff, like an actual VOLUME KNOB for the radio (priceless), the impressive Honda Sensing Suite (this option alone is priced at $1000 on other Honda models), Sirius XM, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, Dual-zone climate control, heated exterior mirrors with blinkers, dual 2.5amp USB ports for rear seat passengers (standard on all but LX trims), 18" wheels, Auto high-beams, auto up/down for driver AND passenger side windows, walk-away auto lock of the doors, a 12-way power driver's seat (adding up/down adjustments for lumbar), remote start, adaptive cruise control, and brake hold. Oh yeah, the EX even gets Blind Spot Information (with rear cross-traffic monitoring), which is apparently a costlier feature than LaneWatch, though I personally believe that LaneWatch actually adds more value (I understand that not everyone agrees with this take. I have spent plenty of time with both BSI and LaneWatch systems, and I have my reasons, but I'll save that discussion for another time). Reading through this feature list, remember that this is just the EX trim level.

What else is there??
Perhaps the biggest news for 2017 is the CR-V's first ever turbocharged engine, standard in all trims besides the LX. The LX carries over essentially the same 2.4L 4-cylinder engine that was found in the 2016 CR-V.

At 190hp, the new turbocharged 1.5L engine is the most powerful engine (by 5hp) ever to find its way under the hood of a CR-V. At 179lb-ft, it's actually rated to deliver slightly less peak torque than the 2.4L (by 1 lb-ft). The difference is that the turbocharged engine's torque curve is as flat as the Florida Turnpike and as wide as Texas. So, there's more of that coveted "area under the curve", which translates into better on the road performance. Honda claims a 1.5 second improvement in 0-60, which sounds a bit optimistic - we were unable to test against this claim yet, but we will certainly stick a VBox on the next 2017 CR-V we can get our hands on.

On top of this added performance, this engine also delivers superior fuel economy compared to the 2.4L (a rated improvement of 2MPG on both city and highway cycles for AWD and +3mpg city and +2mpg highway for 2WD models). As you may have guessed, this 1.5L engine is a close relative to the 174hp 1.5L Turbo (L15B7) engine that was introduced in the 10th Generation Civic. Just like the L15B7, the CR-V's 1.5 features dual VTC and direct injection, as well as a front-mounted intercooler. The turbocharger in the CR-V's version, however, delivers a peak boost of 18.5psi, compared to the Civic's peak of 16.5. The CR-V's turbo uses a reshaped turbine impeller design, featuring 9 blades (compared to 11 in the Civic). To offset this increase in boost, the CR-V runs slightly lower compression, at 10.3:1 (vs 10.5:1 in the Civic). In addition, the pistons in the CR-V's 1.5 feature integrated cooling channels. And like the Civic, the CR-V makes its full rated power on regular unleaded fuel. Honda won't tell you this, but it has been proven on the dyno that the Civic makes a bit more power and torque by running premium unleaded fuel (somewhere around 5-7hp and 8-9lb-ft). It's unknown yet whether the CR-V will share this benefit, but we sort of feel like that it will.

Nerdy Side Note
While this engine is very closely related to the Civic's 1.5T, note that the listed displacement is slightly larger, at 1498cc, vs the Civic's 1496cc. Apparently the CR-V's 1.5T uses a different crankshaft, and at a listed 89.5mm, it has a stroke that's 0.1mm longer than the Civic's. Just like the Civic, the CR-V's 1.5T crankshaft is forged and features micropolished journals to reduce internal friction. Yeah, we're nerds here at the TOV. Sorry.

'Mission Accomplished
In speaking with several Honda powertrain engineers, we learned a few things. First of all, the CVT in the CR-V is pretty much identical to the unit found in the 10th generation Civic 1.5T. The key difference is that the CR-V uses a beefier torque converter, which is better able to deal with the additional mass of the CR-V plus the >10% of added torque that is generated by the CR-V's engine.

Operationally, this CVT feels pretty similar to the Civic's under most throttle circumstances, but to further offset the CR-V's weight, it runs a more aggressive final drive ratio (5.64:1 vs 4.81:1 in the Civic, or about 17% more aggressive.) Both of these CVTs are designed to run through a simulated "stepped" program at wide open throttle. This is said to actually improve performance by a small margin while mitigating the nasty full throttle droning syndrome that plagues most CVTs. Thanks to the CR-V's "shorter" final drive ratio, the simulated shift points come at lower speeds than on the Civic, so it's more noticeable and more pleasing to floor the CR-V and to feel it "shift".

As for Honda's claimed 1.5 second improvement in 0-60 times, based on our past testing of the 4th generation CR-V, that would indicate a 0-60 time in the 6.5-7.0 second range for the 2017 CR-V. We're not saying those numbers are impossible, but after driving it, our seat of the pants impression tells us that it feels like it is closer to the 7.5 second 0-60 range. From a dead stop, it feels similar to the 2016 CR-V, which is another way of saying that it feels a little flat. There's no lunging away from the line. It just sort of putters away. Imagine driving a car with a traditional 4- or 5-speed automatic transmission and accidentally starting off in "2" instead of "D". That's how it launches. So for the first 10, or maybe 15 mph the 2016 and 2017 CR-V feel very similar. But then the turbocharger spools up, summonsing all 179 torques, and then you definitely feel the new CR-V surge into the "zone" sooner than the 2016 2.4L version. At maximum acceleration the 2 CR-Vs actually feel pretty close in terms of urgency, but the biggest advantage for the 2017 CR-V seems to be that it reaches its peak torque considerably sooner. It's for sure quicker than the 2016 on the 0-60 sprint, but we're just not quite convinced that it's a full 1.5 seconds quicker. As for throttle response, certainly there is some turbo lag, but it is mostly obfuscated by the machinations of the CVT, particularly under most normal driving circumstances. If you were to take a 2017 CR-V out on some back road bombing sessions, and compare it to something with a conventional automatic (or even the 2.4L CR-V), then you'd most certainly sense the difference in throttle response, but that sort of situation is likely a tiny minuscule fraction of what the typical CR-V will ever see.

During typical everyday driving operations, the 1.5T and CVT combo proves to be a fairly pleasant driving companion. There's plenty of passing power available when you need it, but for the most part the CR-V is about relaxed cruising. It's quicker than the 2.4L powertrain, and it's claimed to be more fuel efficient as well. Based upon our direct observations with the impressive fuel efficiency of the 1.5T in the Civic, we have no reason to doubt that it will deliver the promised efficiency in the CR-V.

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