For 2002, Honda has dropped an all-new 2.4liter K-series motor into the CR-V's engine bay. With a 20% increase in displacement over the B20, the i-VTEC motor now pumps out 162lb-ft of torque at 3600 rpm (vs 133 lb-ft for the 2001, a 22% improvement) and 160hp @ 6000 rpms (vs 145 hp for the 2001, a 10% improvement). A dual stage intake manifold further broadens the torque curve, while a counter-rotating balance shaft is quite effective keeping engine vibrations in check.
The CR-V I tested was an EX model, and thus came equipped with Honda's Realtime All-Wheel-Drive system. This system favors the front wheels for most driving situations, but a hydraulically operated clutch pack will transfer torque to the rear wheels in the event of front wheel slippage. The beauty of this system is its simplicity; the hydraulic pressure is generated directly in proportion to the difference in front and rear axle speeds, and no electronic or driver intervention is required, so the system is very low in maintenance, complexity, and weight. I found that in practice it took a pretty significant amount of front wheelspin to be able to sense the rear wheels helping out. Indeed, the K24 dished out enough torque to rather easily spin the front tires in the lower gears - even on dry pavement. I also found that there was an uncharacteristic (for Honda) and unfortunate amount of torque steer upon full throttle acceleration, producing an especially noticeable tug if you're accelerating while making a lane change. It's been a while since I've driven the previous generation model, but I don't remember torque steer ever being an issue. I'm not sure if situation may be related to the geometry of the new front suspension (like the new Civics, the CR-V lost its 4-wheel double wishbone suspension in favor of a simpler Macpherson strut setup) or if it's simply the extra 29lb-ft of peak torque.
The motor is impressively smooth in operation. Torque delivery is nearly instantaneous, and it pulled quite consistently throughout the rpm band. Since the torque delivery is so linear, acceleration doesn't feel particularly exciting, but it does gather speed rather impressively. During some informal testing I managed a 0-60 run of 8.5 seconds, with a quarter mile time of 16.5 seconds at an indicated 85.9mph. These numbers were achieved with a pretty heavily laden vehicle. The 2-3 shift point occurs right around 60mph, so best case 0-60 acceleration would likely improve by holding off on the 2-3 shift until the last possible instant. Reviewing the data from my datalogging performance timer, a point of interest from that particular acceleration run shows that peak power occurred at 57.3mph, after 7.77 seconds had elapsed. Assuming it would take no longer than a 0.5 second to gain another 2.7mph, the CR-V should be capable of clicking off an 8.2 or 8.3 second 0-60 run under ideal conditions.
In keeping with Honda standards, the cable actuated 5-speed shifter was precise and smooth in operation. Clutch action is light and smooth, with a nice progressive takeup. The gear ratios are spaced decently, though with the reserve of low-rpm torque offered by the K24, 5th could possibly be even a bit taller to keep the rpms down while cruising on the interstate. 75mph in 5th gear rings up right around 3500rpms on the tach, which seems a little busy, though it's still nearly impossible to discern any engine sound over the tire noise. Due to the fact that you're hovering near the torque peak in 5th gear at 75mph, passing maneuvers are usually accomplished easily without the need to downshift. While the motor willingly and smoothly revs right up to its 6500 rpm redline, it accelerates the 3300 lb vehicle quite smoothly and smartly at much lower rpms, adding further contribution to the overall feel of refinement. The only peculiarity I noticed was that occasionally the motor would seem to stumble a bit if I lifted the throttle too much or paused too long between shifts. I usually rev match on downshifts, but have never really had to employ this technique on upshifts; however, it was sometimes necessary to blip the throttle when upshifting the CR-V in order to execute a smooth shift. This seems like a software bug in the engine management system.
Overall, I found the CR-V's powertrain to be extremely competent, and a significant improvement over the previous generation. It may not offer enough thrust for thrillseekers, but for the majority of buyers it's more than enough, and for such a useful vehicle, relatively thrifty in operation. During my tenure with the CR-V, I averaged over 24mpg with a relatively heavy right foot. That's quite a respectable figure for a vehicle that offers the utility of a CR-V.