Sometimes you wonder about something that’s a best-seller. Are they really good, and everybody knows about it? Like all those Marvel movies. Or maybe they’re just cheap and convenient. Like convenience store coffee from the pot that’s been there since the Clinton administration.
So, here we have the 2021 Honda CR-V, Honda’s best-selling vehicle, and one of the best-selling vehicles of any kind. But what do those numbers really mean? Is this a superhero you can cheer for, or a nasty cup of joe that’s going to take a whole lot of sweeteners to get down? Let’s look.
Clean and Crisp Design
The small SUV got a major refresh last year, and it helps the CR-V looking attractive in a segment with lots of new players with fresh looks.
The front is clearly a Honda with a large H front and center in the middle of the blackout grille that was new last year. Distinctive LED headlights frame the grille, with a contrasting lower fascia and round LED fog lamps to finish off a sporty look. The hood features two large bulges on the sides that give a wide-shouldered look from the outside and a sporty view from the inside.
The profile has a nice line with bulbous fenders for a bit of muscle, some added chrome trim for a bit of bling, and a kicked-up C pillar that looks aggressive. The big set-apart on our Touring trim tester were the beefy 19-inch alloy wheels that really give some visual pop.
The back carries on the sporty theme, with dark-tinted lenses on the upturned taillights while a chrome trim bar spans the width of the hatch and has an upscale vibe. Finishing off the rear are a contrasting dark gray lower fascia that hover over the Touring’s chrome exhaust tips. Finished off in Radiant Red Metallic, our tester looked modern, sporty, and upscale.
Inside, it’s familiar Honda with an added touch of upscale. The first thing you’ll notice is the Touring’s nice leather hides on the seats, shift leather and heated steering wheel. We like how the light-colored seats brighten up the interior, but in an SUV, we’d probably opt for something that hides dirt, wear and tear a little better. Your call.
There’s no argument when it comes to space – the CR-V is one of the best in class, with plenty of comfort from the front buckets including a 12-way power driver’s seat with memory, and impressive head and legroom for those in back. With the rear seats up the cargo bay is quite spacious, and with and easy flip of the split-fold rear seats, it’s massive. Loading is easy too, with hands-free access that just requires a sweep of the leg under the bumper.
There’s style and comfort with that substance, too. On the Touring you get faux chrome and metal finishes, as well as not-really wood trim that still manages to look handsome. The quality of assembly is spot on – everything looks lovingly fitted, well crafted. It’s one of the nicest looking interiors outside of the Audi-like cabins you’ll find in the Mazda CX-5. A close second, but certainly a step above what you’d expect in the segment.
The gauges are Honda familiar, with a nice digital display including a sweeping tach band, and digital speedometer. The info-tainment has a generously sized 7-inch info-tainment screen with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Navi, 9-speaker Audio, rear US-B charging ports and a convenient wireless phone charger.
Honda got smart a couple years ago and put an honest-to-goodness volume knob on the system, and now we wish there was a corresponding tuning knob for stuff like cycling through Sirius radio stations and the like. It’s a good system, but with the overkill you get in competitors it feels just a little behind the times.
What you do get is well-thought-out spaces with loads of storage cubbies, and simple, easy to understand controls for the dual-zone climate controls. The shifter sits high up in the dash for an easy reach, and the electric handbrake control is right next to it. Everything just feels in the right place from the first time you sit down. Honda is a master at making friendly spaces.
Merrily We Glide Along
The CR-V exhibits that same friendliness on the road.
Under the hood is Honda’s hard-working 1.5-liter, turbo 4-cylinder. While that may sound like a small engine in a vehicle this size, as we’ve seen in the Civic, it’s a stout little guy, and in the CR-V it pumps out an impressive 190 horsepower and 179 lb-ft of torque at just 2,000 rpm. (Anyone seeking more power should look at the CR-V Hybrid with a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder which puts out an impressive 212 combined horsepower.)
The 1.5-liter is just fine here, thanks, and with one of the best CVT’s available, it moves the CR-V smoothly, quickly, and efficiently. It’s not designed for the kind of driving fun you’ll find in a Mazda CX-5, or Toyota RAV4, but we did find keeping the transmission in S Mode gave a higher RPM “shift” and felt more responsive. Since it doesn’t lure you into driving hard, your reward is excellent fuel economy, with a combined EPA of 30 mpg that is easy to attain.
The ride and handling are excellent as well, with that typical Honda ease of doing everything that just makes for a relaxing jaunt to the mall or on an extended road trip. The steering is precise and has an excellent feel, and the ride is supple and comfortable. There’s a feeling of refinement that you find in Hondas and Toyotas that just say, “Hey we’ve been making vehicles for a long time – we know what we’re doing.” It’s an easy vehicle to see owning for a long time.
Safety is of course a big deal in any family vehicle, and the CR-V includes the Honda Sensing suite of protective features, including Collision Mitigation, Lane Keeping Assist, Road Departure Mitigation and Blind Spot with Cross Traffic Monitor.
We especially liked the Adaptive Cruise Control with Low-Speed Follow – one of the best we’ve driven, it’s smooth and responsive and keeps up well with the flow of traffic. Many of the competitors we’ve driven are so sluggish you have to step on the gas to keep up with traffic or take over the braking as the system’s seem intent on slamming on the brakes at the last system. The CR-V is just right in this, and it makes it truly relaxing to use. Good job, Honda!
Does the CR-V have Cash Redemption Value?
Well, Honda’s are never the cheapest in the segment, but you always feel like you’re surrounded by quality. An excellent reputation for reliability helps it have great resale, too.
You can get into a CR-V for as little as $25,750 for the LX, and that includes the efficient turbo engine, spacious interior, 17-inch alloy wheels, and full load of safety tech. That’s a no-brainer – and actually a bargain.
We do love a bargain, too, but we’d at least step up to the Special Edition at $26,950 to add Apple CarPlay, Dual Zone Climate Control and Heated Seats. Add $1,500 for AWD for those of you in slippery climates.
Our Touring was the whole-enchilada model, including AWD, hands-free power tailgate, leather interior, premium audio, navigation, and those handsome alloy wheels for $35,150. Add in $1,175 for delivery and we rang the bell at $36,325. Those of you in the market may notice the 2022 model is now on sale – no changes of note, though.
Competitors include the Toyota RAV4 at $40,460. We’ve noted before that the new RAV4, as nice as it is, has gotten expensive – a 5-grand pop is a lot to swallow. We always recco the Mazda CX-5 at $35,355 if a sporty drive is what you want, and we’d also look at the Kia Sportage at $37,290 – stylish, well-built and fun.
It’s easy to see why the Honda CR-V is so popular. Great looking, spacious and upscale interior, smooth and easy performance and legendary quality and reliability. It’s an SUV Superhero!
Ben Lewis grew up in Chicago, and after spending his formative years driving sideways in the winter – often intentionally – moved to sunny Southern California. He now enjoys sunny weather year-round — whether it is autocross driving, aerobatics, and learning to surf.