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2013 Honda CR-V: Still an affordable favorite

Few changes needed after complete redesign last year


by: HONDA AMERICA MOTOR COMPANY - The popular Honda CR-V was completely rdesigned in 2012 and carried forward this year.I drove our test 2013 Honda CR-V for more than a day in the Eco mode without realizing it. That surprised me because Eco modes are usually very apparent. They improve mileage by slowing down the throttle response, almost always resulting in substandard performance.

But the compact CR-V crossover accelerated so well, I didn't even think about it. Freeway passing wasn’t even inhibited, at least not enough to concern me. It was only after I noticed the green light on the display panel that I even thought to look for the Eco button on the dash. When I turned it off, the accelaration was even better — but most drivers would probably be very happy just leaving the CR-V in Eco mode all the time and enjoying the slightly better mileage.

My mistake made me realize how hard Honda is trying to get things right these days. The company has been criticized by many automotive writers for cruising on its reputation for building reliable, economical, well-engineered cars.

But the competition has passed some of the company’s best sellers by in recent years. The CR-V was completely redesigned for 2012. The midsize Accord got the treatment earlier this year. And the compact Civic just got it. All three have been praised as significantly improved and very competitive once again.

The improvements to the CR-V are especially significant because it practically created the compact crossover market — along with the Toyota RAV4 — over 15 years ago. Until then, almost all sport utility vehicles, even small ones, were built on truck frames. As a result, their rides were stiff, even on smooth pavement. The CR-V and RAV4 changed all that by being built like cars with unibody construction. This resulted in a much more family friendly vehicle, prompting other manufacturers to quickly copy them, producing the wave of so-called cute utes that continues to this day.

Compact crossovers are, of course, the most affordable of all SUVs, making them favorites for families ion a budget.

Truth be told, the orginal CR-V was pretty homely and simple. But it got good mileage, had enough interior room for five, and could go off road or through snow when equipped with all-wheel-drive. Over the years, Honda improved the CR-V significantly, increasing its size and interior diminsions without making it too big or thirsty. The most recent redesign in 2012 was a quantum leap forward, resulting in an affordable compact crossover that competes well against more upscale models.

There are no major changes in the 2013 model. The exterior still looks like a compact crossover made by Acura, Honda’s premium division. The interior is not as plush as, say, the Acrua RDX, although when equipped with leather seats like our test vehicle, the first impression is awfully close. The controls in the CR-V are much simplier and easier to use than the RDX, too, which is very button-laden.

As mentioned earlier, the 2.4-liter inline four-cylinder engine provides plenty of power, which is a good thing since it’s the only choice. Transmission option are limited to a single five-speed automatic, which sound pretty unsophisticated in these says of six, seven and even eight-speed transmissions. But the combination works very wlll together, delivering both good acceleration when needed and good fuel economy, even when the Eco mode is turned off. Front-wheel-drive models are EPA rated at 23 mpg in town and 31 on the highway, with AWD models just one mile per gallon less.

The ride is also improved. Our fully-loaded test CR-V felt light and responsive, even though it was equipped with Honda’s optional Real Time all-wheel-drive system. The brakes worked just fine, too, although they did not provide much feedback though the pedal.

Honda had to improve the CR-V in the face of stiff competition. Other new compact crossovers of note include the Ford Explorer, which offers a choice of three different engines, and the Mazda MX-5, with Skyactiv technology that achieves the highest mileage of any competitor. But the changes carried over to the 2013 Honda CRV are enough to keep it in the ball game for now, which should keep the company’s loyal buyers happy.

Facts and figures (all models)

• Model tested: 2013 CR-V.

• Manufacturer: Honda.

• Class: Compact crossover.

• Layout: Front engine, front and all-wheel-drive (as tested).

• Style: Five-door SUV.

• Engines: 2.4-liter inline 4 (185 hp, 163 lbs-ft).

• Transmission: Five-speed automatic.

• EPA estimated city/highway/mileage: 23/31/26 (FWD); 22/30/25 (AWD).

• Price: Beginning at approximately $23,000 ($30,000 as tested).