Honda builds the best-selling SUV or crossover in the country, and the defending champion of this reviewer’s 2013 comparison of compact crossovers. The CR-V helped originate the class of vehicles that look like trucks but drive like cars, and in recent years it’s continued to win critical acclaim and commercial success.
Accordingly, it would have been unexpected to see a drastic change as part of a mid-cycle update for 2015 (three years after its last full redesign). But familiar styling hides a host of changes, including a new engine and transmission, new features, a redesigned center console, a stronger structure for improved safety ratings, and adjustments to the steering and suspension.
Even before the updates, the CR-V had the enviable strong points of a spacious, comfortable, and well-finished interior; pleasant driving dynamics; and an overall user-friendly experience. The 2015 model is a curious mix of simple enhancements and outright changes to the CR-V’s defining characteristics.
The pluses are simple. The new engine and CVT automatic transmission, shared with Honda’s midsize Accord sedan, gave fuel economy a major bump – EPA ratings increased by 3 miles per gallon in mixed driving, to an outstanding 28 mpg. A once-mediocre performance in a tough IIHS crash test has become a strong point, with the updated model earning a top score. Newly available equipment includes a power liftgate, a proximity key, and a host of safety features. Interior quality has improved. Basically, if you’ve liked CR-Vs in the past, these changes will just make the car that much more appealing.
But some of the 2015 updates sadly saddle the CR-V with annoying, unnecessary flaws. A new in-dash infotainment system, standard on most CR-Vs, adds features but is fussy to use. The revised steering and suspension make the car more agile, but the ride is now less smooth and the steering can be heavy at low speeds. And the new powertrain at times feels like it’s lugging, meaning that its RPM is too low for the conditions and causing unwanted vibrations.
There’s still a lot to like in the CR-V, and buyers who wanted something sportier and with more technology might see the 2015 as a clear improvement. But if you favor simple and comfortable, shop the CR-V particularly carefully against the competition.
To look at
Of all the changes to the 2015 CR-V, the least significant is the appearance. The front end adds LED running lights and a revised grille and bumper, while the rear end just picks up some chrome trim in place of black plastic. There are also new alloy wheel designs.
The car’s sloped front fascia continues to evoke more of a car than a truck, as does the curve to the CR-V’s windowline as it approaches the rear of the car. That said, the overall shape is still fairly boxy, except for a curve of the rear windshield. As on past CR-Vs, the vertical taillights run along the edges of the rear windshield.
Inside, the CR-V’s dash remains mostly the same as the 2012-2014 model, and it’s still accented with tastefully restrained bits of false wood and aluminum trim. The shifter sprouts from the dashboard, making more room for a large center console. The cabin doesn’t strive to wow you with gee-whiz luxury, but it feels solid and respectable even at the fully-loaded test car’s price of $33,600. The 2015 updates brought a redesigned center console that fits nicely against the dashboard, an improvement from last year’s model.
To be in
The CR-V has comfortable front seats, and the driver has good visibility in most directions, especially by today’s ever-worsening standards. The over-the-shoulder view is compromised by small rearmost side windows, but that’s offset by Honda’s new class-exclusive LaneWatch camera. That feature uses the in-dash screen to display an image of the passenger side of the car to eliminate a blind spot; it’s activated by either the push of a button or by using your turn signal.
The rear seat, meanwhile, is a little low but quite spacious. Three adults will fit without much fuss, even if none will exactly feel coddled.
A new center console replaces a large open bin between the front seats with more structured storage cubbies, including a space designed to hold a smartphone. Armrests mounted on the seats are gone, replaced with the standard system of a center console bin that doubles as a single center armrest.
One quibble is that the smartphone holder clearly didn’t account for the growing popularity of plus-sized “phablet” phones, which don’t fit in it. This issue speaks to the development lag time in the automotive industry versus handheld electronics.
As noted earlier, the updated 2015 CR-V has gained a new infotainment system, standard on all but the base LX model. This 7-inch touchscreen absorbs most audio controls, including radio tuning and audio mode selection. This adds needless complexity to simple tasks – the best systems let you use the screen for complex functions while retaining ordinary buttons and knobs for quick adjustments.
This reviewer had previously criticized a similar system on the Honda Fit and Civic economy cars, which have only one physical button: the on/off switch. Honda added back a few more physical controls in the CR-V – audio volume, and “home” and “menu” buttons – but these buttons are so small and clumped so close together that it’s actually even worse. Steering wheel controls help the driver with some functions, but others (or anything the passenger wants to do) is left to this mess in the dashboard.
The graphics are at least attractive and the layout of the screen is fairly simple, though the navigation system looks 15 years old. Overall, automakers like Chrysler and Kia have demonstrated that more infotainment features don’t have to come at the expense of simplicity; others, like Ford and now increasingly Honda, haven’t quite gotten that message.
The CR-V’s climate controls, untouched in the update, remain fuss-free.
An important strong point to the CR-V is its cargo capacity. It beats most competitor, and even some larger midsize crossovers, with 35.3 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seat, and 70.9 cubic feet with the rear seat folded. A low cargo floor also makes it more convenient to load in bulky or heavy items.
A clever feature that’s been a CR-V staple since 2012 is a handle in the cargo hold that tumbles the rear seat flat in a single tug – the headrests drop down, the cushion flips up, and the seatback folds. This can be a cumbersome multi-step procedure in a number of competitors, as it was in the previous generation CR-V. The retractable cargo cover is also refreshingly easy to remove. One niggle is that the folded rear seat isn’t quite flush with the cargo floor.
Last year’s CR-V was pleasant to drive without being exactly sporty. The steering was light but responsive and natural, the throttle was neither dull nor touchy, and the ride was smooth. You just couldn’t fling the CR-V around a corner without it feeling like the tall heavy car that it is.
As noted earlier, the 2015 CR-V tinkers with that formula. The steering is heavier and more responsive, and handling is more agile. The car’s limits have increased, and it inspires more confidence as you approach them.
However, the steering requires some extra muscle at low speeds, and bumps can punch through as stiffer jolts. The CR-V is sportier, but not as pleasant to drive as before. It’s more like the Mazda CX-5 now, and less like the cushier Nissan Rogue.
All isn’t perfect with the engine, either. While it’s peppy, smooth, and fairly quiet, certain driving conditions result in excess vibrations – for instance, accelerating gently while already at speed, or maintaining speed while going uphill. That’s an unusual issue for today’s marketplace, and perhaps the fault of the CR-V’s new continuously variable transmission, which constantly adjusts gear ratios in search of the most efficient choice for each situation.
That CVT did help boost the CR-V’s fuel economy ratings over the old five-speed automatic transmission. The tested all-wheel-drive version is rated for 26 miles per gallon in the city, 33 mpg on the highway, and 28 mpg in mixed driving; last year’s CR-V was rated for 25 mpg. These figures are among the best in the class, and improve by 1 mpg further if you select the front-wheel-drive model.
One caveat is that this reviewer did not achieve those EPA ratings; during a week and a half of mixed driving, including two tanks of fuel, mileage was 26.1 mpg. While these figures are not based on scientific standardized testing, this reviewer typically meets or exceeds EPA ratings. It’s also worth noting that Consumer Reports, which does have a standardized testing program, only saw a 1-mpg difference between its 2012 and 2015 CR-Vs.
The CR-V is competitively priced in the compact crossover class – not a screaming bargain, but not the costliest model either.
The range starts with the $23,445 2WD LX, which includes basics like power windows and cruise control, along with Bluetooth connectivity, a multi-angle rearview camera, and an SMS-reading function. Black door handles and mirrors, and homely steel wheels, are Honda’s way of trying to push buyers up to pricier models.
Next up is the EX, at $25,545. The extra cost buys 17-inch alloy wheels and body-colored door handles and mirrors, along with a sunroof, a 10-way power driver’s seat, heated front seats, automatic headlights, the in-dash touchscreen, a proximity key, and the LaneWatch sideview camera. That’s of course a lot of goodies for $2,000, though some buyers would have no doubt preferred less of an either/or.
For leather seats, along with an upgraded audio system, auto-dimming mirror, heated side mirrors, and automatic climate control, step up to the EX-L at $28,145. The navigation system is a $1,500 option on the EX-L – skip it; smartphones are more intelligent. If you demand an in-dash unit, several competitors have better ones than Honda that aren’t such pricey options.
The tested model is the line-topping Touring, which starts at $31,645. A new model for 2015, it adds previously unavailable features to the CR-V, including such safety features as forward collision warning, automatic pre-collision braking, lane-departure warning, and lane-keeping automatic steering. Other goodies are radar-based cruise control, a power liftgate, a memory system for the driver’s seat, and 18-inch alloy wheels. The navigation system is standard on the Touring.
Add $1,250 to get all-wheel-drive on any CR-V trim, and all models further have an $830 destination charge.
Pricing site Truecar.com indicates that the CR-V is in hot demand, with dealers being unwilling to budge more than about $1,200 off the sticker price. Resale values are at least outstanding.
Roomy, comfortable, fuel-efficient, reasonably priced, safe, and versatile, the CR-V does a good job at the basic qualities that tend to attract buyers to the compact crossover class. It also looks and feels less basic inside than a few top competitors. It’s a pity, then, that Honda forces you to put up with a confounding control layout, and some buyers won’t love the changes to the driving dynamics.
It will take another full comparison test – planned later this year – to see whether the CR-V is still best-in-class. But it’s already clear that this Honda has a great many virtues, even against highly qualified competitors like the Nissan Rogue, Subaru Forester, and Mazda CX-5. Keep it on your shopping list, but pay close attention to its weak points.
More photos of the 2015 Honda CR-V Touring
Comparison: 2013 compact crossovers
Review: Hyundai Santa Fe Sport vs. Mitsubishi Outlander
Review: 2015 Honda Fit LX
Review: 2014 Honda Civic EX
All Cars Examiner reviews
Vehicle reviewed: 2015 Honda CR-V
Vehicle base price (MSRP): $23,345
Version tested: AWD Touring
Version base price (MSRP): $32,770
Vehicle price as tested (MSRP): $33,600
Estimated transaction price as tested**: $32,417
Test vehicle provided by: American Honda
Length: 179.4 inches
Width: 71.6 inches
Height: 65.1 inches
Wheelbase: 103.1 inches
Weight: 3,624 pounds
Cargo volume behind rear seat: 35.3 cubic feet
Cargo volume with seat folded: 70.9 cubic feet
Turning circle: 37.0 feet
Engine: 2.4-liter I4
-Torque: 181 pound-feet
Transmission: CVT automatic
EPA city mileage: 26 miles per gallon
EPA highway mileage: 33 miles per gallon
EPA combined mileage: 28 miles per gallon
Observed mileage during test: 26.1 miles per gallon
Fuel capacity: 15.3 gallons
Assembly location: Ohio
For more information: Honda website
Estimated transaction prices are based on data from Truecar.com and dealer quotes.