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2013 HONDA CR-V: Solid as they come

Not much wrong with Honda's revamped compact sport-ute

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2013 Honda CR-V

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2011 Honda CR-V EX AWD *Great Opts, Sunroof* for $20,988

2011 Honda CR-V EX AWD *Great Opts, Sunroof*

View 126 more Honda CR-V listings.

While Suzuki can legitimately lay claim to inventing the compact sport utility market when it launched the less-than-stellar Samurai in the 1980s, it was Honda that went on to define the segment and make it what it is today when it introduced the original CR-V in 1995.

If there was a knock against the CR-V -- and this held true for the first three generations -- it was that it was a stylistic snooze-fest. Since then, the segment has evolved into a highly competitive market, with players from every conceivable manufacturer.

Now comes the fourth-generation CR-V with a bolder face and tighter tail. It's morphed into a sharp looker -- and it needed to be, with the introduction of the Ford Escape, Kia Sportage and Mazda CX-5, to name three of its toughest challengers.

The good news is that sharpening its visage did not affect the CR-V's flexibility and comfort. There's enough space to accommodate a family of five and their luggage. The three rear-seat riders enjoy ample shoulder and legroom, and with the seats upright, there's 1,053 litres of cargo space. Dropping the 60-40 split-folding seats is a one-handed affair that opens up 2,008 litres.

The CR-V's shortcomings are minor. First, the rear seats are fixed. Adding a slide function would allow the leg space or cargo area to be maxed out according to need. I also ended up wishing the rear window opened independently of the tailgate and that it did so via the remote key fob. The handle sits down toward bumper level, where it gets covered in the salty slush that accompanies a winter storm.

Inside, the layout epitomizes Honda's logical approach. It has the right content (even in the entry-level LX tested here), and it functions as intended, with one exception -- the text-messaging function. When I attempted to use it, the CR-V promptly dismissed my iPhone because it was not a supported device. I was told this is because my phone does not support Message Access Profile -- although that's supposed to be part of the iPhone's latest iOS 6 operating system.

Regardless, it refused to work, which annoyed me to no end. Sneaking a peek at an incoming message is not only illegal in many jurisdictions, it's not a smart driving practice.

Lest I be accused of picking on Honda, this is a much bigger issue and affects many manufacturers. It's also enough to turn this normally loyal Apple fan in a different direction. Something needs to be done, given the electronic world we are all forced to live and work in.

The CR-V is motivated by a peppy 2.4-litre four-cylinder engine that's rated at 185 horsepower and 163 pound-feet of torque. Under normal driving circumstances, it delivers the right off-the-line alacrity and a willing mid-range. Even when forced to work at the top end of the rev range, it remained smooth and commendably quiet. Would you expect anything less of a Honda engine?

Where the CR-V lags behind some of its key competitors is in the number of gears in its automatic transmission. Five is one shy of most. Yes, it delivered smooth shifts and it kicked down smartly when urged on, but an extra gear would help both performance and fuel economy.

The CR-V runs to 100 kilometres an hour in 9.3 seconds while returning an average test economy of 9.1 litres per 100 kilometres. Both are respectable, but no longer class-leading.

The numbers are better than the all-wheel-drive model tested at the launch of the latest CR-V, which left me wondering why I should shell out the $2,150 for the CR-V's optional all-wheel-drive system. The front-driver proved just fine, even in some pretty severe weather conditions. I'm usually an all-wheel-drive fan, but not in this instance. The LX wearing winter tires proved an admirable alternative.

The ride and handling are commendable. The rigours of a rough road are absorbed in fine fashion without forcing the CR-V to roll its way through a corner. Yes, there is some understeer when pushed, but blame the LX's P215/70R16 tires. In this regard, the EX and its larger P225/65R17 tires is a better choice.

The same applies to the steering feel -- it's noticeably crisper with the larger tires. In short, the LX's feel is fine, but the EX's is better. I would upgrade the LX's tires at time of purchase. It makes a lot of difference for not a lot of money.

Over the years, the CR-V has been the benchmark in the compact-utility segment. It still rides high, bringing the right blend of comfort, handling, economy and versatility. That stated, it is being surpassed by the aggressive nature of its key competition.

Honda was quick to react to the criticisms it received about the redo of the Civic in 2012. I think it would behoove the company to revisit the CR-V in a similar manner, specifically addressing the transmission and texting issues.

The rest I could live with easily.

-- Postmedia News

THE SPECS

-- Type of vehicle: Front-wheel-drive compact crossover

-- Engine: 2.4L DOHC inline four

-- Power: 185 hp

-- BRAKES; Four-wheel disc with ABS

-- Tires: P225/65R17

-- Base price/as tested: $25,990/$25,990

-- Destination charge: $1,640

-- Fuel economy (L/100 km): 9.0 city, 6.4 hwy.

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