2015 Honda CR-V AWD Touring review: Modest improvements keep the CR-V relevant, but not dominant

Starting at $32,900

Roadshow Editors' Rating

7.3 Overall
  • Performance 7
  • Features 7
  • Design 8
  • Media 7

The Good The new 2.4-liter engine and continuously variable transmission combine and blend good around-town power with reasonable EPA efficiency. Honda's LaneWatch camera is useful for safe merging and parallel parking.

The Bad I wasn't able to meet the EPA's mpg estimates. Despite its updates, HondaLink infotainment and navigation still feels slow to respond to inputs and queries.

The Bottom Line The 2015 Honda CR-V makes modest improvements to efficiency, safety and tech across the board, but faces very stiff competition from younger challengers.

This week, the 2015 Honda CR-V arrived in the Car Tech garage. The fourth-generation CR-V dates back to 2012, but the compact SUV received a facelift for the 2015 model year and an "Earth Dreams" powertrain makeover.

Around town, the CR-V proved to be modestly zippy, but its performance is focused on comfort and efficiency. Under the hood is a 2.4-liter "Earth Dreams" four-cylinder engine good for 185 horsepower and 181 pound-feet of torque. Earth Dreams Technology is Honda marketing-speak for a suite of fuel efficiency boosting technologies, including low-friction internals, revised i-VTEC variable valve timing, and direct injection.

Along with the Earth Dreams engine comes a new continuously variable transmission (CVT), now the only gearbox available on the 2015 CR-V. Enthusiasts tend to think of CVT as a four-letter word (figuratively speaking), but the CR-V's transmission works well in tandem with its four-cylinder engine. Together they are quiet and don't draw attention to themselves when driven at moderate speeds. Really mash the right pedal and the power delivery is good, but accompanied by the characteristic CVT drone at full throttle.

Together, the new engine and transmission combo net the CR-V an mpg gain of about 3 to 4 mpg across the board. In all-wheel drive trim, it's estimated to do 28 mpg combined -- or 26 city and 33 highway mpg. The front-wheel drive model gets an extra 1 mpg in each category. Tapping the ECON on the dashboard button puts the CR-V into its most efficient operating mode and gives drivers their best shot at the EPA's estimates. In this mode, the throttle response and the CVT's programming are adjusted for more mpgs.

Our Touring model arrived fully loaded with all-wheel drive, navigation, and all available creature comforts. During my testing, I was only able to average 20.1 mpg.

Let's talk about that navigation system for a moment. The Honda infotainment system is a bit convoluted. It features a two-tier dashboard display centered around a 7-inch color touchscreen and a smaller i-MID information display at the top of the dash. The 2015 CR-V swaps its "Honda Satellite Linked Navigation" system for a new 7-inch "HondaLink" setup, which boasts improvements in functionality that bring it into parity with the new HR-V and Fit models. For some reason, though, the system still manages to feel dated.

The new HondaLink navigation system still manages to feel dated and slow to respond. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

I liked that the home screen uses large icons that are easy to tap and read when the vehicle is in motion, but I didn't like that I had to return to the home screen whenever I wanted to change the displayed function. If I was navigating and wanted to quickly change my radio station, I'd have to pop out to the home screen, then drill into the audio menu. This wouldn't be so annoying if the HondaLink system weren't so slow about everything. There's about a 1-second delay between tapping a button and seeing the desired response, so that trip to the homescreen and back takes about 3 to 5 seconds. Faster response and physical shortcut buttons on the dashboard would be massive improvements.

The HondaLink system does feature an HDMI input and MirrorLink compatibility, so if you have a smartphone that supports that functionality, you can use its navigation on the touchscreen instead. There are also two USB ports for connecting digital media sources and charging mobile devices.

While I'm nitpicking the button situation, I'm not a fan of Honda's move to capacitive buttons with the new HondaLink navigation system. The most heinous offender is the volume slider, which is supposed to be tapped and swiped to make changes, but proved difficult to adjust accurately.

The upper i-MID display is not touch-sensitive but is controlled via buttons on the steering wheel. This secondary screen is very responsive to inputs, which makes the main screen seem so much slower by comparison. However, aside from displaying audio source info or instant fuel economy, the i-MID doesn't have much to actually do and is largely redundant to the larger 7-inch screen.

The LaneWatch camera hangs from the bottom edge of the passenger-side mirror. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

The CR-V features a standard rear camera and can be had with the automaker's LaneWatch camera. LaneWatch positions a small camera on the underside of the passenger-side mirror that activates a view into the driver's blind spot when the turn signal is activated changing lanes. Honda's LaneWatch camera sort of fills in for the lack of a blind-spot monitoring system and also comes in handy when parallel parking. Drivers can also press a button on one of the steering-column stalks to manually activate LaneWatch.

At the top-tier Touring trim level, LaneWatch is joined by the Honda Sensing suite of driver-aid technologies. This endows the CR-V with a lane-keeping-assistance system that will alert the driver when the car is drifting out of its lane and can automatically steer the vehicle back in line. The CR-V also gains a forward precollision alert system and adaptive cruise control that works at speeds above about 20 mph.

The CR-V improves for 2015, but it faces some very stiff competition from Ford, Nissan and Mazda. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

The base LX model with front-wheel drive starts at $23,445. Fully loaded, our 2015 Honda CR-V AWD Touring retails at a $32,895 MSRP before taxes and destination charges. With destination charges, it rolls off of the lot at $33,775.

At that price, the CR-V goes head to head with the Mazda CX-5 and the new Ford Escape (which will be upgraded with Ford Sync 3 later this year), stiff competition on both fronts.

In the UK and Australia, the CR-V features a very different range of powertrain options, including a manual transmission, a smaller 2.0-liter gasoline engine and even a diesel options, so apples-to-apples comparisons are very tricky. Suffice it to say that the UK's version of the CR-V starts at £22,345 and Aussies can expect to start at AU$27,990.

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