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Honda simply does it better. No other mass-market automaker builds as many all-around excellent vehicles. With unnerving consistency, this company's products are typically nicer to drive, more fuel-efficient, spacious inside and of higher quality than models fielded by rivals. The CR-V crossover embodies that ethos of excellence. A sales leader in America for more than 20 years, this perennially popular nameplate competes in the heart of the crossover market, battling opponents like the Nissan Rogue, Kia Sportage and Volkswagen Tiguan.
To keep the CR-V fresh and help it fend off competitors that have been redesigned more recently, models like the Toyota RAV4 and Ford Escape, Honda has made a number of enhancements for 2020. Plenty of new technology and features have been added, but the price of a base LX model only creeps up by $600.
Headline news for the latest model year is the inclusion of Honda Sensing, which is now standard across the CR-V's model range. This is the automaker's handy suite of advanced driver-assistance technology. Among other things, it includes lane-keeping assist, forward collision warning, road departure mitigation and adaptive cruise control.
Another important change was made under the CR-V's hood, where the base, 2.4-liter I4 engine has been dropped. A turbocharged, 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine is now standard equipment in every model, delivering 190 horsepower and 179 pound-feet of torque. Maximizing that output is an unremarkable continuously variable transmission. Providing drivers with plenty of choice, front- and all-wheel drive is offered on every model, from LX, EX and EX-L to the range-topping Touring trim.
For 2020, a few less significant alterations were also made. The CR-V is fitted with new headlights, the front and rear bumpers have been reworked, fresh wheel designs are offered and three new exterior paint colors join the palette, including Aegean Blue. This bright metallic hue is what my test vehicle is slathered in and man, does it look neat. Even on a depressingly overcast winter day in Detroit, this paint pops.
Thanks to clever engineering, Honda vehicles often provide more cargo space than rival models, and the CR-V is no exception. Behind its second-row seat, there's more than 39 cubic feet of room. This cargo space is broader and deeper than you might expect, thanks to its low floor. Fold the backrests down and that figure grows to nearly 76 cubic feet. That's more in both measures than you get in an Escape, Tiguan or RAV4 -- not leaps and bounds more, but more all the same.
For added convenience, the 60/40-split rear seat can either be dropped by pulling handles on one of the backrests or via a pair of levers in the cargo area. This is a thoughtful touch that makes living with this vehicle just a little easier, and it's another example of how Honda does it better.
Not only does the CR-V excel at transporting cargo, it's adept at moving people, too. The seats in my Touring-trim tester are covered in leather that's better quality than you might expect in this vehicle segment, though it is blacker than the Mariana Trench at midnight, which makes the cabin look a tad on the severe side. Unfortunately, this is the only hue offered with that "Aegean blue" paint, but a light-gray interior theme is available with other exterior colors.
I'm usually not a major fan of Honda seats, but this vehicle's front buckets are more comfortable than I expected. The back bench has ample space for all but the lankiest of passengers, even if the bottom cushion is just a whisker too low.
Outpacing many competitors, the CR-V's interior is made of smartly grained plastics and the build quality is unsurpassed. Everything fits together as it should, and nothing is loose or otherwise frail-feeling, aside from the mechanical shifter sprouting from the dashboard. It's quite sloppy in its gate and unsatisfying to use.
Plenty of soft plastics are employed on common touch areas like the middle armrest and the upper sections of the front door panels. Portions of this attractively textured material have fake stitching molded in. I can't decide if this is flagrantly cheap or a welcome complement to the contrast-color stitching used elsewhere.
One thing I'm not so divided on is the simulated wood trim. As injection-molded timber goes, it's pretty convincing, resembling lumber harvested from an olive tree. Thanks to its creamy-tan background and contracting streaks, it helps brighten up the otherwise inky-black cabin.
Improving the CR-V's versatility, its center console was also redesigned for 2020. With a sliding and flipping divider, it can carry a wider array of items than before. Another useful touch is the array of roof-mounted grab handles this vehicle is fitted with. There's one for each outboard seat.
This Honda's interior is easy to like, but one thing could be improved and it's right in front of the driver. The CR-V's instrument cluster looks weird, an odd combination of analog gauges and a digital display. Yes, it shows plenty of information and, no, it's not hard to read, but the layout and colors used are just unattractive.
Making Honda Sensing standard equipment for 2020 is a huge benefit to consumers. Aside from this assemblage of driver aids, the CR-V offers plenty of other technology.
All CR-Vs but the most basic model come with a 7-inch touchscreen front and center on the dashboard. This display is a little smaller than I'd like to see, but it's easy to reach, being mounted up high, plus there's a volume knob, which was not always the case with Hondas in recent model years. Unfortunately, a tuning dial is nowhere to be found, if you still use that sort of thing.
That display is home to an egregiously outdated infotainment system. On the plus side, its performance is satisfactory, but the user interface is a mess and there's enough gloss and color gradient on its various menus to make it feel like you just time-traveled back to 2005. Fortunately, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are both supported, plus Touring models come with an embedded navigation system.
My top-shelf tester is also dressed up with things like remote engine start, rain-sensing wipers, dual-zone climate control, an electronic parking brake and heated front seats. Ensuring everyone's mobile devices are fully juiced, it even comes with four USB type-A ports and a wireless charging pad. Keyless entry with push-button start is included as well.
Even with direct fuel injection and a turbocharger pumping extra air into its quartet of cylinders, the CR-V's small-displacement engine only delivers 190 hp. On paper, that's a rather unimpressive figure, but in practice there's nothing to worry about. This crossover's performance is more than adequate, with plenty of squirt for tackling freeway on-ramps, overtaking slower-moving traffic or just plain outrunning the guy one lane over. The CR-V handles well, it has a light, almost tossable feel to it and the meaty steering wheel makes it easy to drive.
This vehicle's continuously variable transmission makes the most of that stable of ponies, but I can't help but feel its performance could be even better. During light acceleration, that stepless gearbox seems to prevent the engine from revving as freely as it should, wanting to hold it around 2,000 rpm. It's easy to dig a little deeper and push past this wall, but in normal driving the transmission isn't a particularly willing partner. Perhaps it's trying to limit interior noise. Even under moderate loads, that 1.5-liter engine is about as pleasant-sounding as a perturbed infant two rows behind you on transcontinental flight. I don't remember it ever sounding so unpleasant in the Accord or Civic.
At least this powerplant is fuel-efficient. With all-wheel drive onboard, my CR-V tester is rated at 27 miles per gallon city and 32 highway. These figures result in a combined score of 29 mpg. You guessed it, Honda is better than most at doing more with less.
It's nothing new, but one thing I love is the automatic brake-hold feature this Honda offers. It's standard on every model. Plenty of other luxury and even mainstream vehicles have this, but I always welcome it. Basically, it makes waiting in traffic a little easier because the vehicle can hold itself stationary without you putting any pressure on the brake pedal. When the light turns green or traffic ahead clears, just roll on the throttle and away you go. Best of all, if you don't like this handy driver aid, just leave it off.
There's plenty to like about the Honda CR-V, from its spacious, well-built interior to the impressive fuel economy it returns. Pricing is another laudable attribute of this crossover. Including $1,120 in destination charges, you can drive home in a base LX model for $26,170.
Naturally, my loaded Touring model costs much more than that, but it's still incredibly reasonable. Remember, we live in an age where you can easily option a pickup truck past the $75,000 mark. With more fixings than a Thanksgiving table, my tester checked out for just $35,845. In this case, pricing is just another thing Honda does better.