2019 Honda CR-V 2.4 LX AWD (USA)

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First seen in late 1995, at the Tokyo Auto Show, Honda’s CR-V was one of the first of the family-sized crossover vehicles which started to move vast number of buyers from choosing meeting their motoring needs with conventional saloon, hatch and estate cars into this genre of higher-riding and slightly more spacious vehicles. Back in 1996, when sales started in global markets, the Honda – whose name allegedly is an acronym for “Comfortable Runabout Vehicle” – had few direct rivals, the Toyota RAV4 being the most notable, perhaps. But it was not long before just about every volume car manufacturer came up with their own take on a mid-sized crossover. Customers loved them, and sales in every major market have steadily increased year on year. In such a competitive market segment, no-one can afford to stay still for long, so these models get refreshed on a pretty regular basis, using the latest engineering and componentry from their corporate parts bin, along with increases in equipment levels and available technology. The CR-V has been renewed every 5 or so years which means we are currently on the fifth generation of the car, and testament to the importance of the car in the massive US market, it was the Detroit Show in 2016 where it made its debut. Based on the latest Honda Civic platform, the fifth generation car was visually a very clear evolution of its predecessor, looking little different from some angles, but stare at it more closely and you will realise it is in fact completely different. It has sold strongly in Europe, but in America, it really rockets out of the showroom and is regularly Honda’s best-selling model, out-doing the still popular Accord and Civic. With the exception of Toyota’s RAV4, it also outsells all its rivals month after month.

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Sourcing Honda models to test has been very hard for some time now, with just the odd car showing up in the US rental fleets. Indeed over the last fifteen years, whilst I’ve managed to get hold of every generation of Civic and some but not all Accords, along with a few other models, I’ve never managed to get hold of a CR-V, having only ever seen a couple of them parked up, and when they were there, they were already allocated to someone else, evidence of the popularity of Honda models with a lot of people. However, with the rather different look to the US rental fleets in this post-lockdown and new car shortage era, I’ve seen quite a few cars on this trip that I’ve never come across in the Hertz fleet before, many of them having been sourced second-hand simply to get cars to bulk up the fleet to meet returning demand. Among them, I noticed, were a number of current model Honda CR-Vs, so I resolved to try to include one among the cars I was aiming to drive on this November 2021 trip. Eventually, my luck was in, and I found one parked up in the President’s Circle area at Los Angeles Airport, so was able to grab it on a day where the weather forecast suggested there was going to be something of an absence of blue sky. The test car was a 2019 model, and had evidently been bought by Hertz as one of those used cars, but it had only done 2,300 miles at the time of my test in November 2021. Even allowing for the fact that many cars did very few miles during lockdown, that still made me wonder just what the history of the car was, as I would guess it was stored up somewhere for a long time before being plated for the road. Be that as it may, I wanted to know just how good the CR-V, often cited as the class-leader, would turn out to be. Read on.

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The honest truth is that this CR-V is unremarkable in every way to drive. That could, of course, be its greatest strength or its greatest weakness. It does mean that there is nothing really with which you can find fault but equally it means that the car is somewhat unmemorable and in no way exciting in any regard. Entry level LX models get the long-lived 2.4 litre four cylinder unit that puts out 184 bhp and 180 lb/ft of torque. All the other trims get a slightly more powerful and more recent 190 bhp 1.5 litre turbo unit which puts out 1lb/ft less of torque. That older engine is generally smooth and refined and the 184 bhp is bang on class average. Coupled with the standard CVT continuously variable automatic transmission, there is sufficient performance, with acceleration available when needed that will allow you easily to keep with the flow of traffic or to cope with the steeper gradients. The gearbox has simulated ratios to make it feel more like a conventional automatic. It proved smoother than many CVTs do. Engine noise at freeway cruising speed is low, but that does mean that you do become aware of perhaps more wind noise than ideal. I drove the test CR-V for a total of 327 miles and needed to put 11.3 gallons in it to fill it up. That computes to 28.94 mpg US or 34.58 mpg Imperial, a decent reasonable but from outstanding, especially noting that a lot of that mileage was done at a steady speed. The variable ratio electric power steering is light and does not have much feel, like a number of cars in the class. The Honda goes round bends in the way you would probably expect with typical front wheel drive SUV like handling, even though this car had the optional AWD system. There is a tendency to understeer if you get enthusiastic with the curves and modest body roll but only at speed. This version of the CR-V came on 235/65 R17 tyres and that meant that, combined with relatively soft suspension, the ride was generally comfortable. There were no concerns with the brakes which did their job as asked. All-round visibility is also very much on a par with every other car of this type. The standard rear-view camera was certainly helpful when parking up.

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Whilst well built, the overall dash design is something of an apparently ill-chosen mess of shapes, textures and materials. There are gunmetal inlays and there is a slightly odd stippled look finish to some of the surfaces. LX trim means a plastic-moulded steering wheel. There is a simple instrument cluster, dominated by a central half moon-shaped rev counter with a digital speedometer in its centre. There are rather oddly angled hockey-stick shaped fuel and water temperature gauges at either side of the cluster. The rest of the layout is pretty conventional. Twin column stalks are used for the indicators and wipers and also the lights which are operated from the left hand stalk. There are buttons for cruise control and audio repeaters on the steering wheel boss. The centre of the dash contains a very small and rather basic display screen for audio unit functions, which relies on buttons to either side and beneath it for operation. LX trim means this is not touch sensitive, and the audio is limited to AM and FM, though you do get Bluetooth as well. There are just four speakers, but sound quality was still reasonable. Beneath this unit are the controls for the automated climate control system.

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Seats are upholstered in the sort of cloth which is typical for lower spec versions of cars of this class. Adjustment is all manual, including the ability to raise and lower the height. There is quite a range of movement in each direction available, and combining this with a telescoping steering wheel, most people should be able to get comfortable. The seat position is slightly higher than in a regular saloon, but you are not really that aware of this, and nor do you feel it when getting in and out. Only perhaps the extra headroom gives the game away that this is an SUV.

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Those in the rear seats will enjoy a particular feeling of space. Even with the front seats set well back, there is a lot of legroom, there is an almost completely flat floor so no central tunnel to intrude and the SUV styling means that headroom is equally generous. There is a deep central armrest and there are some useful door bins but in this trim level, no map pockets on the seat backs. There is a very spacious boot, larger than almost all of its rivals, the capacity of which should prove more than sufficient for most families, with just the fact that there is a bit of a raised lip on the floor by the seat backrests. The load height is low. If you do need more space, then the seat backrests simply drop down by pulling levers at the back of the car and the result is a flat and long load space. There is a space saver wheel under the boot floor, in a tight fitting well which means there is no room around it even for the smallest bits and pieces. You do not get a load cover in this LX trim. Inside the passenger compartment, there is a decently sized glovebox, door pockets, a deep armrest cubby as well advantage is taken of the dash-mounted gear selector with an oddments tray as well as a recess and cup holders in the centre console.

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The US market 2019 Honda CR-V comes in four trim levels: LX, EX, EX-L, and Touring. To get the stronger engine, you will need to look at the EX trim or higher. Additionally, the base LX trim lacks many of the tech and safety features you get in the higher trims, such as a touch screen, smartphone connectivity, and forward collision warning so all you really do get are a 5-inch display, Bluetooth, a USB port, a four-speaker stereo, and a rearview camera. The EX trim gains a 7-inch touch screen, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, additional USB ports, a six-speaker stereo, satellite radio, dual-zone automatic climate control, proximity keyless entry, heated front seats, a 12-way power-adjustable driver’s seat, and a moonroof. Standard driver assistance features include a driver attention monitor, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, adaptive cruise control, road departure mitigation, a collision mitigation braking system, and automatic high-beam headlights. EX-L models gain an eight-speaker sound system, leather-trimmed seats, a four-way power-adjustable front passenger seat, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, and a power liftgate. The top-of-the-line Touring trim builds upon the EX-L with a satellite-linked navigation system, a nine-speaker premium stereo, HD Radio, a hands-free liftgate, and rain-sensing windshield wipers.

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The US press have for years declared that the CR-V is the best car in a class that has many alternatives, and the UK press has generally come to the same conclusion. Accordingly, my expectations were perhaps unreasonably high. Ignoring the very meagre equipment levels of the LX – which can be addressed by going for the not that much more costly EX trim – there is indeed very little that you could mark down as “poor” but equally there was nothing really that set the CR-V apart from cars such as the Mazda CX-5 and Ford Escape which are genuinely good to drive, or the all-round excellence of the Toyota RAV4, Hyundai Tucson and Kia Sportage, among many other alternatives. I have to say that the CR-V is a very good car, but it is not really a great one. Of course, for the people who buy cars of this type, that’s exactly what they are typically looking for, so there’s no good reason not to give the Honda serious consideration but in my opinion it is far from the shoe-in that the press might have us believe.

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