2017 Honda CR-V gets turbo power, snazzier interior

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The Civic is Honda's most vital vehicle. Right behind it is the CR-V, the company's second-best selling model and standard-bearer in the competitive compact crossover segment. It's lauded for comfort and utility and has remained popular with customers even though it hasn't had major updates in five years.

Now comes the fifth generation, which Honda redesigned using all of its familiar tactics: More space, more technology, more safety features, slightly different styling, and some key pieces borrowed from the Civic. It's a playbook that works – about 4 million CR-Vs have been sold since 1997 and it's currently neck-and-neck with the Civic and Accord for the Honda sales crown. Put simply, "CR-V is extremely important to the Honda brand," said Alice Lee, Honda senior product planner.

Launching this winter, the 2017 model features a new turbocharged engine – the first for the CR-V – that's also used in the Civic. The 1.5-liter four-cylinder is expected to be rated at 190 horsepower and 179 pound-feet. The torque maxes out from 2,000 to 5,000 rpm, adding a spunkier feel to Honda's buttoned-down ute. The naturally aspirated 2.4-liter four-cylinder continues, making 184 hp and 180 lb-ft. Both are paired with a continuously variable transmission. Final fuel economy figures weren't released, but the 2016 2.4-liter achieved 26 miles per gallon in the city and 33 mpg on the highway in front-wheel-drive trim (25/31 with AWD). Next year's model is lighter, but 2017 also brings revised adjustments to stated fuel economy figures - so expect some increase in real-world mpg, even if the window sticker number is different.

The CR-V rides on a new platform derived from the Civic. It is 1.2 inches longer with a 1.6-inch gain between the wheels. It's also 1.4 inches taller and wider. Collectively, this means the cabin is roomier, and cargo volume with the rear seat up increases two cubic feet to 39.2 cu ft. But, the CR-V's interior goes way beyond numbers. The instrument panel is upgraded with two new screens, a seven-inch touchscreen in the middle and a colorful driver interface. The A-pillar is also thinner, which makes for better visibility. The navigation system, developed with Garmin, is also new. Perhaps hearing feedback from across the industry about confusing touchscreens, Honda proudly points to a volume knob in the center stack that eases use. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto work with the audio and have voice-activated features. Other available creature comforts include dual-zone climate controls, remote start, rear USB charging ports, and an electric parking break. Lee said Honda benchmarked the BMW X3 as it crafted a dressier interior.

Outside, the CR-V still looks like a CR-V. The fenders are slightly more flared, which add character, and the hood is a bit longer. The grille has new angles and elements, with more chrome mixed in. It also has Honda's first automatic shutter grille system, that lowers aerodynamic drag. LED daytime running lights are available across the board, and LED headlights are offered on the upper trims. Honda also added a hands-free power tailgate, a feature becoming popular in this segment, that is activated by a kicking motion.

Honda Sensing, the company's suite of safety features, is now standard on the EX trim and above, which is most of the CR-V's volume. It includes collision-mitigating braking, road-departure mitigation, adaptive cruise control, and lane-keeping assist. Honda also is offering blind-spot detection, a rear cross-traffic monitor, and automatic highbeam headlights.

All of this should give CR-V sales a boost, though they've held steady in the face of stiff competition from Ford, Toyota, Nissan, and others. Americans like compact cars, which were their gateway to Honda. But they love crossovers, and they've shown a track record for continuing to buy the CR-V. Mindful of this, Honda kept it simple for the fifth generation. It didn't take risks, but it probably didn't need to. Like Lee said: The CR-V is extremely important to Honda.

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