SNOQUALMIE PASS, Wash. -- The steep slope on a rough trace cut across Washington's Cascade Range presents a challenge to traction even for a vehicle that applies the engine's torque to all wheels, although our runs on the Snoqualmie Pass trails in the refreshed 2015 CR-V crossover utility vehicle from Honda demonstrate that this compact-class wagon packs enough guts and gear to conquer an off-pavement course.
Our 4-wheeling forest venture becomes an easy trek because we're steering a smooth-riding and comfortable runabout vehicle.
Actually, that's the name -- Comfortable Runabout Vehicle. For simplicity, Honda's product marketeers abbreviate it to the initials of CR-V.
This agile 5-door CUV which rides on a car's chassis scores a mini-make-over for 2015 with a strengthened and stiffened body structure, sharper and bolder body styling, improved textures and more sophisticated equipment added to the 5-seat passenger compartment, plus Honda's powerful yet fuel-efficient Earth Dreams direct-injected 4-cylinder engine installed below the hood and linked to a new continuously variable transmission.
The CR-V for 2015 stretches for 179.4 inches in overall length with a wheelbase length of 103.1 inches. The 5-seat passenger compartment encompasses 104.1 cubic feet of space with rear seat legroom increasing to 41.3 inches and rear cargo space rising to a generous 35.2/70.9 cubic feet total with rear seatbacks up/down.
Foundation for the CR-V is a unit-body platform which shows the extensive use of high-tensile steel and more than 60 modifications to improve stiffness and collision performance. The platform merges chassis and superstructure to forge a single framework that's extremely strong and rigid. It has a low center of gravity and a wide-track tread to enhance vehicle stability when set to motion.
The CUV appears sleeker and stronger with re-styled front and rear bodywork, a new front grille with swoopy chrome bars added plus optional LED running lights.
Fender blisters bulge around front wheels to forge a forceful stance, as the roofline arches over the cabin and strips of flank windows get black-capped pillars. At the rear long red lamps define edges of a top-hinged tailgate, which curves down and fits snugly against the bottom bumper.
Dramatic styling continues in a spacious cabin filled with creative designs, extensive safety equipment and downright fancy features. The layout consists of bucket seats and center console in front of a bench seat for three and the bay in back for cargo.
Working in favor of a dynamic vehicle is CR-V's independent suspension -- tuned MacPherson struts up front and a multi-link design in back -- with 16-inch steel wheels on base trim or 17-inch alloys for other editions and 18-inch options.
There's a computer-managed vehicle stability control system aboard labeled Vehicle Stability Assist, along with a 4-wheel anti-lock braking system coupled to electronic brake distribution and electronic brake assist units.
The front-wheel-drive powertrain for CR-V consists of Honda's new Earth Dreams 4-cylinder engine linked to a CVT. The dual-overhead-cam 2.4-liter in-line-4 is composed of aluminum with a drive-by-wire throttle, direct injection and Honda's i-VTEC valvetrain. The plant develops 185 hp at 6400 rpm and torque of 181 lb-ft at 3900 rpm. It also earns good fuel-burn scores with EPA mileage estimates rising to 27/34 mpg (city/highway).
The CVT operate in three different automatic modes through a console-mounted straight-gate shifter. Use the D mode for most driving situations; the S mode enables performance-oriented driving, while the L mode works at lower speeds with added engine braking.
Honda builds the CR-V in five grades -- LX, EX, EX-L, EX-L Nav and Touring. Each issue offers FWD or AWD traction.
Honda's electronically controlled AWD system distributes the engine's torque to rear wheels as well as front ones to improve traction in low-grip driving conditions such as snow, rain, gravel and dirt.
CR-V's new top-end Touring trim stocks Honda's driver-assistive technologies: Collision Mitigation Braking System and Lane Keeping Assist System, plus Adaptive Cruise Control, Forward Collision Warning and Honda LaneWatch.
Honda's MSRP chart for 2015 CR-V models begins at $23,445 for the LX-FWD.