Honda CR-V Comfortable Runabout Vehicle shows new SE edition

2011, Honda, CR-V

MONT TREMBLANT, Quebec -- Hook a hard right through the wrap-around ramp leading into Autoroute 15, which points northward out of Montreal toward the fir-clad mountains in Canada's French-flavored province of Quebec, and a compact-class crossover utility vehicle (CUV) from Honda hugs the tight curve in an aggressive manner which denotes a playful driving disposition.

Now step on the go-pedal in a run-up though five gears of the electronic automatic transaxle and power builds as we scoot along the multi-lane freeway.

We're quickly bumping against the legal speed limit in a rush out of Montreal, with all signs in French directing us northward toward St. Jovite and the ski resort of Mont Tremblant. Time to settle into the padded bucket of a feature-loaded cockpit and assess all nuances of this latest rendition of Honda's best-selling CUV.

The motoring trek seems quite easy for one driver, however, because we're steering a smooth-riding and comfortable runabout vehicle.

Actually, that's the name of this CUV -- Comfortable Runabout Vehicle. For simplicity, Honda abbreviates it to the initials of CR-V.

The agile CUV rides on a car's chassis with an expanded structure, bold body styling outside and a five-place passenger compartment laced with an extensive list of safety equipment and downright fancy features.

Original concepts for the CR-V which drives and rides like a car and functions like a miniature minivan came from Honda's Mother Country of Japan, where a small vehicle navigating narrow and congested streets seemed far preferable to a big one, and perks for comfort were in keen demand.

The CR-V became such a sales sensation in Japan during its debut year that a decision was made to ship to North America for model-year 1997 a single-trim LX version outfitted with left-hand drive for the American market.

By 2002, Honda allowed the CR-V to grow up by casting evolutionary designs which elevated the wagon in size, style, comfort and performance. Then the re-do of 2007 went even further by pitching the CR-V as a substantial CUV for the compact class with a passenger compartment enhanced in terms of comfort, convenience and quietness, while restyling in 2010 produced a smoother exterior package and more controls and more stock conveniences in the cabin, plus increased power yet improved fuel economy ratings.

For model-year 2011 Honda adds a new trim level -- CR-V SE (Special Edition), which joins the price-leader LX, upscale EX and top-grade EX-L (the L signifies leather).

Foundation for the CR-V is a unit-body platform which shows the extensive use of high-tensile steel. The unit-body 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.

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 double-spoke 17-inch wheels (either steel or aluminum) capped by 225/65R17 all-season tires.

There's a computer-managed vehicle stability control system aboard labeled Vehicle Stability Assist (VSA), along with a four-wheel anti-lock braking system (ABS) coupled to electronic brake distribution (EBD) and electronic brake assist (BA) units.

And the steering is crisp and true, as derived from a rack and pinion design with speed-sensitive hydraulic power boost.

The front-wheel-drive (FWD) powertrain for CR-V consists of a four-cylinder engine linked to a five-speed electronically controlled automatic transmission.

The dual-overhead-cam (DOHC) 2.4-liter in-line-four is made from aluminum with a drive-by-wire throttle and Honda's special i-VTEC (variable value timing and lift electronic control) valvetrain to precisely manage engine breathing and combustion in order to maximize horsepower and disperse torque across a broad band.

The four-cylinder plant generates 180 hp at 6800 rpm and torque of 161 lb-ft at 4400 rpm.

It also earns respectable fuel-burn scores with EPA mileage estimates rising to 28 mpg.

Honda's automatic four-wheel-drive (4WD) system is also available on the CR-V for every trim to improve tire grip.

Note, though, that the absence of protective undercarriage plates and a lockable differential with low-gear range signify that CR-V's four-wheeling intent is directed at improving traction on rain-slick pavement or in winter weather rather than for off-road forays.

Take a walk-around tour of the CR-V and you'll discover a streamlined body posing in hunkered stance that makes it appear ready to roll.

There's a low hood line to enhance forward visibility for the driver, with the stubby prow featuring thick fascia which wraps upward to resemble skid plates. The upper grille features a single chrome blade housing Honda's H-logo also coated in chrome.

Oversized headlamp clusters crown the front corners and continue into flared fenders over the tires.

The roofline slinks rearward over a band of arched windows with 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.

In the cabin there's room for five riders with supportive bucket seats in front of a bench for three and a rear bay for cargo.

Unconventional designs make creative use of the space and add to comfort.

For instance, the two front buckets are separated by a flat floor and the transmission shifter extends directly from a protrusion at the center spot of the dashboard. That eliminates the need of a console so it vanishes (expect on the top trim), leaving the flat floor free to function as walk-through space.

Likewise, the rear seats -- split 60/40 on bottom and 40/20/40 on top -- perform tricks. Seatbacks recline or fold forward and the folded seats tumble forward, all to add flexibility in carving out space for people and cargo.

Honda creates a precise price list for 2011 CR-V models beginning at $21,695 for the CR-V LX FWD and $22,945 for CR-V LX AWD. The new trim CR-V SE FWD lists for $22,395, with the AWD version at $23,645. Top model CR-V EX-L Navigation FWD goes for $28,645 and the AWD EX-L Navigation hits $29,895.

By Bob Plunkett

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Images of the 2011, Honda CR-V

Lookin' sleek from the front
Lookin' sleek from the front
Unconventional designs make creative use of the space and add to comfort
Unconventional designs make creative use of the space and add to comfort
180 hp at 6800 rpm and torque of 161 lb-ft at 4400 rpm
180 hp at 6800 rpm and torque of 161 lb-ft at 4400 rpm
Classic CR-V rear section
Classic CR-V rear section