Despite all the changes in the automative industry over the past two decades, the two vehicles that started the current crossover craze are still among the most competitive.
Toyota kicked it off in 1994 with the RAV4, a compact sport utility vehicle based on the Corolla with available all-wheel-drive. Honda followed up three years later with the CR-V, which was based on the Civic and also offered AWD.
Both were initially dismissed by fans of larger truck-based SUVs as "cute utes" at the time. But urban and suburan buyers loved their lower prices, better fuel economy, and improved traction in wet conditions when ordered with AWD.
Fast forward 26 years and both are facing intense competition from compact crossovers by virtually every other car company. Affordable manufacturers are offering a wide range of crossovers that hew closely to their original designs. And luxury companies offer upscale versions, too.
But the RAV4 and CR-V are still the best sellers, thanks to continual upgrades and redesigns. Both now boast revised exterior styling, upgraded interior designs, and new powertrains, including hybrid options to save even more fuel.
But the Touring version of the 2020 CR-V AWD is also challenging more expensive luxury crossovers, as we discovered during a week of test driving. Ours was equipped with a turbocharged 1.5-liter four cylinder engine that became standard this year. Producing 190 horsepower, it was perfectly matched to one of the refined Continuously Variable Transmissions we have ever experienced.
Although not particularly fast off the line, the combination was very well balanced, and is EPA rated at an impressive 27 mpg in the city and 32 on the highway with AWD. And if you want better mileage, Honda is bringing out a first-ever hybrid version that is expected to get 50% better city mileage.
The ride was also remarkably smooth. Although AWD adds weight, our CR-V floated over potholes and broken pavement. And when we went on the deeply rutted "unimproved" roads in our neighborhood, the suspension felt more under control than some larger vehicles we've tested, perhaps because it was more nimble.
And the interior also had a premium feels, thanks to the leather seats, genuine wood trim, upgraded stereo, and sunroof. It also had the complete set of comfort, convenience and safety features, which made day-to-day driving as stress-free as possible.
All those upgrades aren't cheap, of course, which raises a question faced by every affordable manufacturer with a high end version of their vehicles. At some point, they are competing against themselves. The price bumps up against the base cost of their larger Pilot crossover. Or the base cost of similar vehicles by their Acura luxury brand. That's all fine and well for Honda, unless buyers start looking at other manufacturers in those price ranges.
Crossovers are taking over the automotive world because of their well-known advantages, including higher ride height for improved visibility, more interior space, and the availability of all-wheel-drive. The Honda CR-V helped kick start the trend and is still one of the best on the market.
2020 Honda CR-V
Base price: $25,050 (base LX)
Price as tested: $35,845
Type: Compact crossover SUV
Engine: Turbocharged 1.5-liter 4 (190 hp, 179 lbs-ft)
Transmission: Continuously Variable Transmission
EPA estimated mileage: 27/32
Overall length: 182 inches
Curb weight: 3,337 to 3,576 pounds
Final assembly: Greensburg, Indiana
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