First Drive

FIRST DRIVE: 2015 Honda CR-V

Powertrain changes boost CR-V’s efficiency while improving usable power

2015 Honda CR-V

BLUE MOUNTAINS, ON – Honda conducted the most extensive mid-cycle makeover in its history in freshening its fourth-generation CR-V for 2015.

Overall, you won’t see many obvious changes to this compact crossover utility vehicle, but upgrades under the skin make it more fuel-efficient and responsive, with enhanced safety features and more content value without much change in the sticker price.

2015 Honda CR-V.JPGIn fact, the base LX starting price in Canada is the same as for the 2014 model – $25,990 for the two-wheel-drive iteration and $28,350 if you prefer all-wheel-drive.

At the other end of the price walk, the line-topping Touring edition costs $340 more for a 2015 model ($35,790), but it has been upgraded with about $3,000 of added content.

Changes include a sporty new continuously variable transmission (CVT), more functional centre console now with rear air vents, a smart entry system and pushbutton start, a navigation system with traffic alert, LED daytime running lights, a power liftgate, Honda’s Sensing suite of safety and driver assisting technologies and more.

Mild facelift

The CR-V’s exterior has been given a mild facelift, with a new grille and front fascia and new headlight treatments that range from multi-reflector halogen units to projector-beam lamps with LED strips 2015 Honda CR-V.JPGaccenting the new lamp assemblies.

The rear end gets a new chrome garnish that spans the liftgate, plus new taillights and a brushed chrome rear diffuser. The wheels have been upgraded, with wider 18-inch alloy rims replacing the previous standard 17-inch wheels. (The base LX still comes with 16-inch steel wheels.) The Touring and EX trim levels both get sporty new wheel designs.

Added features inside

Inside the CR-V, there are new materials and added features. The touchscreen audio display system first seen on the 2014 Civic and more recently on the new Fit, has been carried into the CR-V as well. 2015 Honda CR-V.JPGIt’s standard on all trim levels except the LX.

Interior trimmings have been changed, with a buffed silver accent spanning the instrument panel, while the EXL gets a wood-grain panel accented with chrome.

A new console design replaces the integrated unit found on the current model. This one has a sliding armrest and the console sits higher, making the position more comfortable for the driver. 2015 Honda CR-V.JPGThe added height of the console also creates a deeper storage bin, one that’s deep enough to store a typical tablet.

A smart keyfob entry system, along with pushbutton start, is standard on all but the base LX.

For the comfort of rear-seat occupants, the centre console now includes rear vents to improve circulation 2015 Honda CR-V.JPGin the cabin behind the front row.

All the seats are covered in a new, smooth fabric – Touring class gets leather trimmings that are now perforated for more comfort. The 60/40 rear seats easily fold flat once the seat cushion has been pulled up – an easy operation – and as an added touch of convenience, popping up the seat bottom automatically flips the rear headrests so the seatback drops flat without issue.

More usable power

The biggest change is found under the hood. The 2.4-litre Earth Dreams four-cylinder with i-VTEC is still rated at the same 185 horsepower, but that output now peaks 600 rpm earlier, making it more 2015 Honda CR-V.JPGusable.

Changes to this engine, which made its debut on the 2013 Accord, have resulted in an 11% increase in torque – 181 lb-ft versus 163 in the previous configuration – and that grunt kicks in sooner, as well. Peak torque is now reached at 3,900 rpm, compared to 4,300 in the current CR-V.

As a bonus, this engine is also lighter, thanks to such changes as a resin cylinder-head cover, a lightweight block, new crankshaft and a cylinder head that’s integrated with the injection base.

Increased efficiency

The powertrain upgrades have also improved fuel efficiency – it’s up 4% and tops in its segment. The two-wheel-drive 2015 CR-V is rated at 8.6 litres/100 km in city driving, 6.9 on the highway and 7.8 combined, using NR Canada’s new five-cycle rating system.

2015 Honda CR-V.JPGRatings for the all-wheel-drive model are 9.1 city, 7.2 highway and 8.3 combined.

This engine is mated to a sporty CVT that has been tweaked as well. Engineers have eliminated the "rubber band" feel typically associated with a CVT.

For example, they have programmed a downshift mode that replicates the kick-down passing gear so familiar with automatic transmissions. It produces a more natural feel for the driver. This lightweight, compact-designed CVT also contributes to improved fuel economy, exceeding the efficiency of a typical five-speed automatic.

On the road

In a brief test drive, this re-engineered powertrain produced impressive results. The engine was quiet but responded well when urged to deliver more power. It did everything it was asked to do – cruised efficiently, accelerated well from a standstill and had the extra pop needed for overtaking.

Improvements have also been made to the body structure, chassis and suspension for 2015. Honda says more than 60 enhancements have been made to the structure which now has 5.7% more torsional rigidity than the previous model. In fact, the strengthened structure, plus a suite of added safety technologies, is expected to result in an IIHS Top Safety Pick Plus rating.

The tweaks to the suspension include new damper and spring settings, a stiffer rear trailing arm and a new front lower control arm, as well as the icreased-for-2015 wheel size.

I found the ride comfortable and body roll minimal. Honda says it’s comparable to a sedan despite the higher centre of gravity – and I can’t argue that claim.

Honda’s efforts to keep the CR-V fresh in the very competitive compact CUV segment have resulted in a product that should continue to resonate with buyers. The fact they’ve been able to make these upgrades without little or no increase in price should make the CR-V a winner in the marketplace.

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