Of all the questions I get asked about my line of work, one in particular stands out as more common than the rest.
Why do you usually test the most expensive versions of the vehicles you drive?
The short answer is, more often than not, that’s what automakers lend members of the media like me to evaluate. Chalk it up to brands putting their best foot forward; the top trim encapsulates everything a car, truck, or SUV has to offer, making it an ideal ambassador.
But it’s a fair question nonetheless. After all, the priciest trims aren’t the ones most people buy – especially when it comes to mainstream models. Which is why the 2020 Honda CR-V Sport is as refreshing as it is relevant. It’s also somewhat rare, and doesn’t sacrifice anything this compact crossover is good at in order to remain affordable.
As far as asking price is concerned, the CR-V Sport splits the difference between the bottom and top of the lineup almost to the dollar. Listed at $35,205 before fees and taxes, this mid-grade model is exactly $6,300 more than the base version and $6,100 less than the loaded Touring trim (there’s also a Black Edition pack for the top trim that’s an extra $1,500, though it’s little more than an appearance package).
It’s certainly not wanting for features – particularly for the price. It starts with what’s underneath: all-wheel drive. Inside, it gets the heated front seats that are standard in every CR-V, but adds 12-way power adjustability to the driver’s side and a heated steering wheel. The stereo gets two extra speakers for a total of six, and it runs through the same infotainment system as every other version that includes a seven-inch touchscreen and Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility.
Outside, the wheels get upgraded to 19-inch alloys finished in grey, and LED fog lights are cut into the front bumper. Around back, a power tailgate that’s height-programmable – a handy feature for those who park indoors – is along for the ride, while roof rails and a power sunroof round out the exterior additions.
None of it exactly encroaches on top-of-the-line, but then neither does the Touring trim that occupies that spot in the lineup. The CR-V isn’t an especially feature-filled product, lacking the usual upgrades that come with spending more money on a pricier model. Sure, it can be fitted with heated rear seats, but not ventilated ones in the front like the RAV4. Ditto what’s under the hood; the same motor motivates the entire lineup, unlike competitors – including the Santa Fe or Ford Escape – that include more powerful options in more expensive models. Instead, its strengths lie elsewhere.
Take the space inside, for example. Instead of simply offering tons of room – rest assured, it does that, too – the CR-V boasts one of the most usable cabins on the market. Rear-seat occupants have almost as much legroom as they would in a Ford Expedition (yes, you read that right), while the back doors swing open nearly 90 degrees to make loading little ones that much easier.
The back bench doesn’t slide fore and aft on rails like it does in the Escape but that’s because it doesn’t need to, with an enormous cargo area behind the hatch. Officially, the space is listed at 1,110 L with the rear seats upright and 2,146 L with them folded. Both measures are enough to make this the segment leader when it comes to cargo space, besting even the RAV4 (albeit barely).
User Friendliness: 9/10
While the default trunk floor – and, indeed, the one for which the optional cargo tray was designed – is low in order to maximize the space behind the seats, it doesn’t allow the 60/40-split folding seats to lie flat. It’s easy enough to raise the panel in the back for an even surface throughout, however, creating a massive cargo hold in the process. Better still, quick-release handles just inside the tailgate make stashing the back seats a breeze.
But best of all, the liftover height is wagon-like in how low it is to the ground, reducing unnecessary strain when loading heavy items into the back. While Honda doesn’t provide measurements, doing it the old-fashioned way (read: a tape measure) found the tallest point to be about 660 mm (26 in) from the ground. It’s but one more simple way to make life easier, and for that the CR-V is beyond reproach.
The front half of the cabin is equally as easy to assimilate, with a simple smattering of switchgear on the steering wheel and dash. While the central touchscreen is tilted somewhat awkwardly and requires a long stretch from the driver’s seat to reach the outer edge, it’s a straightforward system if slightly dated.
The resolution of the central display also isn’t the sharpest around, which poses problems for this particular trim’s blind-spot monitoring. Rather than the conventional sensor-based system found in the CR-V Touring, this model employs a simplified version that uses a camera in the passenger-door mirror to provide a live look at what’s happening on that side of the vehicle. While clever, it’s limited in its functionality, and the poor resolution results in something of a distorted image on the screen.
Otherwise, the rest of the automaker’s advanced safety equipment is here, with forward collision and lane-departure warning, automatic high-beam headlights, forward automatic emergency braking, lane-keep assist, and adaptive cruise control included. Most of it works without fuss, too, though Honda’s notoriously sensitive forward collision warning system sounds the alarm early and often.
When it comes to the basics, the CR-V has six airbags, child-seat anchors across all three seating positions in the back, and a government-mandated rearview camera with a trio of angles and digital guidelines to help when backing into parking spaces. Outward visibility, too, is excellent in all directions.
Credit the large windows that surround the upper half of the cabin for providing those outstanding views. Styling is perhaps the one aspect of the CR-V that could be described as controversial, though it has more to do with the front end than the overall shape. A mild refresh for 2020 tones it down just a tad thanks to a revised bumper design, but it’s still rather, um, interesting to look at.
It’s a far more diplomatic design inside, with very little to get offended – or excited – about. Lots of black plastics and upholsteries are contrasted by a few bits of silver on the dash and doors. While it lacks the perforated leather seating found in more expensive trims, settling for cloth and faux leather instead, at least the CR-V Sport isn’t filled with the plastic trim painted to look like wood that’s found higher up the trim ladder.
Another note about the seats: they aren’t particularly comfortable. The cushions themselves are quite thin, and the lack of contouring caused fatigue to set in after just a couple hours behind the wheel. Interestingly, the same complaints weren’t lodged against the leather-lined chairs in the CR-V Touring I compared with the RAV4, Escape, and Mazda CX-5 earlier this year.
The slope of the windshield is rather shallow, too, leading to some headroom limitations for taller occupants like yours truly. Other interior dimensions are acceptable, however, with ample shoulder room front and back, and tons of space in the second row. The back of the centre console also features air vents – a nice touch that’s not always included in more affordable models. (The HVAC system itself is of the dual-zone automatic variety, and works quickly to heat or cool the cabin.)
Driving Feel: 8/10
Where the seats might not be the segment’s best, the suspension certainly comes close. Despite being uninspiring to drive, the CR-V is cooperative in exactly the ways it should be. Rarely unsettled, it rolls over uneven roads with ease while remaining responsive. Body roll is noticeable, but only when driving in a manner that would bring such qualities to light; otherwise, it’s agreeable and easy to live with – again, one of this Honda’s finer qualities.
If ever there was a complaint about the CR-V it would stem from what drives it – and more specifically, the transmission that translates engine output into forward momentum. While the motor itself, a 1.5L turbocharged four-cylinder, is perfectly fine for this application, the continuously variable transmission (CVT) it’s paired to holds it back from realizing its full potential.
Output is rated at 190 hp and 179 lb-ft of torque, which is adequate when compared to entry-level engines in competitors like the Escape and Santa Fe, or the only ones offered by the RAV4 and Forester, but the CVT here often strains itself to get the basics done. It buzzes maniacally when accelerating to highway speeds, making the powertrain sound like it’s working much harder than the rate of travel would suggest. And since it lacks simulated gears used in similar transmissions – or the real ones in a conventional automatic – the droning under throttle input simply doesn’t end until the gas pedal is released.
Fuel Economy: 9/10
The powertrain might not be perfect, but at least it’s efficient. Like all but base models, the CR-V Sport benefits from an all-wheel-drive system to boost traction. It’s fully automatic, which means there’s no way for the driver to manipulate what it’s doing; it employs sensors that shift torque around to the wheels that need it. And while it always sends output to all four wheels under acceleration, it burns gas like a front-wheel-drive sedan.
Official Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) ratings peg the CR-V at 8.7 L/100 km in the city, 7.4 on the highway, and 8.1 combined. That’s enough to make this one of the most fuel-efficient non-hybrid SUVs of this size on the market. Achieving that kind of consumption isn’t hard either, with my week-long test that spanned 580 km coming in at 8.3 L/100 km with a tester shod in winter rubber.
The Honda CR-V has long been among the most popular small SUVs out there for good reason: it’s the ultimate automotive appliance. No, it’s not the stand mixer that sits on the counter to impress guests, but it’s the one that can be used for absolutely anything. It’s like one of those all-in-one units that’s somehow a pressure cooker, a deep fryer, and a slow cooker that can also be used to make ice cream; it’s just good at everything.
The CR-V Sport in particular makes a great case for why it’s not always necessary to spring for the top trim to get the best version of a vehicle. Not that there’s anything wrong with spending more to get the extra creature comforts of a more expensive model, but this one delivers everything the CR-V is good at – namely space, safety, and versatility – for a fair price. Where most crossovers like this are packaged in a way that delivers noticeable improvements as the asking price increases, the Honda CR-V really puts its best foot forward right from the middle of the pack.
|Engine Cylinders||Turbo I4|
|Peak Horsepower||190 hp @ 5,600 rpm|
|Peak Torque||179 lb-ft @ 2,000–5,000 rpm|
|Fuel Economy||8.7 / 7.4 / 8.1 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb|
|Cargo Space||1,110 / 2,146 L seats up/down|
|Model Tested||2020 Honda CR-V Sport|
|Price as Tested||$37,887|
$742 – Interior Protection Package, $442; Radiant Red Metallic Paint, $300