2017 Honda CR-V: More Of Everything, Including A Volume Knob!
A lifetime in the car business, first engineering, now communicating
The typical sales pattern for most vehicles is to peak somewhere around year two or three of their lifecycle before plateauing and declining in the final years before a redesign. But these aren’t typical times. American car buyers seem to be in a headlong rush to abandon their cars in favor of compact and midsize utility vehicles. For the most part, that trend is impacting Honda as much as any other automaker so the debut of a completely redesigned 2017 CR-V is probably the brand’s most important launch of the year.
Through the first nine months of 2016, the CR-V, Civic and Accord accounted for nearly three-quarters of Honda sales and the CR-V is on track for a fourth straight year of more than 300,000 sales. As the current sales leader in one of the hottest segments of the U.S. market, the fifth generation CR-V is getting more of everything that customers seem to want including power, interior space, fuel efficiency and technology features.
However, at the reveal of the new CR-V in Detroit’s Eastern Market this week, it was the announcement of one particular feature that actually drew applause from the gathered media. It should be noted that as a general rule, auto writers don’t applaud at press conferences. They made an exception when American Honda vice president of communications announced that the CR-V would feature a new generation display audio system with – wait for it! – a volume knob!
This is important because user experience (UX) is being an ever more important part of the car ownership and probably the single biggest UX complaint about recent Hondas has been the audio system, or more specifically the touch volume control. Ever since the introduction of the new Fit in 2014, the touchscreen audio system has had capacitive touch controls along the left edge to turn the volume up and down. While the rest of the interface has generally been fine, tapping on the screen to turn the sound up or down has always been a bit finicky. Conrad acknowledged that Honda heard the voice of the customer and developed a new generation of this audio system with a classic rotary knob to turn up the tunes with a quick flick. Sometimes, old tech is just better.
Of course the new CR-V gets plenty of new tech as well including support for Android Auto and Apple Carplay just like other recently launched Hondas and USB ports front and rear for charging devices on the road. When the CR-V last got a mid-cycle refresh two years ago, the Honda Sensing driver assist package was added to the upper trim levels with features like adaptive cruise control, collision mitigation braking and lane keeping. Just as Honda did last year with the launch of the new Civic, the driver assist package is now available on all trim levels including the base LX.
One of the upgrades to the driver assists for 2017 is the replacement of the lane watch system with a full blindspot information system. Lane watch used a camera on the underside of the passenger-side mirror to project a view of the area alongside the car onto the central display screen. While this system was nice, it didn’t really provide much more than was available from a properly set mirror. Blindspot information uses radar sensors in the rear corners to detect vehicles in those zones that might not be visible otherwise and provides alerts before changing lanes. A major bonus of this radar-based system is the addition of cross-traffic monitoring which is extremely handing when backing out of parking spaces at the mall.
Speaking of visibility, the new design of the CR-V includes slimmer A-pillars for a better view to the front corners. Honda has always done better than most automakers at keeping its pillars as slim as possible so this is welcome on the CR-V. Elsewhere on the exterior, the new iteration has a more sculpted shape that gives a muscularity that was missing on the last couple of generations. The side glass has a shape that immediately calls to mind the Nissan Rogue. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, and frankly most crossovers seem to be moving in this direction lately.
As with most vehicles, the CR-V has grown larger with succeeding generations although not to a huge degree in this case. At 180.6-inches overall, it’s only 1.2-inches longer than before. More importantly, the 104.7-inch wheelbase adds 1.6-inches that mostly goes to rear seat room making this a more pleasant environment for the kids and one that will hopefully avoid a few kicks in the driver’s backside. Despite the added dimensions, the base curb weight of the LX actually drops about 50-pounds to 3,307-pounds while the top-end all-wheel-drive touring model loses 112-pounds to 3,512-pounds.
With that weight loss and the new powertrains, the CR-V should see a notable improvement in performance. The 2.4-liter direct-injected four-cylinder essentially carries over from last year with 184-horsepower and 180 lb.-ft. of torque for the base LX trim. The EX, EX-L and Touring get a higher output version of the 1.5-liter turbo four that debuted last year in the Civic. In the CR-V, the 1.5-liter will generate 190-hp and 179 lb.-ft. of torque. The big benefit of the turbocharged engine is that the peak torque is available everywhere between 2,000 and 5,000 rpm which should make for great driveability. As with most current Hondas, a CVT will be de rigueur on all 2017 CR-Vs.
Unlike some automakers based in Detroit, that wait a year or more after an introduction to actually bring new models to market, Honda likes put its vehicles into showrooms soon after a reveal (Acura NSX excepted). Thus while we don’t have an exact on-sale date yet for the CR-V, it will definitely be in showrooms before the end of the year and probably before Thanksgiving. Pricing and EPA fuel economy ratings will be available closer to the on-sale date.
Considering how hot the compact utility segment is, Honda wants to be able build enough CR-Vs to meet whatever market demand there is. Thus, in addition to the East Liberty, Ohio and Alliston, Ontario plants that already build CR-Vs, the Greensburg, Indiana plant will add CR-V production capacity alongside the Civic.
The author is a senior analyst on the Transportation Efficiencies team at Navigant Research