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Top 12 Things to Know Before You Buy a 2015 Honda CR-V

1. What’s new for 2015?

Cosmetic updates, better fuel economy, and the most luxurious CR-V model ever. This five-seater is the sales leader in America’s highly competitive compact-crossover-SUV category and the ’15 freshening also upgrades cabin materials. A new grille, swoopier bumpers, and angular headlights extending to the fenders add a scotch of sex appeal to this family hauler. The improved engine has more torque and now links to a continuously variable transmission. Newly standard on all but the base model is keyless entry and pushbutton start, while the new luxury Touring edition gets this crossover’s first power tailgate, driver’s memory seat, side mirrors with integrated turn signals, and 18-inch wheels.

2. How much does it cost and what sort of deal can I expect?

A bit more that top competitors to start, but about the same similarly equipped. High demand keeps factory discounts rare but volume-hungry dealers should be open to negotiation.

Instead of offering stand-alone options, Honda packages equipment to create trims. The ’15 lineup returns LX, EX, EX-L trim grades, and adds the Touring. Including Honda’s $880 destination fee, prices range from $24,352 for the base front-wheel-drive LX to $33,775 for the Touring with all-wheel-drive (AWD). In the middle of the range is the popular EX, at $27,675 with AWD.

Steep discounts are uncommon, though you might do best by targeting an EX. Pricing service TrueCar.com says average transaction prices on an AWD EX are trending some 3.6 percent below manufacturer’s suggested retail price. By contrast, Touring AWD models — its buyers perhaps a little less price conscious — are trending just 0.7 percent below suggested retail. As of Spring ’15, there were no factory incentives on the CR-V.

3. When will the next big change be?

Introduced for model-year 2012, this is the fourth-generation CR-V and the next all-new version is likely due during 2017 as a 2018 model. Honda says the ’15 update is the most extensive midcycle alteration ever for a CR-V. Look for some new color choices and perhaps a special-trim edition near the end of this generation’s lifecycle, but don’t anticipate any big changes before the redesign.

4. What options or trim level is best for me?

No ’15 CR-V is barebones; even the LX comes with cruise control, rearview camera with a choice of three different views on the dashboard screen, Bluetooth hands-free cellphone link, and a stereo with Pandora interface. EX models add a power moonroof, audio upgrade, variable-speed windshield wipers, rear privacy glass, and fog lights. This is the most popular trim level and gains as standard for ‘15 a 7-inch dashboard screen and Honda’s LaneWatch blind-spot video monitor, plus a power driver’s seat and heated front seats.

The EX-L adds such creature comforts as leather upholstery, dual-zone automatic climate control, heated side mirrors, roof rails, and seven-speaker, 328-watt sound system. It’s also the start of available navigation, which adds $1,500 to form the EX-L with navigation. This creates a fine little crossover with most everything you’ll need — except the latest safety features.

The automaker’s marketing sharpies deserve no friends-of-the-working-family award for reserving the safety adjuncts for the Touring, a $3,500 premium over the EX-L. Marketed under the Honda Sensing label, they include lane-departure alerts, adaptive cruise control, forward-collision mitigation that can automatically apply the brakes, and lane-wander corrective steering. Tourings also come with this crossover’s first power tailgate, driver’s memory seat, side mirrors with integrated turn signals, and 18-inch wheels.

5. What engine do you recommend?

You’re sole choice is again a 2.4-liter four-cylinder but it’s essentially a new engine, part of Honda’s “Earth Dreams” generation with direct fuel injection and other advanced technology. Horsepower remains 185 but torque climbs to a competitive 181 from a subpar 163. To replace a behind-the-times five-speed automatic transmission Honda borrows the continuously variable transmission (CVT) from the Civic and Accord. Rather than stepped gears, CVTs vary the gear ratio as needed throughout a wide range tailored to the power required.

It all adds up to acceleration that’s adequate but far from lively. You’ll need generation throttle application to move smartly. Unfortunately, that’s met with the characteristic common with CVTs: an intrusive engine drone until you reach the desired speed.

AWD adds $1,250 to each; it’s an appropriate investment if you’re in a winter-weather state or enjoy gentle off-road adventures.

6. How is the fuel economy?

At the top of the class. EPA ratings are 29 mpg city/highway combined with front-wheel drive ant 28 mpg combined with AWD. That’s an improvement over the 2014 CR-V’s ratings of 26 and 25 mpg, respectively. It also beats those of comparably powered rivals such as the Ford Escape and Toyota RAV4 (both at 26 mpg combined with front-drive and 25 with AWD), as well as the Nissan Rogue (28 mpg combined with both front- and all-wheel drive).

7. How does the it handle?

Like a Honda, which is to say, confident and responsive. Road manners aren’t quite as sharp as those of the class-leading Mazda CX-5 or the laudable Escape, but good handling is a CR-V selling point. The steering feels direct, high-speed stability is strong, and balance and grip in changes of direction is praiseworthy.

8. Are the controls easy to use?

Fairly. The swoopy dash panel has been revised, and the clean gauges are easy to read with climate controls that make sense. Navigation on the Touring model is instinctive, with a push-to-talk voice recognition button on the steering wheel. But we think Honda had gone a bit outré with steering wheel buttons, and audio controls are distracting—the buttons are small and pushing some directs the driver’s attention to an on-screen control, which is more distracting. The center console is redone for ‘15, and it is rather sleek and accommodating for keys, cups and phones. Honda has also added rear-facing air conditioning vents in the console for pampering the passengers back there.

9. Is it comfortable?

Honda pays close attention to the interior details, and while it doesn’t measure up to an Audi in terms of touchy-feely materials, it’s a nice place to spend some time. Entry and egress among the four doors is easy; the seats are fairly flat and don’t encourage spirited cornering, although the CR-V doesn’t lean precipitously when you might be attacking an apex. Six-footers can stretch out without binding in the front or back, with 38 inches of leg room in the rear and 41.3 inches in the front.

All 2015s have 35.2 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seats – 2-cubic-feet fewer than last year’s model. With rear seats folded, cargo capacity is a usable 70.9 cubic feet . It’s enough for a couple of beach chairs and a golf bag, but it’s no moving van.

On the highway, wind noise and a throaty engine gurgle intrude at speed although noise isolation has been improved for this year. The crossover is not stiffly sprung, but there‘s just enough shake over rough roads to disrupt the cockpit ambiance.

10. What about safety?

Depends on the test. For overall occupant protection, the ’15 CR-V earns four of the maximum five stars possible under the government’s 5-Star Safety Rating system. It gets four stars in frontal crash testing, but five in side crash projection.

It aces testing by the influential Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, earning the insurance-industry-sponsored body’s coveted Top Safety Pick+ designation. Maximum scores in front-, side-, and frontal-offset crash testing and in roof strength were complimented by the Touring model’s credit for having front-crash-mitigating automatic braking.

All CR-Vs have six airbags, electronic stability control. All but the LX also have LaneWatch, which adds a small camera to the bottom of the front-passenger-door mirror. Touching a button on the turn-signal lever or signaling a right turn projects an 80-degree view of traffic onto the dashboard screen.

11. How’s the reliability and resale value?

The ’15 is too new to accumulate much data but history shows dependability and residual value doesn’t get much better than a CR-V’s. Owners surveyed prompted consumer-research firm J.D. Power to rank the ’14 above average in initial quality and in predicted reliability. And its 2015 rankings had Honda a strong fifth out of 31 automotive brands for dependability

Not many vehicles return more of their original price come resale or trade-in time. Intellichoice, which projects depreciation, maintenance and other factors, made the CR-V is residual award-winner among compact utility vehicles, placing ahead of the RAV-4 and Subaru Forester. Value tracker ALG says this Japanese crossover will retain a strong 45 percent of its value after five years.

12. Is it better than the competition?

This is automotive comfort food for value-conscious young families (see the EX) and, increasingly, empty-nesters, a prime audience for the new Touring edition. Shop the CX-5 and Escape for a slightly more involving driving experience, a turbocharged Forester for more excitement, and a Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk for best-in-class off-road prowess. But never overlook or underestimate the broad, and well-deserved, appeal of a CR-V.

About Chuck Giametta

This nationally recognized, award-winning writer brings to Carpreview.com two decades of automotive testing and reporting for newspapers, books, magazines, and the Internet. The former Executive Auto Editor of Consumer Guide, Chuck has covered cars for HowStuffWorks.com, Collectible Automobile magazine, and the Publications International Ltd. automotive book series. This ex-newspaper reporter has also appeared as an automotive expert on network television and radio. He’s a charter member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, the president of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Media association, and a juror for the annual Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year awards. Chuck writes from Colorado Springs, Colo. If you have a question for Chuck, write to him at [email protected]