2008 Honda CR-V 4WD EX-L Navi Test Drive and Review

Just what the doctor ordered

The best-selling SUV in the USA. Photo © Basem Wasef

What do the star ratings mean?

What's the most popular SUV in America? If you guessed the 2008 Honda CR-V, you're right! Unseating the Ford Explorer's top-selling streak between 1991 and 2006, the CR-V has become a potent force to be reckoned with.

2008 Honda CR-Vs can be had for as little as $20,700, the top-of-the-line 4WD EX-L starts at $26,700, and jumps to $28,400 with Honda's satellite-linked navigation system.

The warranty includes 3 year/36,000 mile bumper to bumper limited coverage, and 5 year/60,000 mile powertrain coverage. EPA estimates are 20 city, 26 highway.

First Glance

Larger Exterior Photos: Front Rear

In 1996, the Honda CR-V ushered in the early days of the small SUV by offering an economical sport ute based on the Civic platform. It wasn't particularly luxurious, but the CR-V (and its competitor, the Toyota RAV4) prefigured the need for a vehicle with broad appeal that combines the drivability of a small car with the storage space of an SUV.

Times have changed since '96, and the third generation CR-V (unveiled as a 2007 model) has crept up in price, size, and amenities. With the same general proportions as the RAV4 (save a slightly shorter wheelbase and overall length), the CR-V grew into a lower and wider version of its former self, focusing a bit more on refined road manners than its native competitor.

Nonetheless, the 2008 CR-V is also capable of being transformed into an able-bodied cargo vehicle when the rear seats are folded down, opening up 73 cubic feet of storage space aft of the front seats. Exterior styling is a bit sleeker than its original incarnation, but it still retains its basic silhouette.

Unlike the RAV4, the CR-V doesn't have an optional V6. The CR-V's 2.4 liter four-cylinder pumps out 166 horsepower, the exact same figure as the base RAV4. Unlike the Toyota, a five-speed automatic comes standard.

A far cry from the CR-V's humble 1996 origins, our test car was lavishly outfitted with everything from a backup camera to satellite radio and heated leather seats. As we looked over the CR-V's long list of features, we couldn't help but think, "You've come a long way, baby."

In the Driver's Seat

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The Honda CR-V, especially when loaded to the gills as our test car was, offers up a pleasant, well put together interior that feels every inch a Hondaãand that's a good thing. Our test car's Tango Red Pearl exterior color gave it an upscale look, though its gray leather somewhat thwarted those efforts on the inside. Color choice aside, though, the cabin feels nicely finished and efficiently laid out. A dash-mounted shifter opens up the space between front seats, and everything from the stereo controls on the leather wrapped steering wheel to the climate control and navigation system controls are easy to use. Thankfully, the nav system enables destination inputs while the vehicle is in motion, which is a welcome feature for anybody who's ever been frustrated with systems that shut down when moving.

Storage solutions include a handy bi-level glove box system with a handy top shelf for smaller items.

The rear seats are elevated for a slight "stadium" effect, and fold forward on hinges for extra storage (which is aided with a removable tray.) Rear legroom is decent, though passengers might suffer when tall occupants scoot the front seats all the way back. In spite of some plastic panels near the door's grab handles, the CR-V's interior is a well-appointed place that makes long distance drives a pleasure. Though our CR-V runs just over $29,000, the upside of that expense are features ranging from seat heaters to a sunroof to XM satellite radio and navigation; this compact sport ute overachieves with its amenities.

On the Road

There's something intuitive about the way Hondas drive, and the CR-V isn't exempt from that certain je ne sais quoi; the CR-V feels like more of a driver's car than you would expect for a tallish, small SUV.

The first thing you'll notice from the driver's seat is the steering response, which offers plenty of feel during cornering. It's a bit heavier than the RAV4, but enthusiasts appreciate its feedback, which offers a more precise feel for the road.

Acceleration isn't the CR-V's strong point, but the 166 horsepower, variable valve inline-4 engine is well managed by the 5-speed automatic transmission. While the engine sometimes strains during hard acceleration, gears are well-spaced and power kicks in when you need it. The CR-V's real time four-wheel drive system worked invisibly, and is designed to transfer power to the rear wheels only when slippage is detected in the front wheels. The system adds 116 lbs of weight, but is well worth the added poundage where inclement weather can get in the way of safe driving. However, if you live in sunny climates you'll be just fine with the 2 wheel-drive version.

While some amount of road noise is transmitted to the cabin on the highway, the CR-V's creature comforts make long-distance driving less of a chore. Ride quality is controlled but not jarring, and handling is about as solid as one could expect for a compact SUV.

It may not be as sporty as an Accord or other smaller, nimbler Honda products, but the CR-V holds its own with its communicative steering, flexible transmission, and overall responsiveness.

Journey's End

The compact SUV market is littered with relatively new offerings from Nissan and Hyundai, but this burgeoning field was built on two cars: the Toyota RAV4 and the Honda CR-V.

There may be ways to successfully jump into the game after the trail has been blazed, but there's also something to be said for the tried and true pioneers. Both Toyota and Honda have built crossovers that set the class standard, and for good reason: they're refined, reliable, and ubiquitous enough to be confidence-inspiring purchases.

The 2008 Honda CR-V, though pricey in its best-equipped form, leaves little to be desired when it comes to amenities and electronic doodads. Functional and luxurious, the CR-V effectively balances duties as a biggish passenger car and smallish SUV. Its fun-to-drive quotient makes it more of a driver's car, and in the crossover class that balance between sport and utility is just what the doctor ordered.

Disclosure: Review samples were provided by the manufacturer. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.