Never mind the Delorean. Time-tripping fans might remember the 1985 to ’87 Honda Civic Wagon with “Real Time” four-wheel-drive, a car so advanced that it defied categorization – until someone came up with the crossover handle a decade later and it was reincarnated, albeit in slightly different form, as the CR-V.
Virtual shrines have been built online for the Civic Wagon 4WD, which sported push-button four-wheel drive and a six-speed manual transmission with an ultra- low gear. It adopted “Real Time 4WD” in 1987, employing a viscous coupler connecting two propeller shafts between the front and rear axles to automatically summon four-wheel traction in slippery conditions.
Enter the CR-V
Ten years later, the all-new Honda CR-V for 1997 inherited the Civic Wagon’s magical hardware. It was the automaker’s first attempt at making a spacious sport-utility for a burgeoning market. While it followed Toyota’s RAV4 to market, it would become America’s bestselling SUV in 2007 and the number-two seller in Canada behind the Ford Escape.
The CR-V sold well around the world, too, and at one time there were nine factories cranking out CR-Vs in such far-flung places as Swindon in England; Laguna in the Philippines and, eventually, Alliston in Ontario. Talk about your world car.
Third generation – 2007-11
The third-generation Honda CR-V was thoroughly redesigned for 2007 to provide a visual departure from its predecessors. It was made 8 cm shorter overall simply by tucking the outboard spare tire under the floor, which helpfully lowered the centre of gravity. And while the stubby wheelbase was largely unaltered, track width grew for added stability.
Interior dimensions didn’t change much, which is to say the well-finished cabin remained as airy and inviting as ever with its tall seating and great sightlines. It continued to offer seating for five with no third-row jump seats (unlike the rival RAV4).
The floor was flat, which provided welcome foot room for backseat occupants. Some pilots disliked the cute-ute’s firm seating, though. “Seats are horribly uncomfortable; too hard and cramped feeling,” one driver griped online, perhaps unaccustomed to shaped and bolstered chairs.
With the spare tire below deck, the CR-V sported a proper top-hinged hatchback, which permitted easy access to the generous cargo hold. Some longtime CR-V fans lamented the loss of the opening rear glass, however. Geez, it’s always something.
Power was supplied by Honda’s venerable K-series 2.4-L DOHC four cylinder found in the Accord and Element, good for 166 hp (10 more than before) and 161 lb-ft of torque. The lone transmission offered was a five-speed automatic; the manual gearbox was put out to pasture with the previous generation.
The base LX model offered front-wheel drive for the first time, but the rest featured standard all-wheel drive. The AWD system employed twin hydraulic pumps to engage the rear axle through a wet clutch pack, made to engage faster using new ball cams. Endemic to the crossover segment, there was no low-range gearing to help with off-road trekking.
New luxury options appeared in subsequent years, and the CR-V underwent a wholesale freshening for 2010 with some styling tweaks, revised interior furnishings and added horsepower (to 180 hp). The third generation bowed out after the 2011 model year.
On the road
If you were to drive them blindfolded (seriously not recommended), Hondas almost always give themselves away with their agile and telepathic responses through the steering wheel and suspension – and the CR-V is no different.
Rewarding to drive, it offered the nimbleness of a Civic and the sturdiness of a full-bodied Pilot sport-ute. The ride quality was firm but rarely jarring, though those accustomed to gliding in a Crown Victoria might beg to differ. But for all its well-sorted talents, many drivers found the CR-V noisy at speed.
“If there is one thing I really dislike, it’s that there is more road noise than I would expect in a modern vehicle,” one owner wrote of his ‘11 model.
Some drivers were disappointed with the four banger, which, while smooth, felt underpowered at times (0-97 km/h in 9.1 seconds, unladen). Fuel efficiency can suffer as a result, typically returning 10 litres/100 km in real-world mixed driving.
With its sensible size, cheerful interior and capable all-weather drivetrain, the third-gen CR-V checks all the boxes on many buyers’ lists. It’s no backwoods trail runner and, for once, the styling doesn’t pretend to make it so.
Reliability has been exemplary in a segment with plenty of strong performers, although there are a few caveats to be mindful of when buying used. The single biggest mechanical issue with the CR-V, according to owners, has been malfunctioning door locks that seemingly act possessed.
“The door gets unlocked itself and keeps toggling between lock and unlock during the operation of the vehicle,” posted one frustrated owner. Others report the locks will release while parked overnight, an invitation to thieves. Honda has subsequently issued a recall on the lock mechanisms.
Another common gripe has to do with fast-wearing tires; factory-issue Bridgestones and Continentals have been replaced in as little as 35,000 km. Look for better wear-rated replacement rubber and pay attention to alignment problems, owners warn.
The AWD rear differential is a sensitive piece of machinery, demonstrated by the fact dealers are keen to perform frequent fluid changes. Indeed, some diffs become noisy or fail outright, so look for evidence that regular maintenance was done.
Other reported mechanical snafus included leaking power-steering racks, broken a/c compressors, faulty power window switches and faulty wiper motors.
Pros and cons
- Spacious and pleasant cabin
- Nimble handler
- No outboard spare in the way
- Four-cylinder weakling
- No manual transmission
- Substantial road noise
Things to watch out for:
- Fast-wearing tires
- Leaking steering racks
- Faulty door locks and power window switches
- Peeling paint.