How the 2018 Honda CR-V has managed to stay a top rival in one of the most competitive segments

The first Honda CR-V (named so for its designation as a "Compact Recreational Vehicle") was produced way back in the late 90s--in the era of neon windbreakers and side-ponytails, just as legwarmers were going out of style. People were doing more with their days, we began to invite new technology into our homes--like, you know, the internet--and they needed a new kind of vehicle. Something that was a bit more versatile than the sedans they were used to, and a bit more attractive that the classic wagons or wood-paneled minivans that were the only typical options for families.

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Enter the crossover sport utility vehicle. And enter the Honda CR-V.

The Honda CR-V was in the first wave of real, affordable, compact SUVs that were fit for daily driving; where their larger SUV companions were massive, expensive, boat-like vehicles that were needed by only the biggest families (or the most audacious personalities), these crossovers were functional and fashionable vehicles that you could actually drive around town without feeling excessive. Built on the same Honda compact platform that other top models, like the Honda Civic, had adopted, the original Honda CR-V was a game-changer for drivers who needed a little more out of their vehicle--but not too much more.

Now, two decades later, Honda has sold millions of these vehicles--and it's not hard to see why the 2018 Honda CR-V is able to stay so competitive against what is now dozens of rivals across the industry.

It's a classic style with a modern finish

The style and design of the 2018 Honda CR-V is still somewhat inspired by the original--albeit lacking the signature spare wheel that was found on the back of the side-opening rear hatch as late as 2006--but has undoubtedly matured over the years. Some key design features that have remained include a strong, sloped A-pillar and an overall air of practicality and quiet aptitude. There may have been a lot of smoothing-over of roof angles, sharpening of lines, and splashing of chrome last year, but the 2018 model year holds tight to the same fashionable, functional cues that have made the Honda CR-V such a popular option for decades.

The base-level 2018 Honda CR-V LX--available with FWD as standard or with optional Real Time AWD with Intelligent Control--features a bold new look that separates itself from its older, first-generation box build, but that doesn't really take chances when compared with some other similarly-sized SUVs on the market. The design is still inarguably Honda, built on their compact car platform with a very sensible style. That doesn't change. But, with so many thousands of people buying them year over year, it's obvious that "classic Honda" is working for this compact crossover.

The 2018 Honda CR-V EX and EX-L (which not only offers an AWD variant, but an EX-L Navi w/ navigation package that also offers FWD and AWD) don't vary much in exterior style from the base model, and neither does the 2018 Honda CR-V Touring; although this top-of-the-line trim level does add some modern features, like full LED headlights, that helps it to cut a nicer figure on the road.

A smartly-equipped interior sets it apart

What is a sport utility vehicle without the "utility"? Nothing more than a hatchback out of its element. That's not a problem for this crossover SUV, though. Thanks to the recent redesign for the 2017 model-year, the new Honda CR-V offers more interior space, boosted to 39.2 cubic feet of space behind the rear seats, and 75.8 cubic feet of storage area with the rear seats folded down. This kind of versatility is perfect for the people of Murray and the greater area of Salt Lake City. For a while, the Honda CR-V was beaten out for total cargo space by its top rivals (looking at you, RAV4), but not anymore.

Our only complaint about the 2018 Honda CR-V is that it doesn't enjoy the Honda Magic Seats that you'll find in models like the new Honda Fit and the new Honda HR-V. Maybe they just aren't ready to incorporate their token magic into the compact platform, versus the subcompact, but adding fold-and-flip seats into the Honda CR-V could make this SUV an even more competitive option in the segment.

Keep in mind, this compact SUV isn't the "smart car" of the future that some of today's ultra-luxury vehicles are striving for, but its practical and comfortable interior has been significantly revamped for the fifth-generation model, and it's a good value for the price--which starts at an affordable number, but jumps up quickly for the mid-range models before plateauing for higher-level trims. If you want to get the most for your money, you may want to look at the EX or EX-L trim. The roomy interior houses supportive seats that won't break your lower back over long hours of driving, and the well-placed infotainment system (a 7" screen is available on EX and above) is middle-of-the-pack when it comes to ease of use and functionality. Where the Honda CR-V shines, though, is in its value: standard features include a rearview camera, Bluetooth (which is an industry standard these days), automatic climate control, and a 5" screen on the base model. Not bad for the price. If you want more than that, though, you'll have to shell out for goodies like leather seats, a power liftgate, support for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, navigation, and premium audio.

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Honda performance, now with turbo power

In the same vein as above, a sport utility vehicle is also nothing without its "sport". It must have it all to remain competitive. Fortunately, the Honda CR-V does a fair job of providing practical power that can actually be fun. How? Following the lead of the redesigned Honda Civic, the 2018 Honda CR-V offers an available turbocharged engine--cue Honda fans going nuts. On the base-level 2018 Honda CR-V LX (and as the standard option on the rest of the lineup) you'll still find a carryover 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine making 184 horsepower and 180 pound-feet of torque; but upgrade to the 2018 Honda CR-V EX, EX-L, or Touring, and you get the privilege of trading a lesser-powered, bigger engine for a sportier, turbocharged 1.5-liter four-cylinder that creates 190 horsepower and 179 pound-feet of torque. That's not a huge number change over the standard inline-four, but it's enough of a difference that the drivers who yearn for sporty performance (but have too much stuff to settle for a sedan or coupe) can grab ahold of some small amount of that return-to-youth feeling that Honda manages to produce in their sneakily-pragmatic cars. These trims help to add a bit of power to the CR-V so you can head up into Big or Little Cottonwood canyon on the weekends and not be the car who's holding everyone else up.

All engines continue to pair to a Continuously-Variable Transmission (CVT) with Sport Mode; a piece of equipment that is typically agreed to be one of the best in the industry, even by sport purists who argue that the CVT killed the spirit of modern driving. But modern driving has demanded higher efficiency and ease of use for the typical driver, so we won't see the CVT going anywhere but up.

Easy capability for daily driving

In today's land of pavement and smooth highways, fewer and fewer drivers actually need All-Wheel Drive; but you'd better believe than more and more drivers are looking for it in their next SUV--while also not wanting to know that it's there--and the 2018 Honda CR-V knows it. That's why Honda made some slight adjustments to their Real Time All-Wheel Drive System with Intelligent Control, making it more subtle, more dynamic, and more functional. Instead of wastefully pushing power to all of the wheels, all of the time, Honda's AWD system works smarter, not harder. Variable torque distribution lets the system monitor everything from wheel spin, to acceleration, to where the wheel is pointing, to decide when and where that power needs to go. That gives it a lot of the benefits (and the seamless driving feeling) of a FWD crossover, without sacrificing capability when you actually need it.

Unless you're tackling gravel roads, rain-soaked highways, or dirt trails on a weekly basis, a Front-Wheel Drive Honda CR-V with good tires will be an acceptable daily driver for you; but if AWD is a must-have for you, Real-Time AWD is available on every new 2018 Honda CR-V trim, including turbocharged models.

It's family-friendly done right

We know the residents of the greater Salt Lake Valley area appreciate strong core family values. Though the 2018 Honda CR-V is commonly called a "small family crossover", it's not as small as you might think--the new design lines just make it look that way. The current generation is actually bigger than it's ever been, meaning (hopefully) less arguing from your rear-seat passengers, and more space for the gear and equipment you need to bring along. The price-point on the base model is geared toward budget-buyers who need something safe and affordable, while the huge range of equipment and features on the, admittedly expensive, Honda CR-V Touring model is right for families who can spend a little more. It's not quite luxury-SUV levels, but the leather seats are nice, and might make you forget about the Cheerio dust in the stitching seams.

It's no super-SUV, though; if you'll frequently be needing to travel with four to five passengers and some extra cargo, you may want to consider something larger, like the Honda Pilot. However, if your family is still small and you prefer a more compact vehicle, the Honda CR-V will more than likely be a good fit.

Legendary safety and durability

While the 2018 Honda CR-V hasn't yet been tested for official safety ratings, we can look at a long and healthy history of Honda safety and reliability and make a safe bet that we'll see about the same from the 2018 model.

What the new model does have, however, is a massive list of safety features: active (things like a rearview camera and ABS), passive (an ACE body structure and airbags), and driver-assist (Honda Sensing system). The popularity of SUVs and crossovers among families have sparked a push to make these vehicles even safer, and Honda is following suit. Honda Sensing, their branded collection of driver-assistance technology features, now comes standard on 2018 Honda CR-V EX, EX-L, and Touring models, which likely explains the price hike on trim levels above the base. The 2018 suite of safety features includes Lane Keeping Assist System, Adaptive Cruise Control with Low-Speed Follow, Auto High-Beam Headlights, Blind-Spot Monitoring System with Cross Traffic Monitor, Collision Mitigation Braking System, and Road Departure Mitigation System.

What does this really mean? If you're a good driver, it may just mean that your new 2018 Honda CR-V will be beeping at you more often that you'd like. If you need an extra set of eyes on the road, though, this package option might be priceless.

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How does the 2018 Honda CR-V fit into your life?

After a redesign for the 2017 model year, the Honda CR-V is looking fresher, firmer, and smarter. Loyal fans will surely eat up the new SUV, while diehard fans of its rivals may be inclined to stick with what they know, too. However, a larger cargo area, a new turbocharged engine, and a fresher take on a classic design may be enough to pull away long-time fans of Subaru, Toyota, Mazda, and Hyundai away from its rivals and toward the new 2018 Honda CR-V.

After all, there's a very good reason that this sensible, practicable, and affordable SUV has been selling like hotcakes since the 90s--and it's not just nostalgia and brand loyalty.

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