To say Honda has a lot riding on the CR-V would be an understatement akin to noting the sun is hot. Or in the words of a certain fictional anchorman, this little SUV is "kind of a big deal."

Backing up that statement are both numbers and buyer sentiment. Regarding the former, Honda touts its compact crossover as the best-selling SUV in American for the past 20 years, notching nearly 4 million U.S. sales since its 1997 debut. About the latter, you don't need a degree in analytics to see the shift from sedans to crossover SUVs. They're simply the hottest thing on the market.

That backdrop makes the launch of Honda's latest CR-V its most important yet. For 2017, the CR-V 5-passenger SUV enters its fifth generation as an all-new vehicle. It is slightly larger than the model it replaces, and is blessed with a new powertrain, enhanced safety features and an interior that is bigger and better. Honda invited us to drive the 2017 Honda CR-V in coastal Northern California as the backdrop before it goes on sale Dec. 21. 

All-new turbo engine

For the first time, the U.S.-spec CR-V will be offered with more than one engine choice, and that new engine brings another first for Honda's compact SUV: turbocharging. Like the latest-gen Honda Civic, most CR-Vs will employ a 1.5-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder. The sole former engine, a 2.4-liter naturally aspirated (non-turbo) 4-cylinder is still available, but only on base LX trims. The rest of the 2017 CR-V lineup -- EX, EX-L and Touring trims -- come with the turbo. As with the outgoing CR-V, all 2017 models use a CVT (continuously variable transmission) automatic, and can be had with optional all-wheel drive instead of the standard front-wheel drive.

Also: Kelley Blue Book Best Buy Awards of 2017

So it must be a rocket, right?

When you see the word "turbo," you may be thinking, "Wow, that new CR-V must be really powerful and fast." Well, it's certainly respectable in both categories, but speed isn't the point. Honda didn't make a turbocharged CR-V to be a rocket, but to be fuel-efficient.

On roads leading from Monterey to San Francisco, the 2017 CR-V all-wheel-drive Touring model we tested felt similar to the existing model in terms of power. As it should. Where the base 2.4-liter engine makes 184 horsepower, the turbo 1.5-liter only makes nominally more: 190. In terms of torque, it's actually 1 lb-ft less -- 179 compared to 180. But in terms of fuel economy, small equals big. With this new engine, the CR-V earns up to 34 mpg on the highway, 2 better than the 2.4-liter. With that figure and its combined 30 mpg rating, the 2017 CR-V claims best-in-class status among non-hybrid SUVs

 And yes, it is brisker. Honda says the new turbo CR-V marches to 60 mph 1.5 seconds quicker than the standard one, but it's still not seat-of-the-pants-quick like a turbo Kia Sportage or Subaru Forester.

Comfortable and refined

The CR-V's road manners remain strongest in the areas of comfort and refinement. As we've found in the Civic, the CR-V's powertrain is remarkably smooth yet perky when pushed. Turbo-lag is hardly an issue, and Honda continues to set the pace in CVTs that don't feel like CVTs, but rather more like traditional automatics that eagerly downshift when punched.

The 2017 CR-V is at its best exactly where most owners will use it: around town and on highway commutes. In the former, nifty features like the standard auto-brake hold eases stress at stop lights by automatically holding the brake (the system can be activated/deactivated to your preference), while the CR-V's highway manners are quiet and polished. When the time came to test this Honda SUV's sportiness and dynamics on a very twisty mountainous road, it was willing but rather reluctant. Yes, it can hold its own in sharp twists and turns, but it doesn't necessarily reward the driver with a fun and invigorating experience like, say, a Mazda CX-5.

Also: Class of 2017 - New Cars Ready to Roll

Enhancements inside and out

The new Honda CR-V's powertrain is only part of a much bigger story. Yes, the new powerplant deserves kudos for its efficiency and refinement, but it's hardly the only highlight. The new CR-V is awash in features and amenities that will surprise and satisfy owners, all at a strong value that begins just over $25,000 when factoring destination charge. On EX trims and above -- which start just under $27,600 and which Honda predicts will account for 75 percent of sales -- the CR-V is awash in standard features such as power driver's seat, 7-inch touchscreen audio system that's CarPlay and Android Auto compatible, dual-zone climate control and four USB ports, including two in back. The Honda Sensing suite of safety features on EX trims and above is significant and includes forward-collision warning with automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring, lane-departure warning and adaptive cruise control.

We've barely even touched on the impressive improvements in the CR-V's interior, which you can read more about in our full review. Suffice to stay, the all-new fifth-generation Honda CR-V should not only keep the momentum of this best-selling nameplate, but turbocharge it past the competition.


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