Supreme flexibility, but a little noisy

If we had to pick one word to describe the 2014 Honda CR-V as a family car, it'd be "versatile." The compact SUV seats five, gets good gas mileage, and is reasonably priced -- descriptions that apply to every compact SUV in our test. But the Honda CR-V's versatility, thanks to its quick-folding rear seats, makes it a compelling choice.

Honda redesigned the CR-V not long ago, keeping the plentiful cargo area and good fuel economy, but ditching the dorky styling. The result is a conservatively styled but sharp-looking compact SUV, with enough features and options to appeal to anybody shopping in the small-SUV segment. It boasts roomy front and rear seats, it's comfortable on the road, and it's even a little fun to drive.

There's room for improvement though. It is loud inside at freeway speeds, we'd expect better fuel economy, and the navigation system feels ancient. That aside, the Honda CR-V is one of the few compact SUVs available with a rear-seat entertainment system, and the way that second row folds for more cargo space is unbeatable. For growing families, it's a great choice.

Key Family Car Strength

Every compact SUV has a folding second row, but only the Honda CR-V offers such simplicity. Just pull on a strap, and the seat cushion flips forward, the head restraint folds down, and the seatback falls snugly into place, all without power assist. It just takes a couple seconds, and it extends the flat floor of the cargo area quickly. Fine, you need to put everything back manually, but it's not very time consuming, and the quick fold is worth it.

Key Family Car Weakness

The CR-V feels a bit dated for a 2-year-old vehicle, mainly because of the old-school navigation system. It tells you where you're going just fine, but the small screen and tiny buttons look like they're from 10 years ago. Honda should install the new touch-screen interface from the 2014 Honda Civic as soon as it can.

Model Range

The base-trim Honda CR-V LX starts at $23,775, and includes the standard 2.4-liter 185-horsepower 4-cylinder engine, Bluetooth and USB interfaces, the easy-fold-down rear seat, and a multi-angle rearview camera. The EX model costs $25,875, and adds a power moonroof, a better audio system, and fog lights. The $28,525 EX-L model throws in heated leather seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, roof rails, dual-zone climate control, and an even better audio system. The rear-seat entertainment system adds $700 to the total, or you can get navigation for an extra $1,500 -- unfortunately, you can't get both at the same time. The CR-V's all-wheel drive costs an additional $1,250, and is available on all models. Note that these prices all include an $830 destination charge.

Family Friendliness

In prime family-car style, the 2014 Honda CR-V is doing it right when it comes to child seats. The lower anchors are hidden behind a small slit in the 2nd-row seat upholstery, making them very easy to attach. The upper tether is also easy to attach because the head restraint is elevated slightly from the seatback, so you can slip the tether underneath. Once installed, it's simple to pop an infant carrier in and out, although front-passenger room was a bit tight with the rear-facing infant seat installed. The fact that there's a rear-seat entertainment system available makes the CR-V a candidate for long-distance trips, too. We do wish the 2nd-row seats adjusted fore-aft, but there's good legroom for adults anyhow.

The front seating area is also accommodating. With comfortable seats and great sight lines, it's easy to find a good driving position. Everything is within reach and easy to use, although the navigation system's dated layout sticks out like very sore thumb.

Cargo and Storage

This is where the Honda CR-V really shines next to its competition. The cargo area behind the rear seats is vast, with plenty of room for virtually anything you're likely to carry every day, unless that list includes heavy livestock. If you do need to transport Bessie though, the quick-folding second row makes it as easy as pulling on a strap. The expanded cargo area has a flat floor, and the lip at the back means your milk and eggs won't unexpectedly slide out onto the driveway.

Interior storage is also very good. The center console on the CR-V is huge, thanks to the dash-mounted shifter. There are plenty of bins, too: two in each front door, wallet pockets on the side of the center console, bottle holders in the door bins, and so on. Even the back seat in this compact SUV gets good storage, including small door pockets, and cupholders in the fold-down armrest.

On the Road

The Honda CR-V is a comfortable and assured drive out on the open road. The suspension strikes a good line between smooth ride and responsive emergency handling, and the steering and brakes could be out of an Accord, which is to say they're excellent. The all-wheel-drive system and ground clearance mean that the CR-V is even suited for mild off-road duty. Fuel economy could be better, and probably would be if Honda were using its new continuously variable automatic transmission instead of the ancient 5-speed automatic in the CR-V.  Rear visibility is poor though, thanks to the stylish-but-small rear side windows. There's no blind-spot detection available, and Honda hasn't yet decided to put its Lane Watch side view camera in the CR-V. The other downside is road noise. We don't expect luxury-car solitude from the compact SUV market, but the CR-V was notably louder even than its competition.

Parking the Honda CR-V was easy, thanks to big mirrors, nimble steering and good sightlines. The backup camera helped mollify us over the otherwise tight rear view.

Final Word

A solid, family friendly -- but somewhat noisy -- compact SUV.

More 2014 Honda CR-V

In addition to a spot on this year's top family cars list, the Honda CR-V is also one of our 10 Best All-Wheel-Drive Cars and SUVs Under $25,000, and took the top spot on this year's list of 10 Best SUVs Under $25,000. If your mind is made up, build and price your own 2014 Honda CR-V to unlock its Fair Purchase Price, 5-Year Cost to Own and more.


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