Back in the day, working way too hard to sell BMW’s 528e against the Mercedes 300D, I didn’t fully appreciate M-B’s approach to sedan design. Relative to what BMW was offering in its midsize 4-door (even with the high-torque/low-revving ‘eta’ powertrain), I saw the Mercedes 300 as entirely too benign, with steering too slow, seats too flat and acceleration – if you could even call it that – entirely too tepid. That, of course, was then. In considering those attributes today (and not having to sell against it) I’d probably regard a consumer-friendly spec, such as that offered by Honda’s 2015 CR-V, just what the Doktor ordered. And for those finding – as I have – M-B’s new GLA slightly underwhelming in both spec and footprint, know that Honda may be building a better small Benz than, well, Benz.
Admittedly, the first look won’t tell you the whole story. Honda took an evolutionary approach to its 2015 CR-V, constructing what is more accurately described as an aggressive refresh than an all-new vehicle. The biggest news, at least from the PR department’s perspective, is the addition of a new, direct-injected Earth Dreams inline four, now connected to a CVT transmission. With an eye on efficiency, the new drivetrain bumps the EPA estimated fuel economy to 26/33/28 in our test vehicle, a 2015 Honda CR-V Touring. Notably, over 200 miles of stop-and-go and freeway driving, we achieved 24. And that’s not a significant improvement over what we regularly achieved behind the wheel of my parents’ 2009 CR-V, absent Earth Dreams tech and the CVT.
Our evaluation included the impressions of my wife Tina, a pilot of a 2006 Grand Cherokee, along with those of my adult son Sean, whose daily drive is an ’11 Subaru Forester. From both, reviews were positive. Tina liked the CR-V’s comfort and composure, along with a real world efficiency that is almost double what she gets from the Hemi-equipped Jeep. And while the newest Forester is (admittedly) more comfortable and composed than my son’s 2011, and the CR-V boasts a window fully 50% higher than the Forester’s base MSRP, Sean thought the CR-V delivered essentially everything you’d want in a compact CUV. Again, comfort and composure were frequently mentioned, but it was the ‘rightness’ of its size and footprint that would close the deal.
Having driven the last (4th) gen CR-V, I was pleased by the evolutionary changes made, but didn’t think Honda had stepped up the game from an interior or feature standpoint. There was simply too much hard plastic inside, and not enough structurally or dynamically to suggest Honda would hold onto the dominant sales lead they have enjoyed over the CR-V’s fifteen (or so) years of gestation. Seemingly everyone’s taking a shot at the compact CUV segment; Ford, Nissan and Toyota are taking credible shots, while it’s but a matter of time before Hyundai and Kia get their compact act fully together.
In a week, and several hundred miles of holiday driving, we’re happy to report that Honda’s product game is fully on. Like the Mercedes sedan of roughly thirty years ago, you may not take this CR-V to track days, but it will do – with confidence and competence – anything a young family (or empty nesters) would ask of it. Inside, the leather-covered seats were comfortable and supportive, the info and entertainment system fully competitive, and the nanny-esque capabilities reasonably easy to either utilize or ignore. And – not incidentally – its build is almost vault-like, something you could have said for the 300D and will say less often about M-B’s new GLA.
Finally, its stance and generous greenhouse speak to M-B’s historically upright architecture far better than the GLA, which looks to have more in common with the Mazda3 than anything ‘M-B’. And it’s not that we have anything against the smallest Mercedes CUV. It’s only that, in a showroom full of vehicles that historically exceed expectations, this new GLA seems to fall short, while the more conventional – and larger – GLK does little to excite.
As mentioned, our test vehicle offered Honda’s new top-of-the-line Touring trim, which includes Honda’s first application of two advanced driver-assistive technologies: Collision Mitigation Braking System™ (CMBS™) and Lane Keeping Assist System (LKAS), along with the first inclusion in a CR-V of Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC). With Forward Collision Warning (FCW) and Honda LaneWatch, the electronic assists are part of the Honda’s new Honda Sensing suite of safety and driver assist technologies. With all of that, we think we could be almost as happy with a mid-level CR-V, and save a few thousand (our Touring was almost $34K) in the process.
Motor Trend magazine named the CR-V its SUV of the Year. And while initially skeptical, I’m left thinking they made the right call. And I’m also left to wonder if we’re ready to replace the Jeep. The CR-V won’t provide the offroad capability of the Grand Cherokee, but would certainly get you to any trailhead. And if you’re still making payments, that’s probably all you really want to do…