The 2021 Honda CR-V compact crossover SUV is Honda’s best-selling vehicle, and one of the most popular new vehicles in the United States that isn’t a full-size pickup. It didn’t achieve such success by chance. Honda has evolved and refined the CR-V from its first generation that appeared in the mid-1990s to this current fifth-generation model, launched in 2017. Anything anyone needs from a mainstream 5-seater compact crossover is pretty much here. It’s roomy, reliable, easy-going, safe, comfortable, relatively affordable and generally well thought out. It’s an indisputable winner. There’s also a CR-V Hybrid, averaging around 38 mpg, which is reviewed separately. The 2021 Honda CR-V starts at around $25,500.
Judging by how popular the Honda CR-V is compared with how many of the more attractive Mazda CX-5 models we see on the roads, it’s pretty clear looks are not so important when buying a new crossover. With the CR-V, virtually everything that goes on outside is really dictated by what’s happening inside.
The CR-V has nice, expansive glass areas for excellent outward visibility and a high roofline to optimize the generous interior space. The EX trim starts out on the road to classiness with body colored housings for the heated side mirrors, which also contain integrated turn signals. But it’s not until the top Touring trim that some chrome highlights and 19-inch alloy wheels come along. This is also the only model with LED headlights and roof rails.
It would have been good for even one non-hybrid trim level to come with parking sensors, but Honda decided against it.
The LX trim is OK, but we recommend looking beyond it to acquire more desirable features. Such as the 7-inch infotainment touchscreen in the EX trim and above. Going even higher brings leather seating surfaces and power-adjustable front seats.
Honda does get the basics right, though. The cabin feels open and airy, the plastics are decent quality, the seats are comfortable and space is remarkable for a compact crossover — including stowage area in the center console. Rear legroom is 40.4 inches. That’s exactly the same as the Volvo S90 large luxury sedan.
There are even things that a long-term owner may not even notice, but somewhere down in the subconscious there’s an appreciation. Like how wide the doors open and the aperture they create that makes entry and exit so easy. This is the level of user-friendliness that goes into a CR-V.
Luggage space behind the rear seats is a commodious 39.2 cubic feet. Fold the rear seats down and maximum cargo space is 75.8 cubic feet. Only the Subaru Forester has more total area (by 0.3 of a cubic foot) and its “trunk” space is smaller. And when loading the CR-V, the low floor is an especially valuable attribute.
Gasoline-only versions of the 2021 CR-V are propelled by a turbocharged 1.5-liter 4-cylinder engine generating 190 horsepower and 179 lb-ft of torque. It runs on regular 87-octane gasoline, which is rare for a turbo engine.
The automatic transmission is of the continuously variable (CVT) variety. Not necessarily an enthusiast’s first choice, but it does the job of sending drive to either the front wheels in standard form, or all four when the optional all-wheel drive system is present.
Front-drive versions are estimated to achieve 28 mpg in the city, 34 mpg on the highway and 30 mpg in combined driving. All-wheel drive changes those figures to 27/32/29 mpg. An engine stop/restart feature saves a bit of gas while the CR-V is idling.
The Honda CR-V can tow 1,500 pounds, which is about average. If towing is a major consideration, the Jeep Cherokee can handle 2,000 pounds.
The thrill of the drive is not why anyone buys a Honda CR-V. To be fair, that’s not why anyone buys any compact crossover. But whereas the Mazda CX-5 provides a pleasant level of driver engagement, the CR-V doesn’t assert itself quite so much. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
At the end of a hard day, the CR-V can be a place of calm, a retreat from the madness out there. There’s no need to expend a lot of effort with the driving inputs, no requirement to concentrate on weight transfer through corners, no obligation to tune into any feedback that might be coming up through the steering wheel.
Instead, the CR-V will get its occupants home in a comfortable, quiet and stable manner, asking little of the driver beyond the basics and making everything as easy as possible. That’s why people buy a Honda CR-V.
Not that the CR-V is a complete snooze-mobile. Having a lively turbocharged engine even in the base model means sufficient muscle when passing on the freeway and/or tackling uphill sections. A road trip can be looked forward to instead of dreaded, because the CR-V will devour the miles.
Prices of the 2021 CR-V models go from around $25,500 to approximately $34,000. All-wheel drive is available as an option for each trim level, costing $1,500.
- LX (approx. $25,500) — The entry-level CR-V. Comes with active noise cancellation, 17-inch alloy wheels, forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, 5-inch infotainment screen and one USB port.
- EX (approx. $28,000) — A better-equipped contender, adding blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, 18-inch alloy wheels, and more.
- EX-L (approx. $30,500) — A little luxury comes on board, with leather seating surfaces, garage door opener, upgraded audio system, and a powered tailgate, among other upscale features.
- Touring (approx. $34,000) — This range-topping trim adds rain-sensing wipers, hands-free tailgate operation, automatic on/off LED headlights, roof rails, 19-inch alloy wheels, ambient cabin lighting, navigation, wireless device charging, and a 330-watt/9-speaker audio system.
If you are looking for a more accurate idea of pricing, you can build and price a CR-V on Honda’s official web site.
Space. It sounds like a cop-out, not putting something tangible at the top of our “best of” list, but the CR-V follows the usual Honda code of doing really well at virtually everything. Where it excels, though, is providing above-average room for people and cargo alike. The CR-V is called a compact crossover, but its interior dimensions tell another story.
Resale values. Yes, another intangible, but this is another area where the CR-V is exceptionally strong. Only the Toyota RAV4 can compete at the same level.
It’s a touch on the lavish side, but the EX-L would be our ideal choice. The powered tailgate and leather-covered steering wheel really sway us away from the straight EX trim. Holding a plastic steering wheel for the duration of our hypothetical CR-V ownership would make us kick ourselves for not spending the extra. Little details can become larger issues over time.
A well-constructed rigid frame goes a long way in helping the Honda CR-V attain top scores in crash tests. This hardware is enhanced by software like adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning/lane-keeping assistance, road departure mitigation and forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking — all of which are part of the standard Honda Sensing array.
It’s worth going up to EX trim, though, to gain blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert.
Families. Not big families, because the CR-V only has two seating rows, and the middle seat in the back is risking a tantrum from a third child. But a couple of parents with two bundles of Cheerios-eating joy will find the cabin to be quiet, safe and roomy. And the CR-V’s height is a boon when strapping certain mischievous family members into their child seats and not causing strain on a grown-up’s back.
The CR-V’s appeal goes beyond the parent trap, however. Anyone wanting a reliable, economical crossover with the potential to tackle rough weather should take a serious look at this class-leading vehicle.
The Honda CR-V can be an ideal choice for someone who doesn’t have the time or energy to do a lot of research before buying and just wants something good that’s going to do the job. Yet it could also be the choice of someone who has done a ton of homework, looked into all the alternatives and decided what’s best. If compact crossovers were an art form, the CR-V would be the Mona Lisa — maybe not everyone’s favorite oil painting, but popular enough to draw massive crowds year after year.
The 2021 Honda CR-V is on CarExpert’s recommended list.
- Chevrolet Equinox
- Ford Escape
- GMC Terrain
- Hyundai Tucson
- Jeep Cherokee
- Kia Sportage
- Mazda CX-5
- Nissan Rogue
- Subaru Forester
- Toyota RAV4
- Volkswagen Tiguan