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By BOB GRITZINGER, Contributor | @bobgritzinger
For the 2013 model year, Toyota’s fourth-generation RAV4 shed its utilitarian, entry-ute appearance for a more stylish and aerodynamic wrapper and a much more pleasant and comfortable interior. Judging by a recent drive of a 2014 RAV4 XLE, we’d say “mission accomplished.” We certainly don’t miss that unique RAV4 rear-mounted spare tire, which served no purpose other than to obscure the rear view (today’s spare is a space-saver beneath the cargo floor).
Honda’s popular CR-V underwent a similar transformation three years ago, eschewing bland utility for sensible style. Along the way, several others have jumped on board, not the least of which is the Ford Escape. Now comes the 2015 model year, with Honda rolling out what it describes as a “major minor” mid-cycle makeover of its popular small crossover.
On the major side, the Japanese automaker introduces a continuously variable transmission for 2015, replacing its aging five-speed automatic transmission across the CR-V lineup. The CVT not only contributes to an 12-percent overall improvement in fuel economy (28 mpg combined AWD/29 mpg FWD), the compact unit also can handle higher torque, allowing engineers to boost output from the Earth Dreams 2.4-liter inline four-cylinder engine. Torque is up by 18-lb-ft to 181-lb-ft; horsepower remains at the same 185, but maximum horsepower arrives at 6,400 rpm, 600 rpm below the 2014 model.
All this works to make the CR-V feel much more responsive, whether in off-the-line acceleration or on kick-down for passing at highway speeds. These are good traits in a four-cylinder vehicle—you never want to be wanting for power when you’re trying to enter traffic or get up to freeway speed from an entrance ramp.
On the lesser scale of change is the addition of a Touring trim level for the 2015 CR-V. This might sound minor, but beyond the top-of-the-line interior materials and exterior flourishes (new grille, wheels, headlights), the Touring trim comes with an available suite of safety and driver-assist features including: forward collision warning, collision mitigation braking, adaptive cruise control, Lane Keeping Assist (LKAS) and Honda LaneWatch.
The latter pair are the most intriguing: LaneWatch uses a camera mounted on the passenger side mirror to project a clear view of the adjacent right-hand lane onto the center display screen whenever the right turn signal is activated (we’d like a similar display for the left blind spot as well); Lane Keeping Assist uses a camera to “read” lane markings and actively corrects the steering to keep the vehicle in the center of the lane. The system, which works from 45 to 90 mph, is engineered to find the center of the lane, rather than “ping-ponging” like a drunken driver from line to line like some lane-keeping systems. It works well.
Active cruise control accelerates and brakes to hold speeds, but shuts down below 22 mph, unlike the system on the all-new Acura TLX sedan, which employs a more robust brake controller that allows the cruise control to bring the vehicle to a full stop.
Wrapping up the smaller (but hardly insignificant) changes is a visor-mounted sliding sunshade (a huge help for north-south commuters) and a revised center console cupholder. It sounds trivial, but the cupholder modification allowed Honda to add heating and cooling vents on the back of the console for rear cabin comfort. Kudos.
The 2015 CR-V is on sale now starting at $24,150 for the base LX trim front-wheel-drive model, with the range-topping Touring all-wheel-drive starting at $33,600 (prices include an $830 destination charge).
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