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A Short History of the Honda CR-V: 1995 – 2011

The Comfortable All-Season Runabout

How well do you remember 1995? That was the year the Mexican peso nearly crashed and burned before then-president Bill Clinton stepped in with a bailout. Aided by Mick Jagger and a couple of “friends” who “clearly” weren’t playing their famed roles, Microsoft started up Windows 95. Howard Cosell left us, and NASCAR driver Chase Elliott and NFL player Patrick Mahomes are born,

Another birth in 1995? The first Honda CR-V. The “Comfortable Runabout Vehicle” for all seasons was the successor to the Japan-only Crossroad (a rebadged Land Rover Discovery Series I), based on Civic parts. Arriving on our shores in 1997, the Honda CR-V was closer to the American idea of an SUV than the old RealTime 4-wheel-drive (RT4WD) Civic Wagovan could ever have hoped to be. Chilton manual 30203 covers 2002-2011 model years of Honda’s popular little crossover, but let’s look at the first three generations, from 1995 to 2011.

Big in Japan, Just Right in America: 1995-2001

1st Generation Honda CR-V with Picnic Table

The first-gen CR-V was Honda’s first in-house designed utility vehicle, and is built upon the Civic platform. At first, it stayed in Japan, where it was considered (and taxed) as a luxury vehicle due to its (for the market) large size. The following year, it landed on display at the 1996 Chicago Auto Show, then in U.S. showrooms in February of 1997.

In the U.S. market the CR-V joined the Toyota RAV4 as the first of the FWD car based crossovers, and drew in tons of customers who wanted the things SUVs had, but in a Honda package. Things like eight-inch clearance, tons of utility, cargo room, and available all-wheel drive. Despite only having a 2.0-liter motor and 126 horsepower (later 147 horsepower), Honda features like reliability and fuel economy, plus a cargo floor that doubles as a folding picnic table helped the CR-V hit its first home run.

When the Civic Hatchback isn’t Enough: 2002-2006

2nd Generation Honda CR-V

Arriving just in time for the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City, the second-gen CR-V refined the formula, this time on the new seventh-gen Civic platform. If any were used to haul supplies to and from Olympic Village during the games, it was likely because of its increased cargo space with the seats folded forward against the front buckets. Even with the total redesign, and more room inside, exterior dimensions were within an inch of the old model

Up front, the new 2.4-liter K24A1 four-cylinder provided 160 horses and 162 lb-ft of torque to the front wheels, or all corners when needed. The newly designed rear hatch was now a single unit whose glass didn’t need to be lifted for the rest to be swung open. A refresh in 2005 added satellite radio, drive-by-wire throttle, and revised lighting. Keeping with the quirkiness of the original, it still had the folding picnic table in back for tailgating or preparing s’mores by the camp fire.

Third Time’s a Charm: 2007-2011

A few months before the first iPhone, the third-gen CR-V arrived upon the bones of the eighth-gen Civic. Unlike the last two crossovers, the new one did away with the boxy styling for something curvy and car-like, yet still utilitarian. It gained a little width and height, but retained the same easy to park length and wheelbase as the original (though, by moving the spare tire off the rear, the actual body gained a few inches in length for increased interior room). It also gained a new liftgate, a lower center of gravity, and the ability to play music from one’s iPod.

The new newly grown-up CR-V also dethroned the originator of the SUV craze, the Ford Explorer, taking the top-selling SUV in the U.S. crown in 2007. The Honda crossover proved so popular that some Civic manufacturing was moved from the Ohio to Ontario plants to make room for more CR-Vs; the move no doubt helped it retain its crown as the top-selling SUV in the U.S. in 2008.

The CR-V lives on today, still riding atop the latest Civic’s platform, and still one of America’s favorite crossovers. For those who can’t afford the latest model, the used market has plenty of gems to add to the garage.

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