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2017 Honda CR-V improves comfort, adds volume knob, loses LaneWatch

The fifth-generation 2017 Honda CR-V adds a volume knob (finally) to its quirky infotainment system, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, more USB jacks, a turbocharged engine, and blind spot detection. The latter replaces Honda’s equally quirky LaneWatch system that covered only the passenger side with a rear-facing camera.

The sum of Honda’s technology and passenger comfort improvements is likely to keep the CR-V the leading seller in the compact SUV market and could overtake the Accord as Honda’s top seller in 2017. It’s expected to go on sale in December.

Early in the decade, Honda was one of many automakers seduced by touch-only, button-free smartphones. This was when Honda and Acura had as many as 53 buttons and knobs in the center stack. Responding to feedback about button-and-knob complexity, Honda went in the opposite direction with Display Audio on the fourth-gen CR-V. Owners didn’t like zero buttons either (a sentiment shared at the high end with Cadillac buyers using Cadillac CUE).

So with the fifth-generation 2017 CR-V, Honda has added a volume knob in the lower left of the center stack segment containing the 7-inch LCD. We suspect owners would also prefer a row of buttons just below the display that directly accessed the basic features: Navigation, phone, audio, entertainment, settings. (The third generation CR-V had that in buttons on the sides of the LCD, plus direct access to day/night brightness.) But this is a start. Drivers should be happy the CR-V now gets Garmin-driven navigation, which is the current benchmark for idiot-proof (almost) navigation. It’s already on Honda Pilot, Civic, Accord, and Ridgeline.

But you don’t have to take Honda navi to have good navigation. All CR-Vs with Display Audio support Android Auto and Apple CarPlay and their key apps: navigation, phone, audio, messaging. This effectively drives down the price of a car with competent navigation by at least $500, the minimum automakers charge for integrated navigation.

Honda bumped the USB jack count from two (front only) to four (charge-only in back). It also ditched the small color display above the main center stack display. The instrument panel speedometer is now digital and has a color LCD driver information interface (or multi-information display).

The 2015 CR-V was the first Honda with the comprehensive Honda Sensing suite of driver assists. For 2017, Honda Sensing comes standard on 75% of Honda’s CR-V production: EX, EX-L, Touring. It includes:

Blind spot detection (Honda’s term: Blind Spot Information) becomes part of Honda Sensing and replaces Honda LaneWatch (not part of Honda Sensing). As we said four years ago (Too quirky: 5 reasons why Honda’s car tech will scare away tech-savvy buyers), LaneWatch was technically excellent, but required more driver involvement; you had to keep glancing down at the side view in the center stack LCD, and there was nothing on the driver side except a convex mirror. With the Editors’ Choice Honda Pilot a year ago, Honda began offering BSD instead of LaneWatch on its $40K-plus Touring model and with CR-V blind spot detection is filtering down to mainstream models.

Honda is also offering auto high beams and LED headlamps. Among mainstream compact SUVs, no one has a better suite of driver and safety technologies than Honda for 2017. It is no longer unusual for a compact mainstream SUV to have blind spot detection, lane departure warning, adaptive cross control, and the technologies available once you have optical and radar sensors pointing outward, including the forward alerts and braking when ACC isn’t enabled.

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The entry CR-V LX trim line continues with a 2.4-liter, 184-hp four-cylinder engine. Above that EX, EX-L and Touring get a 1.5-liter, 190-hp turbocharged four. For 2017, Honda again employs a continuously variable transmission (introduced mid-cycle on the last CR-V as a 2015 model). The combination, Honda says, should give it best-in-class fuel economy, meaning better than the 32 mpg highway (2016 CR-V) or 26 mph highway (CR-V, Mazda CX-5, Subaru Forester) for front-drive. All-wheel drive will also be offered.

The cockpit is also more luxurious. Plus, the car is an inch longer (181 inches) and wider (73 inches), rear seat legroom is up 2 inches, and cargo capacity behind the rear seat is 39.2 cubic feet (up 5%). The upshot is a roomier backseat than the Honda Accord. The CR-V is one more reason why midsize sedan buyers are moving to compact SUVs: Four adults can travel in comfort, not just two.

Parents with groceries and kids in hand will appreciate the auto-open rear tailgate pioneered by Ford and BMW: swipe your foot under the bumper (with key in your pocket) and the tailgate powers open.

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Honda said the 2017 CR-V will be available this winter, with first shipments likely in December. Asked about pricing, Honda talked about the competitive market. Translation: Little change likely from the $24,000 starting price of the LX or $26,000 of the EX with Honda Sensing with front drive. All-wheel-drive is about $1,000 more. A fully-equipped AWD Touring was about $34,000.

Honda has sold more than 4 million CR-Vs since 1995. Compact SUVs are the biggest US market segment (2.6 million in 2015) and the CR-V led the segment with 264,000 sales in 2015, 30,000 more than the Toyota RAV4. The renewed RAV4 was only 3,000 units behind CR-V through September.

Of the 15 or so vehicles that make up the segment, the CR-V, the RAV4, the Nissan Rogue, and the Ford Escape all should sell 300,000 or more. The new Chevrolet Equinox also could do that. As mentioned above, it’s possible the CR-V will overtake the Accord as Honda’s top-selling vehicle this year and could ship 400,000 units in 2017. Only the Toyota Camry sells more vehicles other than pickup trucks.

As compact SUVs get roomier and more luxurious, it’s tougher to justify the $10,000-$15,000 extra price for a premium compact SUV such as the Acura RDX, BMW X1, or Audi Q5, unless you need more towing capacity (3,500-4,000 pounds versus 1,500-2,000), driver assists that vibrate the steering wheel rather than beep, head-up displays, or the comfort of a premium badge on the hood.

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