If you’re in the market for a compact crossover SUV, the 2021 Honda CR-V must be on your test-drive list. Like its rival the Toyota RAV4 /zigman2/quotes/200537742/composite TM -4.41% , the Honda CR-V /zigman2/quotes/207173990/composite HMC -2.52% has been around for over two decades and cultivated an enviable reputation for reliability and high resale value. Moreover, it’s just a pleasure to own and operate.
The Honda CR-V is easy to just get in and drive. Its standard turbocharged engine is energetic enough and surprisingly efficient. A hybrid CR-V model (reviewed separately) that made its debut last year is even more so. It attains up to 40 mpg, has added power and standard all-wheel drive.
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The Honda Sensing suite of active safety systems is standard, and Apple /zigman2/quotes/202934861/composite AAPL -1.01% CarPlay and Android Auto are present on most trims. Cargo space is nearly best in class, just trailing that of a base Subaru Forester (but bettering that rivals higher trims). It all adds up to a 2-row/5-passenger SUV that does just about everything right and will happily serve a vast range of buyers.
After a busy 2020 that saw the standardization of Honda Sensing and the turbo engine, the 2021 model carries over with no significant changes.
What we like
Excellent passenger and cargo space
Lively and efficient engine
Refined driving experience
Generous standard safety tech
What we don’t
No higher-performance engine option available
Base model lacks Apple CarPlay/Android Auto
Tech interface can frustrate
$23,550 to $30,450 (plus $1,120 destination charge)
The sole engine option in the standard 2021 CR-V is a 1.5-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder that’s good for 190 horsepower and 179 lb-ft of torque. The fuel economy is impressive, returning 28 miles per gallon in the city, 34 mpg on the highway and 30 mpg in combined driving for front-wheel-drive models. Adding all-wheel drive drops those numbers a bit, to 27 mpg city/32 mpg hwy/29 mpg combined.
The CR-V uses a continuously variable transmission that does a good job mimicking a traditional automatic.
Standard features and options
The 2021 CR-V comes in a single, 5-passenger configuration and is offered with four trim levels: LX, EX, EX-L, and Touring. The standard gasoline models are FWD, with AWD optional.
The LX ($25,350, plus destination charge) comes with 17-in alloy wheels, LED running/accent lights, automatic climate control, a height-adjustable driver seat, cloth upholstery, a 60/40 split-folding and reclining back seat (with remote “easy fold” pulls in the cargo area), a backup camera, Bluetooth, one USB port and a 4-speaker sound system. Also included is the Honda Sensing package of accident avoidance tech, which consists of lane-departure-warning and forward-collision-warning systems, plus automatic emergency braking, lane-departure prevention, and adaptive cruise control with traffic-friendly, slow-speed follow capabilities.
The EX ($27,860) is the trim most people end up with, which isn’t surprising given its uptick in equipment. It adds blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic assist, plus 18-in wheels, automatic headlights, fog lights, proximity entry and push-button start, remote ignition, rear privacy glass, a sunroof, a cargo cover, dual-zone automatic climate control, an 8-way power driver seat, heated front seats, three extra USB ports (one front, two rear), a 7-in touchscreen, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and a 6-speaker sound system with satellite radio.
The EX-L ($30,000) adds a power liftgate, leather upholstery, driver memory settings, a 4-way power passenger seat, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, HD radio, and an 8-speaker sound system.
The Touring ($30,450) steps things up with roof rails, 19-in wheels, LED headlights, wireless charging, a heated steering wheel, a hands-free power liftgate, 9-speaker premium audio, dual chrome exhaust finishers, rain-sensing windshield wipers, ambient lighting and a navigation system.
The 2021 Honda CR-V includes the usual allotment of safety equipment: anti-lock brakes, stability and traction control, front airbags, front-side airbags and side curtain airbags that cover both rows. There are also LATCH anchors in all three rear positions.
Just as or even more important, every trim comes with a system that can help prevent an accident in the first place. It is called Honda Sensing, and it includes forward-collision warning, automatic emergency braking, lane-keeping assist, road-departure mitigation, and adaptive cruise control. Every trim but the base LX model also comes with blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic assist.
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The government gave the 2020 CR-V perfect 5-star ratings for overall, frontal and side crash protection. The nonprofit Insurance Institute for Highway Safety named the CR-V a Top Safety Pick for its top scores in all relevant crash and crash-prevention categories.
Behind the wheel
If you’re an owner of the previous-generation CR-V, this latest version is bound to feel more grown-up and sophisticated. It has a more comfortable and controlled ride, a quieter cabin and steering that needs fewer corrections on the highway. Indeed, this observation doesn’t just apply to comparisons between today’s model and its predecessor, but to most of the compact SUV field as well.
The turbocharged 1.5-liter used in the 2021 CR-V is arguably the most competitive engine in the segment, boasting admirable fuel economy and power, and responsive power delivery that doesn’t draw too much attention to the engine being turbocharged and connected to a continuously variable transmission. The fact that this is now the standard engine for the CR-V makes this Honda even more competitive than before.
As for your passengers, they will enjoy unmatched interior comfort and space for this segment. Rear legroom is top of class, and there are LATCH points in all three rear seating positions, making for an extremely family-friendly SUV. The CR-V’s abundant cargo capacity and clever front center console make it a stuff-carrying champ. Interior material quality is also strong — compared with both its predecessor and its competitors.
If there’s a downside inside, it’s the touchscreen found in all but the base LX. It’s perfectly functional, but its responsiveness, menu structure, and touch-sensitive menu buttons add up to a system that’s less user-friendly than Honda’s latest system (Accord, Odyssey) and those of competitors (Subaru /zigman2/quotes/200526066/delayed FUJHY -2.54% Forester, Toyota RAV4).
Other cars to consider
2021 Toyota RAV4 —The CR-V’s longtime nemesis, the Toyota RAV4 was completely redesigned for 2019.
2020 Subaru Forester —The Forester also boasts great cargo space and has a more adventurous nature thanks to its sophisticated all-wheel-drive system, 8.7 inches of ground clearance and off-road modes. It includes a bundle of safety features and has a slightly lower starting price than the CR-V.
2020 Hyundai Santa Fe— The 5-passenger Hyundai /zigman2/quotes/204364212/delayed HYMTF -0.41% Santa Fe is slightly bigger than the CR-V and boasts a tech-forward interior, great cargo space and an unbeatable powertrain warranty of 10 years/100,000 miles.
2020 Mazda CX-5 —Mazda’s /zigman2/quotes/206326885/delayed MZDAY -4.31% contender has less cargo room than the CR-V but some of the most athletic manners in this class. The optional turbo engine makes it even better.
Used Honda Pilot —If the CR-V still doesn’t have the family-friendly utility you need, a bigger SUV is probably in order. As the CR-V’s bigger brother, the Pilot has three rows, seating for up to eight, and all of Honda’s great manners.
Questions you may ask
Is the 2021 Honda CR-V a good car?
Yes. In fact, it’s among the best. Even among the crowded field of compact crossovers, the CR-V stands out as one of the best.
Will the Honda CR-V be redesigned in 2021?
No. The CR-V got a mild freshening for the 2020 model year and carries over for 2021.
Is the 2021 Honda CR-V a safe SUV?
Yes. Among compact-crossover SUVs, the CR-V is one of the safest, earning a 5-Star crash-test rating from the government and a Top Safety Pick rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. It comes standard with a full suite of active safety systems called Honda Sensing.
Where is the 2021 Honda CR-V made?
The Honda CR-V is made in America. Specifically, it is built at Honda’s factory in Greensburg, Indiana.
We love that Honda Sensing and the turbocharged 1.5-liter engine are now standard on every CR-V, but we’d still skip the base LX trim for at least an EX. For about $2,500 over the base model, the CR-V EX adds a lot of content, including an upgraded infotainment system with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, some extra safety tech, a moonroof, heated seats and plenty of other features that put it in the sweet spot of value in this Honda’s model range. As for powertrains, we think the standard turbo engine.