VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- Honda designer Shoji Fujimaki, charged with redesigning the CR-V crossover, was shocked when he got results of customer research in the United States.
"Many people said the car looked wimpy and boring," said Fujimaki, a 17-year Honda employee, at a press event here. "That made me feel bad because it was the first time that I realized that some people thought Hondas were like appliances.
"Honda cars are thought of as mavericks in Japan," he says. "So the first thing I wanted to do was create a car so people would flock to it because they think it is beautiful."
The basics: The CR-V is Honda's entry-level crossover. Honda execs expect small crossovers to be the second-largest segment behind full-sized pickups.
The CR-V is sold in more countries than any other Honda vehicle. To expand capacity, the CR-V will be manufactured in the United States for the first time, at Honda's plant in East Liberty, Ohio.
Notable features: The vehicle is about the same size as the 2006 model. But gone is the boxy exterior styling, replaced by a sleek appearance.
To achieve sedanlike handling and appearance, the powertrain was lowered, the spare tire was moved from the rear gate to beneath the floor, and the stance was widened. The step-in height was lowered 1.25 inches to make it easier to enter and exit.
On the inside, the instrument panel has an SUV-like design, but other surfaces are soft like a car. The seats are wider and taller. For the first time, the CR-V has an optional navigation system and rearview camera.
Under the hood, the four-cylinder engine makes 166 hp, up 10 hp from the 2006 model. A five-speed automatic transmission is standard on the base model compared with a five-speed manual on its predecessor. Fuel economy is up about 1 mpg on the highway.
The CR-V also is equipped with Honda's body structure that helps mitigate pedestrian collisions and head-on collisions between cars and light trucks.
What Honda says: "One of the things we learned from our consumer research on the current CR-V was that rejectors didn't buy it because of the styling," says CR-V product planner Christina Ra.
"Customers who did purchase it did so because it was just right in terms of size, packaging and value. So our mission was to capitalize on and improve existing CR-V strengths to retain existing customers and add styling, sophistication and refinement to reach out to new buyers."
Shortcomings and compromises: The market is crowded with credible entries such as the Toyota RAV4, Jeep Compass, Ford Escape, Hyundai Santa Fe and Chevrolet Equinox. All but the CR-V offer six-cylinder engines as standard or optional. The RAV4's six-cylinder engine offers more power than the CR-V, but its highway mileage is comparable.
The market: Honda hopes to attract more young married couples with the 2007 CR-V. Most current customers are empty nesters. To help attract new customers, the CR-V will come in four trim lines in 2007 compared with two previously. Ra expects most of the sales will come from the EX trim line, one step up from the base model. But she believes that new customers will be attracted to the two new EX-L trimlines, which include XM radio, navigation and upgraded audio systems.
The skinny: The CR-V goes on sale Sept. 28, with prices ranging from about $21,000 to about $26,000. Despite heated competition, the company should meet its goal of 160,000 sales annually. The old boxy model sold 150,219 units in 2005.
You may e-mail Kathy Jackson at [email protected]