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by Steve Siler

Honda CR-V
2003 Honda CR-V

Honda's recently updated CR-V remains one of the most user-friendly SUVs on the planet. Nearly everything you will ever do with the thing comes naturally to you the first time you try. From the way the air conditioning and heater controls ratchet around to the way the pistol-grip emergency brake is actuated to the unusual way the available automatic transmission gear selector scoots down its slots, it all works well. Other swell design features include a stereo that is mounted high atop the dashboard, making it easy to both see and operate. An available moonroof lets the sun shine in.

The CR-V is based on the stalwart Civic platform, a configuration that gives it excellent on-road behavior and vault-like solidity, albeit somewhat at the expense of off-road dexterity. But what the CR-V lacks in ruggedness it makes up for in pure utility. The rear seats fold flat, or recline for comfort, or tumble forward for maximum cargo space or even.slide fore and aft a coupe of inches if you need just a tad more space for either legs or long items. The front and rear seats fold down to form a chaise-like arrangement when you want to pull over for a little rest. Not bad.

Power is adequate, but not overwhelming. The only available powerplant at this point is a sophisticated 160-hp four-cylinder engine. Somehow, it can hold its own next to some V-6s in this class, but it certainly doesn't outrun them. Still, the independent suspension gives it panache on the road and comfortable ride characteristics. Finally, with fuel economy in the mid-to-high 20's, there is a lot to like about the CR-V.