Happy Go Lucky

Tow Test: Honda CR-V EX

Building SUVs out of car components is a two-edged sword. The good side brings a comfortable ride and agile handling. The bad side: Small engines and soft suspensions aren't always up to the rigors of towing assignments.

Which way does the blade slice in the case of Honda's CR-V EX? To find out, we hitched a revamped-for-2002 edition to a ShoreLand'r trailer hauling two waterbikes and headed down a few southeastern Michigan highways. Even though the payload was 100 pounds beyond rated capacity (1,500 pounds), the CR-V EX's torquey four-cylinder engine shouldered its task without a whimper. The 160-hp Honda hustled to 60 mph in 14.1 seconds with the trailer and bikes in tow and made the same sprint unladen in only 8.7 seconds. Equipped with disc brakes and ABS, it ad no difficulty slowing its load, needing only an extra 36 feet to stop the 1,600-pound load.

Well-tuned suspension components helped this compact SUV ride pleasantly over rough roads. Keeping the trailer in line at cruising speeds posed no challenge. This truck gobbles up curvaceous miles with a voracious appetite.

The only negative trait showed up at the launch ramp. The CR-V EX uses hydraulic pressure generated by any discrepancy between front- and rear-wheel rotational speeds to engage drive to the hind axle. The problem is excessive wheel spin before rear-wheel traction is activated. We had no difficulty yanking the waterbikes out of the drink, but as the front tires slipped, they raised a ruckus and prompted the big-SUV guys sharing the ramp to mutter derogatory comments. So don't plan on exceeding the factory tow rating or challenging slime-infested launch sites in this rig.

In terms of hauling equipment and going for long drives, the CR-V EX can't be beat. The passenger and cargo compartments are roomy, there's a handy hinged window in the swinging rear door, and the back seats split and fold to maximize versatility. All four doors have double stowage pockets. Plus the parking brake is cleverly designed to match a passenger-side grabhandle.

MODEL Honda CR-V EX
Engine 2.4-liter DOHC 4-cylinder
Net hp/rpm 160/6000
Net torque (ft-lb/rpm) 162/4000
Transmission 5-speed manual
Suspension Front strut-type, coil springs
Suspension Rear control arms, coil springs
Brakes (front/rear) disc/disc, optional ABS
Tires Bridgestone Dueler H/T, P205/70SR-15 M+S
Wheelbase (in.) 103.1
Length (in.) 178.6
Width (in.) 70.2
Height (in.) 66.2
Curb weight (lbs.) 3,300
Towing capacity (lbs., max.) 1,500
Cargo capacity (max. cu. ft.) 72
Fuel capacity (gal.) 15.3
0-60 mph acceleration (without/with 1,600-lb. towed load, sec.) 8.7/14.1
60-0 mph stopping distance (without/with 1,600-lb. towed load, ft.) 134/170
Observed towing fuel economy (mpg, avg.) 16
Price (as tested) $21,940

LAST WORD. Handles small towing chores with ease.