I’m dating myself here, but when I started driving, a vehicle that had an automatic transmission, air conditioner, tilt steering wheel, cruise control, and a cassette player was considered “loaded”. Add in power locks and windows and you had a “hard loaded” model. If you had remote keyless entry and anti-lock brakes, you had a luxury car. These days, all of those features and more are ubiquitous. Most of us wouldn’t think about buying a new vehicle without air conditioning. Having to roll down a window by turning a crank is considered an embarrassing hardship!
I recently had the rare opportunity to experience a base model Honda CR-V. It hasn’t been too many years ago that a base model vehicle was equipped with only minimum levels of safety equipment and very few comfort or convenience items. The CR-V LX is a base model that I could actually enjoy.
Manufacturers typically populate their press fleets with the highest trim level of each model which gives the reviewers an opportunity to evaluate all of a vehicle’s features and experience the best a model has to offer. While the top trim levels may be the fastest, best looking, and have the most features, most buyers don’t choose those higher-priced trims. Instead, they opt for the lower-cost middle and lower trims.
From the outside, there’s little to distinguish a base LX from a top-of-the-line Touring trim aside from black door handles and some black trim pieces instead of body-colored or chrome. Even the LX has nice-looking alloy wheels instead of the plastic wheel covers that are common on entry-level trims. Unless a person is a Honda CR-V aficionado, they’re unlikely to identify the LX as a base model.
I’m accustomed to driving vehicles that automatically unlock when you grab the door handles, so it took me a moment to realize the CR-V LX isn’t equipped with such a feature. I had to pull the remote out of my pocket and push a button before I was granted access to the inside if the CR-V.
Once inside, the differences in materials and features become more apparent. I was expecting to see a boring, monochromatic interior filled with the same color and texture of hard plastic. To my pleasant surprise, I found a durable-looking and comfortable cloth seat material, with contrasting plastic textures and colors.
The next step was starting the vehicle. I instinctively reached for a start button, but there wasn’t one. I would need a physical key before getting any further. Unfortunately, I had placed the remote back into my pocket after unlocking the door and was now forced to dig back into my pocket for the magic key for a second time. One thing I like about the ”old” key-based system in the LX is that I can shut then engine off while still listening to the radio or talking over Bluetooth. On the higher trims with pushbutton start, you have to shut everything off then push the start button again without pressing the brake pedal to put the vehicle into accessory mode which drops the Bluetooth connection and reboots the audio system.
Finally, the hard part was over! I turned the key and the CR-V’s venerable 2.4L non-turbocharged engine started breathing on its own with a familiar sound shared with Honda models of yore. It quietly and smoothly idled with refinement and precision as I familiarized myself with the other controls. The gauges are a combination of analog and monochrome digital instead of the color LCD display used on higher trims, but all the information you need is there – including a trip computer.
There are no power seats in the LX, but the driver’s seat is manually adjustable in all the normal ways including for height and recline. Most vehicles I’ve owned have had power seats and once I set them that’s where they stay…forever. Admittedly, I’m usually the only driver, but even in situations where there are multiple drivers, it’s actually faster to pull a lever and move the seat manually than it is to push a button and wait for electric motors to do the job.
Power door locks, windows, and mirrors are standard. The steering wheel adjusts for height and also telescopes. The cloth-covered center armrest slides forward. Although the vanity mirrors on the visors aren’t lighted, at least it has mirrors so you don’t have to yank down the rearview mirror or stare creepily into the side mirrors while picking spinach out of your teeth.
Once I found a comfortable driving position, it was time to set a comfortable temperature. The CR-V LX is equipped with automatic climate control so you just set your desired temperature and let it do the rest. It’s only a single-zone system, but as long as both the driver and passenger are warm-blooded creatures, that shouldn’t present too much of a problem. Besides, who wants to deal with a thunderstorm in the middle of a vehicle where the cold and warm fronts meet! There are A/C vents on the back of the center console and heater ducts under the front seats for rear passengers.
Next comes the audio system. With large touch screens and satellite radio being so common these days, the small color display in the CR-V’s AM/FM-only audio system felt neutered. Pairing my phone to the vehicle via Bluetooth was easy. Bluetooth works for both phone calls and music, so I was able to listen my music library and stream my favorite stations. After some adjustments to the bass, midrange, and treble, I was pleasantly surprised just how good the base-level audio system sounds. A pair of tweeters mounted higher up would be a welcome addition, but I found the sound quality to be more than adequate for phone calls, audiobooks, podcasts, and casual music listening.
THE BUSINESS END
One of the primary reasons for purchasing an SUV is cargo capacity. You won’t be fitting any 4×8 sheets of plywood in the back of a CR-V, but you could possibly shoehorn a 75” TV in the back at a creative angle. If you are interested saving money on a hotel, couples up to 6 feet tall can fit in the rear with the back seats folded down and the head rests turned around to serve as pillows. And, not that it’s necessarily related, but there’s an actual spare tire instead of an inflator kit back there!
With everything adjusted to my liking, it was time for takeoff. I placed the dash-mounted shift lever in reverse and was greeted by a small, but clear rearview image on the audio system’s color screen. The guidelines are fixed rather than dynamic, but at least you can see what you’re about to back into. Once I had the nose pointed in the right direction, I shifted to drive and pressed the accelerator pedal. The CR-V’s continuously variable transmission brought the vehicle to cruising speed with no drama whatsoever. Unlike some, I’ve always appreciated the shiftless feel and efficiency of.a CVT – particularly for relaxed driving. Sure, I wouldn’t have one in a sports car or rock crawler, but that’s not what the CR-V is all about.
The 2019 CR-V LX is the last Honda model available with the 2.4L non-turbocharged engine, so if you’re not a fan of turbochargers, you better grab one while you can. Power and performance from the 2.4L/CVT combination is more than adequate for city driving and cruising on the highway at all legal speeds. However, passing at highway speeds results in less progress than the noise suggests, so allow yourself plenty of distance to overtake.
The ride is on the firm side, yet comfortable and far from harsh. Steering is precise and direct, although it’s slightly heavier than I would prefer in parking lots. The CR-V remains surprisingly flat in corners – almost…sporty.
Overall, the CR-V LX is a very comfortable compact SUV that is easy to live with even for a base model. It’s got everything you really need and even a few things that you don’t. I find a certain charm in its simplicity.
For the 2020 model year, all CR-V trims have revised front and rear styling and gain idle-stop technology which can be temporarily disabled. The 1.5L turbocharged engine, which offers better low-end torque and a 2 MPG increase in fuel economy, replaces the 2.4L engine in the LX. Honda Sensing and a color driver information interface are now standard for 2020 as well.
The 2019 CR-V LX starts at $25,570 including destination. The 2020 CR-V LX starts at $26,170. That’s an increase of $600 – not bad for Honda Sensing with its adaptive cruise control, collision mitigation braking system, automatic high beams, and other safety features along with the color LCD driver information interface, turbocharged engine, and increased fuel economy.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
Do you prefer the simplicity and lower cost of a base model, the luxuries and safety features on higher trims, or do you fall somewhere in between?