The previous Honda CR-V gave small families a good alternative to the multipurpose vehicle, but turned off a number of motorists due to improperly matched gear ratios, rather small interior dimensions, fuel consumption and a rather unsightly parking brake (plus its location).

But with its Toyota RAV-4 direct competition moving up to the crossover SUV class, Honda deemed it fit to keep up with its Japanese rival while retaining the CR-V's wow factor. The result is a major makeover that offers lots of pluses yet few negatives.

Honda widened its compact SUV's track an inch to improve handling and open up more shoulder room, but lowered its stance (7.3 inch ground clearance). In the process, the company carved out an additional cubic foot of cargo space. With 73 cubes of max capacity, the CR-V equals the current RAV-4 and can comfortably seat five average-sized Pinoys, or four six-footers
Honda set about making its small SUV more practical for the owner with a toddler in one arm and groceries in the other. The side-hinged rear gate and exterior-mounted spare tire were dumped in favor of a lighter, overhead liftgate and an underfloor spare, plus a tonneau cover fitted to the 35.7 cubic-foot cargo bay to allow two-tier loading. Also, a bevy of storage bins keep small items in place while keeping an eye on the kids in the rear.

Honda also designed rear doors that open a full 90 degrees. Better yet, the doors have numerous detents within their opening range, so you never have to worry about them swinging back while you're bent over buckling in the apple of your eye. The 60/40-split rear bench offers a wide range of fore/aft adjustment.

Plus, interior materials are higher in quality compared to the previous model, and the unsightly floor-mounted (or column-mounted) shifter and jet fighter control stick that is the handbrake have been replaced by a sleek, ergonomic design that puts both gear selector and handbrake within easier reach. It's also a plus to find a comfy driving position with the tilt/telescoping steering wheel.

Hit the road and powerband entry comes early (2500 rpm), with the i-VTEC kicking in at around 4500-4750 rpm. The smoothly engaging six-speed m/t on the test unit (the P1.22 million 2.0L 4x2 base model) has even gearing and much appreciated short throws, but has notchy fifth and sixth gears and displays torque steer. Although top speed testing was handicapped due to inclement weather, one top speed run was recorded at 190 kph. Fuel consumption is good but not great, with just 9.08 km/l on a week of mixed driving.

The new CR-V totes handling that borders on athletic. Greater use of high-strength steel provides a more structurally rigid body, and engineers made numerous changes to the fully independent front strut/rear multilink suspension. In front, they added caster, adjusted the angle of the struts and lowered the steering box to improve straight-line stability and steering response, while increasing suspension travel to allow for greater tuning precision. In back, they fiddled with the geometry to keep the CR-V level during acceleration and braking, and fitted a larger anti-roll bar. The steering system continues to use hydraulic assist, but has a quicker ratio for sharper feedback, especially on turn-in. The result is little body roll on turns, and traction from the Bridgestone Dueler H/T 225/85R17s breaking at 75-80 kph.

Both brakes and handbrake grip hard at the slightest prod, and the ABS kicks in at three-fourths effort. The dim setting and the foglights can replace the headlights bright setting due to its illumination, but the same can't be said for the interior. Front occupant lighting is bright, but the rear area could use an additional lamp.

With the RAV-4 launched a year earlier, Honda was forced to swing for the fences. The great news is that the new CR-V, even in its base form, is a grand slam homerun for getting along without going along.