In a highly competitive compact SUV/compact crossover SUV arena, what separates the haves from the have-nots is the ability of a manufacturer's representative to provide the following: 1) Creature comforts for long trips; 2) Performance with punch (including ride comfort and handling), yet have fuel parsimony; 3) Cargo hauling aptitude up to a quarter's worth of groceries for a foursome; and 4) Decent (read: can run on sand or dried mud) off road skill.

In short, you want an urban roughneck.

And the Honda CR-V 2.4 A/T is as urban roughneck as you can get.

From its looks, one may think that the range-topper CR-V was built to go strictly on asphalt, given its low stance, a passing resemblance to the Chrysler Pacifica, and chrome-lined upper front and lower front grilles. It does, however, show that it's capable on all sorts of terrain, given the flat black underside cladding, the rather unsightly 17-inch rims and fat Bridgestone Dueler H/T 470 225/65R17 rubber.

Inside is where Honda bests rivals such as the Toyota RAV4, the Ford Escape and the Subaru Forester. The cabin feels spacious, and the black-on-khaki interior colorway gives a relaxing ambience. Well, actually the cabin is spacious, with two fistfuls of legroom and kneeroom at the back should two six-footers occupy the front. In addition the whole front part of the interior has ergonomics similar to its Accord and Civic siblings, from the large dials for the volume, frequency tuning, and temperature knobs and right down to the easy-to-understand buttons, switches and gauges/fonts for matters such as airconditioning, audio entertainment, power-assisted sliding windows, speed, remaining petrol and engine revs. There's even an auxiliary port (or "aux in" port) within the center console for external MP3 players and iPods. The grey thick grab handles for all doors convey a sense of modernism and minimalism in its design, looking like the long handles on the rotating, non-power assisted window adjustment levers of 1980s Hondas. The front seats are captain's chairs, and the rear bench is comfortable despite it being clad in leather. It would be much better for the seats to use fabric-lined covers (similar to its 2.0 M/T variant, albeit in colors matching the cabin) so that heat dissipates quickly from them. The leather seats on the 2.4 A/T retain a lot of heat, and can be quite prickly to bums and thighs. Lastly, the audio entertainment is decent, with just a little help on the midrange end being all that's found wanting in the aforementioned department.

Storage, too, is topnotch given its class. A wider (by 25.4 mm) track than its predecessor opens up more shoulder room, thus carving out an additional cubic foot of cargo space. With 73 cubic feet of max capacity, the CR-V equals the current RAV4 and can comfortably seat five average-sized Pinoys, or four six-footers. In addition, 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 (with an exterior pull latch parallel to an average Filipino's knees) and an underfloor spare. A bevy of storage bins - including cupholders that can swallow a one liter bottle of water - keep bric-a-brac in place. Rear seats can fold flat AND flush to the floor, or tumbled forward for handling bigger cargo. Honda also designed rear doors that open a full 90 degrees - with numerous detents within their opening range - so you never have to worry about them swinging back while you're bent over buckling kids in the rear section.

Should you go urban (read: take to the tarmac), you'll find out that you can get into the powerband by 2250-2500 rpm. The i-VTEC (Intelligent Variable valve Timing and lift Electronic Control) valve timing wakes up by 3,750-4,000 rpm, and past 5,600 rpm is all noise. The A/T is willing to downshift at one half throttle, and you have a good chance to overtake vehicles on flat tarmac at that rate. The results are impressive - a 193 kph top speed (better than that of the Ford Escape 4x4's 184 kph and the Toyota RAV4 4x4's 188 kph), along with 10 km/liter on four days mixed driving.

Should you go cowboy by heading towards the dirt, the CR-V is a willing partner. Off road ability is best suited for hard earth and pebbly roads, though. On sandy and loose earth trails there's lots of wheel slip (remedied by occasional sawing at the wheel to increase traction), and although there's body cladding the angles of approach and departure aren't that tall. This can lead to the undercarriage and the lower bumper getting a nasty ding or two. The good news is that the Bridgestone Dueler H/T 470 225/65R17s are willing to take on almost all surfaces, and provide surprisingly great ride comfort too.

The CR-V is one of the rare better handling (and chock-full of safety) compact SUVs. The same exact measurements for front and rear track (1,565 mm) help traction break up to 80-83 kph (with VSA off), plus a little body roll than expected and an understeer bias. However, the vehicle loaned to this writer demonstrated steering that was a bit off center; he had to move the tilt/telescoping steering wheel a degree to the right so that the unit can travel in a straight line. The brakes have a lot of fade - a given since the unit saw 10,000-plus km when this writer got the SUV - but grips when you need it and without the ABS waking up. The footbrake is easy to use - just push down the footbrake with your left foot to activate, push down a second time to turn off the footbrake. Much like the brakes, the footbrake has reduced grip due to the massive mileage tacked on it, but has decent bite. Exterior and interior lighting is bright, and the latter's multiple ceiling mounted lamps make looking for lost items in the dark easy. The doors automatically lock by 20-30 kph, and the side mirrors have power assisted folding for going through tight Pasay and Manila alleyways. One problem though - view from both aforementioned side mirrors is limited to just one and a half lanes of lateral sight.

The P 1.475 million Honda CR-V 2.4 A/T does answer the market's need for a compact SUV that can provide compact SUV performance (albeit on solid roads only) but show near-midsize SUV cargo hauling ability and comforts/amenities. Even if its off road performance is middling at best, this compact SUV is definitely adept in both urban and rural settings.