The new family car: Honda revamps small SUV

DETROIT (AP) — America’s new family car is getting a major face-lift.

It’s not the Toyota Camry or some other midsize car. It’s the Honda CR-V, a compact SUV that for the past three months has been the top-selling vehicle in America excluding pickup trucks.

The new Honda, unveiled Thursday, is scheduled to hit showrooms this winter. The timing is perfect, as consumers in the U.S. and worldwide show a preference for smaller SUVs that are almost as fuel-efficient as cars yet have more room to haul cargo and people. The compact SUV passed the midsize car last year to become the top-selling segment of the U.S. market, and it’s showing no sign of turning back.

This Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2016, photo shows the 2017 Honda CR-V, in Detroit. America's family car is no longer the Toyota Camry or some other midsize car. It's the Honda CR-V, a compact SUV, that's getting its first overhaul since 2012. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
This Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2016, photo shows the 2017 Honda CR-V, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

The new CR-V, based on the underpinnings of Honda’s popular Civic small car, gets a wider-looking exterior with a rounded body. The interior gets a soft dashboard and restyled, stitched seats. It comes with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility. By customer demand, Honda has gone back to having a real volume control knob for the entertainment system.

The SUV is bigger from wheel to wheel, providing two more inches of legroom in the rear seat. Cargo space with the seats folded down is almost 10 inches longer than the old model, the company said.

The new CR-V comes with a 2.4-liter, 184-horsepower four-cylinder engine from the previous model. On upper trim levels, there’s a 190-horsepower, 1.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder from the new Civic. Both have a continuously variable automatic transmission.

Gas mileage hasn’t been determined but Honda says the turbo will be better than the current model and best in the market segment. The current two-wheel-drive model gets an estimated 32 mpg on the highway. The price wasn’t announced.

The CR-V has defied the auto industry axiom that old products don’t sell as well as new ones. The SUV was last revamped in 2012, yet it has remained the top seller in its segment. Since July, the only vehicles in the U.S. to outsell the CR-V have been full-size pickup trucks offered by the Detroit Three. The CR-V has outsold the perennial top-selling car in the U.S., the midsize Camry, all summer.

Michelle Krebs, senior analyst for Autotrader, says it won’t be long until a compact SUV permanently unseats the Camry as the top-selling car-based vehicle. The winner, though, may end up being the Toyota RAV4 small SUV, because Toyota is more willing than Honda to offer discounts and sell to rental car companies to boost sales, Krebs said.

So far this year, Toyota has sold 297,453 Camrys in the U.S., and Honda has sold 263,493 CR-Vs. The RAV4 is close behind with sales just over 260,380.

Compact SUVs accounted for only 7.2 percent of the U.S. market just a decade ago, but that has more than doubled to 16.5 percent so far this year, says. Compact SUV sales are up 4 percent through September, while overall U.S. auto sales are up only 0.5 percent.

Krebs sees the compact SUV segment becoming increasingly competitive when the new CR-V arrives. General Motors is rolling out a new Chevrolet Equinox early next year, and both will go up against relatively new versions of the RAV4 and the Nissan Rogue. Other automakers will freshen their entries. It’s all good for consumers.

“We think there will be more aggressive marketing, maybe more incentives in that segment,” she said.

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