The automotive industry has no shortage of stereotypes for its vehicle brands and automakers. For decades, Detroit automakers were known for making the best trucks and gas-guzzling, road-hogging SUVs. On the flip side, Japanese automakers were known for making high-quality, even if bland and boring, passenger cars.
Then, in recent years, out of the twilight zone came Chevrolet's Impala, which became Consumer Reports' top-scoring sedan -- the first time in 20 years an American sedan had accomplished this feat. Also seemingly out of left field, at least in terms of stereotypes, this year's Motor Trend magazine's SUV of the year comes from a Japanese automaker: Honda's (NYSE:HMC) 2015 CR-V.
What's the big deal?
Let's take a look at what this really means, as the Motor Trend award doesn't compare every SUV out there. The competition was open to any SUV sold in the U.S. that was all-new or had undergone a significant refresh. While that prerequisite slimmed down the number of SUVs competing, it didn't slim down the quality of SUVs available to win the award.
Consider that Motor Trend naming the Honda CR-V its SUV of the year means the SUV beat out luxury competitors such as the Lincoln MKC, Porsche Macan, Cadillac Escalade, and BMW X4 and X5. It also beat out the very popular Jeep Cherokee.
While it might be surprising for many to see the CR-V topping those competitors for SUV of the year, the vehicle has been a hot seller for some time, and it practically introduced the smaller and more fuel-efficient SUV genre. It's been the best-selling SUV for a couple of years and remains on pace to slightly edge out Ford's Escape in 2014.
What's new for the 2015 CR-V?
Honda's initial fourth-generation CR-V wasn't exactly a flop, but it certainly missed the mark with critics. That's why Honda's 2015 refresh was a significant one, and one that needed to stir up some positive attention or risk losing ground to Ford's Escape. The CR-V has evolved into a very important sales pillar for the Japanese automaker, and its mid-cycle refresh brought on more than 60 improvements.
2015 brought some fresh features and updated styling, but the headline was the CR-V's revised 2.4-liter engine with a continuously variable transmission, or CVT. The engine is rated at 185 horsepower and 181 lb-ft of torque, and consumers can select front- or all-wheel drive on every available trim. Honda's CR-V is estimated to get 29 mpg combined, or 27 mpg city/34 mpg highway, with the front-wheel-drive option. The all-wheel drive takes each of those figures down 1 mpg.
One stereotype that holds true for Honda's CR-V is that consumers are getting a solid deal. IntelliChoice estimates that the CR-V's cost of ownership is roughly $4,500 less than the class average. The 2015 CR-V also makes a much-needed improvement to its interior, where it has lost some ground to Nissan's Rogue and Toyota's RAV 4, and has been lauded for using higher-quality materials.
"The competition will find it difficult to match the new CR-V in looks, fuel economy, feature content and safety, but where it really stands out is value for the money," according to Kelley Blue Book.
Ultimately, this is a bigger deal for Honda than many would believe. Detroit has long been known to dominate the industry in terms of two products: full-size trucks and SUVs. Both segments represent much higher profitability, as well as two of the highest-volume selling segments. To put it bluntly, these segments are extremely important for the bottom line. That's even more true for Japanese automakers because Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler have had the full-size truck segment on lockdown -- any success Japanese automakers have with SUVs is a huge deal.
Despite going against historical automotive stereotypes, Honda's CR-V has been one of the industry's best SUVs for some time -- and this mid-cycle refresh should only cement its spot atop the sales rankings.