SAN FRANCISCO, California— This fifth generation of Honda’s popular CR-V brings a smaller engine, larger cabin, and the usual assortment of gadgets and luxuries buyers didn’t know about but can’t live without.

It’s strong on practical packaging and fuel economy and should remain just as popular as earlier versions. As usual, it will come in typical Honda trims with essentially no options beyond hue, yet only top-trim versions were available for evaluation.

With its prominent chin up front and pillar-climbing lights out back, this CR-V appears an evolution of the old one despite hiding an entirely new car underneath.

Basic bones are shared with the newest (tenth-generation) Civic and it follows most current trends—more aero edges, bigger wheels, smaller windows and wilder wheels, yet it remains familiar as a Honda.

Or is that a Toyota? Or a Mitsubishi? Depending on lighting, some in this class are readily mistaken for another, or an earlier iteration of what you’re in.

Heavy outboard creases frame the front and rear bumpers, though unlike performance cars bearing similar profiling, these are not ducted to feed coolers or extract brake heat.

Mandatory plastic cladding for that off-road look encases the lower perimeter, nearly flush with the large flat sheetmetal semicircles covering bigger wheels. It has more ground clearance, too, from larger tires and tucking up bits below but you’d only notice if looking underneath while following one.

If you consider yourself parked when the car grinds to a stop along the curb, these wheels resembling robotic crawlers may well conceal some of your work, but not all of it.

The form inside the hood resembles a Corvette, with fender blister edges framing a flat center section. There’s nothing remotely Corvette beneath it, of course, though it could be entertaining driving smoothly enough to keep rain drops on the middle of it.

Visibility’s good, though it does not have the low-cowl feel of older Hondas.

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Wider shoulders split door handles and fade away at the stern, replaced by substantial taillight housings. No light from within is seen in the mirrors, but sunlight reflections are, an awkward moment while you contemplate the solid red light in your mirror.

New this year are dual tailpipe outlets, and those signals framing the hatch glass are LED on all. Don’t worry about the glass not opening separately as it’s deep inside and taller, leaving a long reach even for lanky types.

However, some models have the wave-your-foot power hatch – don’t drop the bags on your stationary foot balancing – which is easily programmed to any opening height to clear your head and not scratch it on low overheads.

Although the old CR-V wasn’t compromised, the new one is an improvement. The top line aims at more luxurious surroundings, flexibility has been amplified, and it’s quite a bit bigger inside despite the modest 30 to 40 mm increase in wheelbase, outside length, width, and height.

The new seats are more comfortable in terms of long-term support and lateral retention, the headrests not imposing like many, the footroom improved, the console and dash better integrated than before.

Positioning feels more car-like, especially in the passenger’s seat, which no longer feels as high as a bar stool. In top trim there’s leather with matte-finish woodgrain trim; only a mid-dash strip is gloss-black and it causes no glare.

There are abundant hard plastics below armrest height, perfectly fine in a utility runabout, and the console sides work well as knee rests despite no padding.

Instruments consist of engine coolant temperature in outer nacelles and a central screen with bar-graph tach along the top, digital speedometer, and large-font trip and other data. It’s somehow not as appealing as the similar arrangement from the S2000, seems far less space-efficient, and more than one opined of difficulty reading temperature and fuel levels, especially in bright light or with hands (on the wheel) reflecting in the dash.

We found no correlation between that and polarized lenses, which had no difficulty with any other display. Steering wheel and dash pushbuttons were easy to decipher, but the tilt/telescope adjustment release lever is only a few centimetres above your brake foot.

Shifter, climate and touch-screen controls are all nearby and simple to work with one hand. For this generation some screen functions are more direct, there’s a regular volume knob (a late addition that didn’t appear on early cockpit sketches) and fan-speed switches. All this frees up console space with multiple configurations, one of which will swallow a moderate-size purse, and complemented by door pockets that could hold two drinks and a tablet…at least until the first zippy corner.

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We’d no problem parking a six-foot tester behind a six-foot driver—and it looked like they’d still fit comfortably in full winter kit. The 60/40 (wide side behind driver) seat reclines fractionally and folds flat with one simple tug (from seat or cargo bay); it does not slide fore-n-aft as some do.

A cargo cover is standard on most – amusingly the CR-V engineers hadn’t yet seen the horizontally-sliding cover fitted to the Civic hatchback – and is well off the floor (it can be removed and placed on the floor with nominal impact on loading).

Honda claims four 29-inch roller bags fit beneath it, but they pack neater than most people. Still, it’s a cavernous space of 1,100 cubic litres (2,150 seats folded) that embarrasses some three-row utes, and with the dual-height load floor at sill/folded seat level, the 154-cm flat (not horizontal) floor is 25 cm longer than before.

Note the cargo floor is rated for 100kg in the upper position, so throwing a few big bags of cement or garden mulch in should be approached with caution…or the load deck lowered, but in that upper position a flat tire will fit underneath it.

That volume knob was big news but it’s not the only update. CR-V now offers CarPlay/Android Auto, and there are dual USB charging ports in the rear seat.

On the safety front many models will include blind-spot warning, predictive rear camera, automatic high beam, lane-keeping assist and active cruise control with low-speed following.

That last one will cope with stop-and-go traffic though there’s a good chance you’re smoother, and we didn’t notice a big variance in following distance relative to speed. It’s worth noting that switching off the cruise control “main” also disables the lane-keeping, lest errant road markings wiggle the wheel too much for your liking.

Top trims will have LED headlights we had no opportunity to sample, and road-departure mitigation that might save those around you from inattention.

In the mechanical bits Honda has added grille shutters, the electric-wastegate turbocharged 1.5-litre engine that debuted in the Civic, and “active handling assist” (AHA, not to be confused with the Aha radio function) that applies a rear brake to help the car rotate into a corner, just like MINI’s “cornering brake control” and countless others.

Finally, the all-wheel drive system has been updated to accept (and therefore deliver) more power to the rear wheels and predict slip rather than wait until front slip is detected and then ramp up rear drive.

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Base models run the tried-and-true 184-hp 2.4-litre inline-four with 180 lb-ft of torque, others the 1.5-litre turbo with 190 hp and 179 lb-ft of torque, both paired to a CVT.

Mash the gas and the CVT aims for peak torque revs so neither feels especially fast (the 1.5 is said to be more than a second quicker to 100 km/h than last year’s CR-V); the 2.4 has a slight edge in immediate throttle response but the turbo builds boost and revs almost as quickly.

I’d not give either one an advantage in idle smoothness as both feel like good-sized fours in this respect, and about the same as competitors for full-throttle racket.

From the driver’s seat the turbo 1.5’s principal payoffs are better midrange power because peak torque arrives about 2,000 rpm lower than on the 2.4; better fuel consumption if you’re not hard on the throttle a lot; and better at-altitude performance.

Against preliminary estimates of 10.2 and 7.1 L/100 km, we observed a best of 7.6 L/100 km on rolling two-lanes in the 80 to 90 km/h range (40-percent load) and 10.8 when hills, corners and dynamic evaluation joined in. CR-V carries 53 litres of regular unleaded.

Despite being taller it gets down the winding road as well as before, notably quicker in response to steering wheel inputs because it’s dropped from 3.1 turns lock-to-lock to just 2.3, and the AHA helping more as limits are approached.

Brakes got the job done although the pedal felt more springy, less easy to modulate than the predecessor, yielding the comment to my co-driver – who nodded in agreement – that like many new vehicles the CR-V is more capable, if not as feelsome.

There’s nothing wrong with it and it reliably went everywhere we directed it, but drivers seeking more involvement or dare I say fun will more likely find it in an Escape, CX-5 or Forester turbo.

In back-to-back drives with the old CR-V this one is quieter, wind noise not creeping in ’til 10 or 20 km/h higher, and it feels a bit more rigid as well. As usual, road noise was dependent on tires, and with ’16 and ’17 not wearing the same size that wasn’t a fair fight.

Snow was unavailable but we did find some mud. After entering cautiously on all-season tires we tried a few full-throttle starts with the new AWD system: every time it simply went forward, in most cases the rear tires leaving a clearly defined tread visible and it wasn’t until about 3,000 revs showed that power was enough to break traction.

Alas the mud hole wasn’t big enough to try directional changes, but the system is not torque-vectoring for propulsion.

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Base price is expected to go up nominally, upper trims sporting the turbo probably more. This may be the first CR-V to hit $40,000 but it is plausible reliability, resale, safety systems (and insurance breaks) might make a compelling value argument.

Like its benign get-the-job-done driving behavior, the new CR-V is immensely practical and as fuel-efficient as any similar conveyance.

It has room for four adults, cargo area rivaling Audi’s biggest crossover, safety systems that don’t carry a platinum premium, and it’s very easy to drive. I bet it’s just as easy to live with.

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Disclosure—This writer’s travel and accommodations were provided by the automaker for the purposes of this first-drive review.

Vehicles driven were U.S. specification but Canadian versions are expected to be of identical performance.