2015 updates make Honda's best-selling CR-V even more attractive

America's best-selling sport utility vehicle for a decade, the Honda CR-V, is an even smarter buy for 2015 with added features, updated styling and improved fuel economy.

The upgrades include a new four-cylinder engine and transmission combination that helps keep the CR-V tops in U.S. SUV gasoline mileage.

Only gasoline-electric hybrids, diesel-powered SUVs and all-electric models have higher federal government fuel economy ratings than the two-wheel drive CR-V. Specifically, this 2015 CR-V is rated at 27 miles per gallon in city driving and 34 mpg on the highway.

Best of all, the 2015 CR-V manufacturer's suggested retail prices increased by just $200 or less, depending on the model, from the 2014 prices.

The popular CR-V remains a recommended buy of Consumer Reports magazine, where predicted reliability is above average.

In addition, the five-passenger, compact CR-V took the top spot for the second year in a row in maintaining its value better than other compact SUVs, according to Automotive Lease Guide.

No wonder CR-V's sales this calendar year are up 7.4 percent through October from the year-ago period and total more than 270,000.

Not even competitors like the Toyota RAV4 and Ford Escape approach this number.

MSRP, including destination charge, for a base, 2015 CR-V LX is $24,200.

The 2015 base model is two-wheel drive and comes with a 185-horsepower, 2.4-liter, naturally aspirated, four-cylinder engine mated to a continuously variable transmission (CVT).

This engine is in all CR-V models, and the fuel-savvy CVT, which a driver operates like an automatic, is the only transmission offered.

For a 2015 CR-V with all-wheel drive, the lowest starting retail price is $25,450.

New for 2015, there is a new top-level CR-V — the Touring — that is the first Honda-branded vehicle with a collision-mitigation braking system and lane-keeping assist system.

The Touring also includes, for the first time in a CR-V, adaptive cruise control that allows the SUV to slow itself automatically if it comes upon a slower vehicle ahead.

Starting retail price for a 2015 CR-V Touring with two-wheel drive is $32,400.

Leather-trimmed seats, power moonroof, power rear liftgate, 10-way, power-adjustable driver's seat and 18-inch alloy wheels are among the other standard features on the Touring.

All shoppers will like that all 2015 CR-Vs have a standard and much-appreciated rearview camera to help a driver see behind as the vehicle backs up.

The 2015 Toyota RAV4, which also comes standard with a backup camera, has a starting retail price, including destination charge, that's higher than the 2015 CR-V's.

Specifically, a 2015 RAV4 LE starts at $24,565 with two-wheel drive, 176-horsepower, four-cylinder engine and six-speed automatic transmission.

But the base, 2015 Ford Escape S with two-wheel drive has a lower starting retail price of $23,505.

The Escape S includes a 168-horsepower, naturally aspirated four cylinder, six-speed automatic and rearview camera.

The Escape also is offered with two other four-cylinder engines.

The 2015 CR-V exterior is mildly updated from its predecessor.

The most noticeable differentiation on the test CR-V Touring AWD model was the increase in chrome-colored accents and a subtle redesign of the front face for a more dynamic look.

But onlookers didn't seem to notice.

The ride and engine response were pleasantly comfortable in the test 2015 CR-V.

Passengers could notice some vibrations and road feel nearly all the time.

But the ride was not overly firm, not jolting and also not cushy, so the vehicle, stretching nearly 15 feet from bumper to bumper, handled many driving maneuvers well.

In fact, it drove and felt from the driver's seat like a smaller SUV in its handling.

For example, the turning circle of no more than 37.5 feet — it's even smaller in all-wheel drive models — makes the CR-V handle U-turns without fuss.

But the electric, power-assisted, rack-and-pinion steering in the test CR-V wasn't impressive.

Even subtle road vibrations came through now and then into the steering wheel and into the driver's hands, which conveyed a less-than-quality feel.

And yet the steering could feel vague.

The new-to-the-CR-V engine, however, was noticeably a step up.

Even in "eco" mode, this 2.4-liter, double overhead cam four cylinder with direct injection had better response than expected in city driving.

Peak torque of 181 foot-pounds in this powerplant peaks at 3,900 rpm. This is up from the 163 foot-pounds of torque coming on at 4,400 rpm that was in last year's CR-V.

This engine, with the same 185 horses as last year's engine, also is in Honda's 2015 Accord sedan.

The CR-V's CVT does better than some others in feeling and driving like an automatic. The induction drone of the CVT wasn't noticed much in the tester.

But drivers wouldn't confuse this powerplant with a V-6 as the four cylinder sounded buzzy in hard-pressed acceleration on mountain highways.

After all, the 2015 CR-V, even as a base model, gained nearly 50 pounds from its 2014 predecessor, and the test CR-V Touring AWD weighed in at 3,624 pounds.

Driven with some aggressive acceleration demands, it didn't get anywhere near the federal government fuel mileage ratings of 26/33 mpg. Instead, it posted 22.1 mpg in driving that was a majority of city driving. This translated into a travel range of 338 miles. At today's prices for regular gasoline, a fillup of the 15.3-gallon tank costs just $43.

Everyone sits up a good bit above the pavement and has nice views out. Rear legroom of 38.3 inches is better than the 36.8 inches in Ford's Escape and the RAV4's 37.2 inches.

Cargo capacity of more than 70 cubic feet is competitive, as is the maximum towing capacity of 1,500 pounds.