In 2005 I wanted to replace my Chrysler Concorde with something more fun to drive. The twisty roads on my daily commute had made driving a chore. I also wanted something with a hatchback, as I’d run into a several instances when hauling stuff (like a used treadmill or antiques) where I had to enlist the assistance of friends who had more versatile vehicles.
By this time, I had come to terms with the fact that I was going to have to consider a foreign car. I was thinking of a Subaru Outback, but my wife vetoed that due to a reputation for transmission problems. I checked out the Hyundai Tucson and Santa Fe (figuring on low prices and a long warranty), but I was surprised that they were charging Honda and Toyota prices, and I passed.
In the end I narrowed it down to three candidates.
The Chrysler PT Cruiser: My Chryslers has been good to me, and the PT Cruiser checked a few boxes including plenty of space and retro styling. A test drive didn’t impress me, though. The engine felt weak and the Daimler cost-cutting was visible everywhere. Maybe it was suffering in comparison to the Concorde, but it felt cheap.
The Mazda3: The car magazines were raving about the handling of this car, and they weren’t wrong. I think it was the first car I ever test drove that put a big smile on my face. It was fun. Zoom zoom, indeed. However, it was a little small and the leather seats were a dealer-installed option (or so they said), which weirded me out a little.
The Honda CR-V: The second generation “cute-ute” was introduced in 2002, and the 2005 refresh introduced a number of improvements, not the least of which was the top-level SE trim that brought the interior appointments almost to the level of the Concorde, albeit somewhat more utilitarian-looking. With the seats down, the cargo area was positively cavernous. Most importantly, despite the relatively high center of gravity, it handled better than the Concorde. The drive-by-wire steering responses were sharp and body lean in the curves was surprisingly minimal. It was no Mazda3, but it was absolutely an improvement.
In the end I felt like the CR-V was the best place to put my money. The spaciousness, handling, and the Honda reputation for quality won me over. I picked the SE-exclusive Pewter Pearl color, which rather reminded me of my old Gunmetal Grey Bonneville (Also an SE. Coincidence!!!????).
About the only issue I had with the dealer was an attempt to charge me for VIN-number etching on the window glass. I had declined the service, but apparently they were etching all of the cars as they came on the lot. “Not my problem.” I said.
Besides the interior appointments the SE trim also included body-colored bumpers, mirrors, and a hard external spare tire cover. (It was a common sight to see the CR-Vs on the road with the Honda logo on the tires askew by several degrees, and mine was no exception. It would slowly move over time no matter how many times I straightened it). I always thought that the SE was how the Honda designers intended the CR-V to look. The black bumpers on lower trims looked awkward by comparison.
All 2005 CR-Vs came with the same 160-horsepower 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine. It accelerated well enough, as long as I didn’t have too much in the cargo area. I could definitely feel the difference when I had a few hundred pounds of wood pellets or kitty litter in the back. This was my first 4-cylinder car, and keeping my foot on the gas to keep the CR-V moving forward on the highway was something of an adjustment. My 6-cylinder cars had only needed occasional light pressure on the gas pedal to stay at speed. I was not a fan of cruise control, as I found keeping my foot hovering in position near the pedals in case of emergency was more tiring than just keeping my foot in place.
I’m by no means a mechanical wizard, but I figure that I can change a headlight bulb when needed. The CR-V regularly got the best of me, however, requiring tiny, contortionist hands to do the job. Once I dropped a bulb somewhere in the engine compartment. Luckily, the dealer was able to retrieve it and didn’t charge for the service.
The CR-V was the right car at the right time. While we owned the CR-V we went through a lot of life changes. We began to breed and show Maine Coon cats as a hobby and suddenly the CR-V became exceedingly useful when traveling across the Northeast and Eastern Canada to cat shows. It easily fit a couple of cat carriers in the back seat, and our luggage and show setup in the cargo area. I changed jobs and we moved north and bought a big old farmhouse in New Hampshire, so the all-wheel-drive came in handy more often. (Or maybe not. The New Hampshire plows seem to have a better knack for keeping the roads clear than those further south in New England). The CR-V was always there for hauling garbage, furniture, whatever we threw at it.
I sometimes considered getting a beater truck for moving bigger items, but we didn’t have room for one in our two-car tandem garage/barn. Besides, it would probably cost more to repair and insure an old truck than it would be to rent one when I needed it. In the end, the CR-V did everything, even if it took a few more trips.
If the inconveniently right-hinged door wasn’t a clue, my CR-V was built in Japan. Maybe I was lucky, but outside of a dead battery it never let me down. It literally required nothing beyond normal maintenance and replacement of wear-and-tear items for ten years and 240,000 miles. I thought of replacing it on occasion, but there was no logical reason to do so. The CR-V just kept going and despite the New Hampshire winters the body was rust free. You wouldn’t know it was a ten-year-old car except for the styling and the now anachronistic external spare.
I kept thinking the other shoe would drop and some expensive repair would force my hand, but it never happened. I was starting to get used to the idea that I could take it to 300,000 miles, or more. Instead, while the CR-V was in for service the dealer asked if they could look over the car and make me an offer on trading it in. I figured it couldn’t hurt, so I let them go ahead. The offer they made was ridiculously high.
Now, this dealer didn’t negotiate on price, so I knew they had some profit built into that calculation, but their prices (including used cars) were fairly competitive from what I could see. With that knowledge in hand, I kept my eye on their inventory for something that might fit our needs and budget. Their offer was good for a while, and I wasn’t in any rush.
My wife, now disabled with fibromyalgia, was finding it difficult to get in and out of the CR-V. Something lower to the ground like a wagon would be much easier on her. I went shopping for a new (to us) box on wheels.