Latest Reader Question (Sept. 27, 2017)

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Here’s the latest reader question, along with my reply:

Jed asks: I recently became a supporter of your website, and I appreciate your offer to field automotive questions. I have been driving quite a few new and used cars and hate most of them because of all the modern claptrap. I am leaning toward buying an SUV or possibly a pickup truck. I kind of like the Toyota 4Runner, but it’s a little short on headroom for someone of my height (6’2”), so I am considering the Honda Pilot (no radio knobs, and a loathsome digital speedometer, unfortunately) and the CR-V, both nice, although a bit “girlie.” As you know, the top of the line CR-V comes with a turbocharged 1.5 liter engine and a continuously variable transmission. I drove one and consider it a very nice smaller SUV, but I am concerned about both the engine and the transmission. My questions for you are: (1) Do you think a little 1.5 liter turbocharged engine will hold up well, and (2) What is your opinion of CVTs as opposed to conventional planetary gear automatic transmissions? I assume Honda has gone to the CVT because of CAFE standards. I would probably prefer the conventional transmission, but the CVT is the only one offered.I was also wondering what your opinion of Consumer Report is as a car shopping tool? It seems to me that the statistical data they publish based on the information gathered from their subscribers is valuable, but then again they seem to think a pickup truck should drive like a modern sedan or SUV.

Your responses would be greatly appreciated! By the way, as I mentioned, I have also driven a few pickups, and found your review of the Toyota Tundra very informative and persuasive. I drove a Ford 150, but crossed it off the list after driving the Tundra and taking your comments into consideration.

My reply: The CR-V has long been a blue chip choice in its class, chiefly because of its relatively simple/known-to-be-durable mechanicals. Like you, I am leery of the new model with its turbocharged engine. It certainly addresses criticisms leveled at the CR-V in the past that it wasn’t exactly the speediest thing in its class. The turbo CR-V is much quicker than the non-turbocharged model. It is also more complicated and – as you know from reading my articles – I am leery about the long-term prospects of these small (in proportion to the vehicle) turbocharged engines. Turbo (and super) charging – same things, basically – force feed air to the engine, pressurizing the air/fuel charge. This increases the load/stress on internal parts. They can of course be made heavier duty to compensate. But if there is a weakness anywhere down the line . . .

The turbocharger itself is an issue, too. It is true that designs have improved – in particular, many manufacturers have incorporated “cool down” oiling circuits to prevent the high heat generated by the turbo from cooking it to death when the engine is shut off after hard running. Still, the fact remains that a turbo must live in an environment of extremes; high heat – and extremely high RPM. Yet they are precision pieces, very sensitive to wear. And they are electronically controlled now. Lots of “little things” can go wrong that are non-issues with non-turbocharged engines.

Have you considered the Toyota RAV4?

It is the CR-V’s historic rival and unlike the CR-V, it still has a simple and known-to-be-long-haul-durable drivetrain, consisting of a non-turbocharged 2.5 liter four cylinder engine and a six-speed automatic transmission.  This is the same drivetrain, basically, that is standard equipment in the Camry sedan, which is as blue chip as modern cars get.

Now, the RAV-4 is not “exciting” – and it certainly isn’t quick. But it is an excellent appliance and for the purpose it’s made to serve, an outstanding choice.

The CR-V is sexier, more interesting and certainly more fun to drive. But that turbo… and I am not a fan of the CVT automatic, either. Their operating characteristics – specifically, the absence of “stepped” gearing to reduce engine RPM with each upshift during acceleration. Instead, the engine will rev up to a fairly high RPM (assuming you have pushed down hard on the gas pedal) and the hold those revs, until you back off the accelerator. The engine feels (and sounds) like it’s really working, especially if it’s a small engine.

The Honda’s turbo mitigates this problem to a great degree by dint of the turbo, which produces lots of low-end torque, to get the vehicle going without all that revving (and noise). But you have that turbo under the hood… and post warranty.

If it were me – and I buy cars for the long haul – the Toyota wins by default because it’s a proven design (the turbo Honda is too new to really know what will happen in the long term) and inherently less likely to have major/expensive problems down the road.

I also like the Pilot a lot, by the way – in part because it has Honda’s excellent V6 engine (no turbo). It is of course a larger vehicle than the CR-V but on the merits, it is also an excellent choice.

As regards CR: They have demonstrated bias toward (and against) various models over the years, based on what appear to be their personal/subjective views rather than objective facts. They also appear to have an agenda that is anti-car; see today’s lead rant. I am, obviously, not a fan of their work . . .

Thanks for the kind words – and your support!

. . .

Got a question about cars – or anything else? Click on the “ask Eric” link and send ’em in!

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