Best Ride judges were, once again, thoroughly impressed with the Honda CR-V's responsive handling and solid ride, ranking it highest in the compact SUV category for the second year in a row.

Though this year's CR-V has changed little from last year's model, judges still rave about the small sport-ute. "The Honda CR-V handles great," exclaims one judge, "I would put this vehicle up against the Mercedes AMG 55, which I rated as one of the best off-road vehicles I tested."

To create a carlike ride on paved roads and a smooth ride off-road, Honda engineers incorporate a four-wheel, double-wishbone suspension with front and rear stabilizer bars. The CR-V's progressive valve shock absorbers with gas-filled dampers smoothly handle small and large bumps and vibrations. In fact, Best Ride judges found the CR-V to be "very agile" on a pitted country road "handling the bumps remarkably well." Most drivers were equally impressed with the CR-V's "solid feel" on the test track and its "smooth, crisp steering" when parking.

The suspension, adopted from the Honda Civic, is tuned for four-wheeling. Front L-shaped lower control arms and negative scrub offset boosts stability, especially when braking while cornering, says Honda. Both front and rear roll center heights are set low to reduce the effects of wheel jacking, and the CR-V's stabilizer bars are thicker than on the Civic. Also, high-strength crossbeams and heavy-duty rear hub-bearing units promote high lateral load rigidity.

The CR-V sports a real-time 4WD system that only sends power to the rear wheels when it senses that the front wheels lack traction. Two hydraulic pumps are the heart of the system. One is driven by the front wheels via the propeller shaft, the other by the rear wheels via the rear differential. A hydraulically actuated, multiplate clutch connects the propeller shaft to the rear differential.

When the CR-V's front and rear wheels are turning at the same speed, the front and rear hydraulic pumps work at the same speed. Hydraulic fluid moves between them, yet generates no pressure. Front wheels turning faster than the rear wheels generate hydraulic pressure that opens a valve body to the multiplate clutch. This lets the front propeller shaft engage the rear differential, feeding torque to the rear wheels.

For the most part, judges were impressed with the CR-V's handling in mud and its agility through curves and over bumps. Judges agreed that the ABS did a good job of stopping without overworking.

Honda engineers strive to make the CR-V as quiet and smooth as driving a sedan. To quiet body noise and control vibration, the CR-V is fitted with liquid-filled engine mounts and sus-pension bushings that use a special type of rubber to cut road noise. An intake silencer along with large-volume resonator chamber and a special side-branch muffle induction noises from the engine. A bubble-type, high-damping asphalt sheet lines the passenger floor and footwells, while lightweight asphalt coats the sheet metal of the cargo compartment.

Overall, judges rated the Honda CR-V an excellent light-duty sport-ute. As one judge summed up, "The CR-V has a comfortable ride for such an inexpensive SUV. I'm truly impressed."