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Best-selling CR-V is all-new for 2017

You have to squint to see it, but the Honda CR-V has been completely redesigned for 2017.

The exterior styling has a more brawny look, with prominent front fenders and grille treatments, including LEDs for daytime running lights, headlights and turn signals.

The 2017 CR-V also is bigger and roomier than last year’s model. Though it doesn’t look like much on paper — 1.2 inches longer, 1.4 inches taller, and 1.4 inches wider — the stretch delivers a cabin bigger by 2 cubic feet.

That translates into a couple of extra inches of leg room for back-seat passengers and more room for cargo. With the seat backs up, the new CR-V has 39 cubic feet of space; drop the seat backs (with the touch of a button) and it expands to 76 cubic feet. The cargo floor is 10 inches longer than before, or more than 5 feet long; the cargo floor panel can be lowered about 3 inches to carry taller items with the seat backs up.

Honda also has made loading easier with a power tailgate that can be opened with the wave of a foot and adjusted for height when it opens.

As before, the CR-V can be ordered with front-wheel drive (or, for an additional $1,300, all-wheel drive). There now are four versions: LX, EX, EX-L and Touring. Tested for this review was a loaded all-wheel-drive Touring model with a suggested price tag of $34,530.

All of the 2017 CR-Vs except for the base LX are powered by a new 1.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine. With 190 horsepower and 179 pound-feet of torque, it delivers strong acceleration and confident highway passing along with exceptional city/highway/combined fuel economy of 27/33/29 mpg on the all-wheel-drive version.

But the LX is no slouch. Its naturally aspirated 2.4-liter engine delivers 184 horsepower and 180 pound-feet of torque, along with fuel economy of 26/32/28 mpg in the front-drive version, which starts at $24,870.

All CR-Vs get the power to the pavement with Honda’s continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), which accelerates smoothly without any shift points. For drivers used to shift points, Honda’s G-design shift logic can provide up to seven distinct ratios to mimic the feel of a conventional automatic. There’s also a sport setting on the shifter that delays upshifts to provide stronger acceleration.

On the highway, the tested CR-V delivered steady, straight-line motoring with a solid steering feel. Around curves, it flatly obeyed the driver’s steering wishes.

Thanks to structural and sound-deadening enhancements, the CR-V cruises serenely with little intrusion of wind, mechanical or road noise. The front seats and outboard back seats provide solid support and comfort for long distances.

Even the base LX model comes with a decent level of equipment, including automatic air conditioning, active noise control, Bluetooth connectivity, Pandora radio compatibility, cruise control and rear-view camera.

The best-selling CR-V competes against such stalwarts as the Toyota RAV4 and Ford Escape. With the 2017 improvements, it appears to have the bones to maintain its sales lead among crossover SUVs, which currently are the most sought-after vehicles on the market.