MONTEREY, CA – Nine years on top. That’s how long the Honda CR-V has spent as the No.1-selling utility vehicle, cross or sport, in the U.S.

And in those nine years, Middle CUVs have become the most popular vehicle type in the country, standing at 2.683 million units through October, WardsAuto data shows, topping the former No.1 segment, Middle Car, by 600,000 units.

As with any high-volume group the competition is fierce, evidenced these past few years by slowing growth of the CR-V and rising sales of other C-platform CUVs, namely the Toyota RAV4, up 12.0% through October vs. the CR-V’s 1.8% increase.

But Honda thinks it has hit upon the right formula to fend off the competitors and keep the CR-V on top. The new fifth-generation CR-V, on sale Dec. 21, is bigger inside and out, plus it has a more powerful engine, better interior materials and more infotainment and safety technology.

Unlike the fourth-gen CR-V, which stayed close to the dimensions of the first-, second- and third-generation CR-Vs, the new model grows 1.2 ins. (30 mm) in length from ’16 and 1.4 ins. (36 mm) in width. The new CR-V is just 1.6 ins. (41 mm) longer and 3.0 ins. (76 mm) wider than the first-gen model introduced in 1997 in the U.S., making it one of the smaller midsize CUVs available in this market.

While Honda touts the new CUV’s class-leading interior space, it has more of an advantage on cargo room than passenger volume. It appears to be on top in cargo volume (39.2 cu.-ft. [1.1 cu.-m]) with the rear seat up, but its 105.9 cu.-ft. (3.0 cu.-m) of passenger volume is topped by the ’17 Subaru Forester, which has 108.3 cu.-ft. (3.1 cu.-m) for people, but 34.4 cu.-ft. (1.0 cu.-m) for their stuff.

Compared with the outgoing CR-V, rear legroom increases 2.1 ins. (53 mm) in the new generation, and the cargo area is 9.8 ins. (249 mm) longer for 5 ft. (1.5 m) of cargo length behind the first row to the tailgate.

The CUV’s look is nicely advanced for ’17, with LED daytime running lights and turn signals on all grades, even the $24,045 LX base model. Full LED headlights, as well as LED taillights and brake lights come on the top Touring grade.

Taillights are more horizontally arrayed than vertical, and the midpoint of the tailgate is higher, with a stronger, straighter chrome trim piece. On the rear-quarter panel abutting the tailgate there are interesting crevices and creases in the sheetmetal, a stamping success.

The D-pillar is more upright than before, which helps improve the cargo volume.

The CR-V’s face is similar, but now the bottom portion of the upper grille is blacked-out, losing the ’16’s chrome trim piece.