Honda produces CR-Vs in the United Kingdom and Japan for worldwide markets, and as of 2007, North American CR-Vs are produced in East Liberty, Ohio. The CR-V is produced for the Chinese market by the Dongfeng Honda Automobile Company, a joint venture with Honda. Starting in fall 2007, North American CR-Vs will also be produced in Jalisco, Mexico in addition to the US, Japan, and Britain due to high demand. Honda executives considered making the CR-V as one of the first vehicles to be produced at Honda's new facility currently under construction in Greensburg, Indiana that will open in fall 2008; however, the facility will initially exclusively produce the Civic, which may free up space in East Liberty for CR-V production from the 2009 model year onward. Elsewhere, the CR-V is Honda's smallest SUV other than the related Element sold in the United States and Canada, and the HR-V sold in Europe. In size, the CR-V slots between the Element and Pilot.
Introduced in Japan in 1996, the CR-V was Honda's first in-house designed SUV and was originally intended to be a niche vehicle only. Honda was hesitant to market the vehicle, since many felt the car did not have potential to sell alongside the Honda Passport and to take over the role of Honda's entry-level SUV. In the United States, it was displayed for the first time at the 1996 Chicago Auto Show. Citing strong sales from the comparable Toyota RAV4 upon its release, the model was then brought stateside in February 1997. Shortly afterwards, CR-V sales outpaced those of the smaller RAV4, and the compact SUV has maintained strong sales and gained accolades ever since.
The original CR-V's production lasted from 1996 to 2001. Upon introduction, the model had only one trim level, which would later be known as the LX model trim; it was powered by the 2.0L I4 B20B producing 126 hp (94 kW) and 133 ft·lb (180 N·m) of torque. Outer dimensions for this engine would be identical to the Integra's 1.8 L engine, but internally the engine had a larger 84mm bore to add the extra displacement needed to produce more torque. The engine utilized a one-piece cylinder sleeve construction unique from any other B-series engine due to overlapping combustion chambers. The chassis was a unibody design with a 4-wheel double wishbone suspension. Inside, the rear seats were able to fold down, and a picnic table was stowed in the rear floor area. A common external trait that was visible with this generation was plastic cladding covering the front bumper, rear bumper, and fender wells. In most countries, CR-Vs had a chrome grille; however, in the US, the grille was made out of the same black plastic as the bumpers. A major difference between the LX and EX trims was that the EX had anti-lock brakes and 15 inch alloy wheels while the LX did not. Drivetrain options were: front wheel drive or Honda's Real Time 4WD.