CR-V finely-honed Honda
- Credit: Paul Harmer
Honda's new CR-V is a case of evolution not revolution, says motoring editor Andy Russell.
As a pioneer of what has become known as the soft-roader sector, Honda's CR-V has attracted a loyal customer base who keep coming back for more.
So it comes as no surprise that it plays it safe with the British-built sport utility vehicle that introduced the motoring world in 1995 to the part-time 4x4 that drives like a car and swallows loads like an estate.
Now in its fourth generation the CR-V has evolved steadily and while the lastest model doesn't look much different a lot of work has gone into maintaining its appeal against increasingly tough competition.
Close up you notice the stronger curves and bolder nose but the new CR-V is also lower, wider and slightly shorter and this sleeker profile makes it more aerodynamic and even more car-like to drive.
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It's what you don't see that really makes the difference with the new model including more equipment, more efficient engines and more choice with two-wheel drive petrol models, and a forthcoming smaller diesel, available with front-wheel drive to broaden the CR-V's appeal.
The engines have been reworked – the 2.0-litre petrol is now slightly more powerful at 155PS while the diesel still produces 150PS – and the real gains are 12pc lower CO2 emissions and better economy but they are still not as good as some rivals.
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Diesel will be the bigger seller for its strong low-down pulling power and economy. For now there is only the 2.2-litre but later this year it will share the Civic's new frugal 120PS 1.6-litre diesel in a front-wheel drive model.
When I drove the 2.2-litre diesel with the six-speed manual gearbox at launch I was getting 45-50mpg in mixed driving but economy suffers with the five-speed automatic – many rivals now have six gears – I have just been driving with 37mpg overall and a best of 43mpg.
But it's still good to drive with a good spread of pulling power and enough top-end urgency to overtake briskly and safely especially if you shift the auto box into sport mode and use the flappy paddles on the steering wheel to go up and down the ratios with quick changes.
The CR-V has always been one of the best soft-roaders. The ride on my range-topping EX test car with 18in wheels was firmer than the SE on 17in alloys but the supple suspension still does a good job of cushioning feedback from poor roads. If you're a keen driver you won't be disappointed by the CR-V which, given its height, feels neat and tidy through corners and while there is some body lean at speed it's far from roly-poly and grips well.
Honda has raised the CR-V's game in the roomy interior with higher quality materials and it's a pleasant environment although more functional than fancy.
The flat rear floor combined with good head and legroom means the CR-V will seat five adults quite easily. It's not at the expense of load space with a vast 589-litre boot which puts many rivals to shame and is easy to load but there is some wheelarch intrusion at the back of the loadbay.
What I like is the ability to drop the 60/40 split rear seat backs flat with levers each side of the boot – the cushions flip upright, head rests fold forward and then the seat backs drop flat. You can do it one-handed and it's quite ingenious to see. The EX's power tailgate is also a boon.
There's a lot of hard plastic in the cabin but it's soft at contact points – a nice touch are pads each side of the centre console where your knee touches.
The driving position is good with the big central speedo flanked by smaller instruments but there are a lot of buttons, especially on the wheel, but you soon get to grips with them. Chunky rear pillars also hinder visibility wnen reversing.
All models – S, SE, SR and EX – are well kitted out. Even S has cruise control, dual-zone climate control, stability assist and hill-start assist and a host of safety feature. SE is a fine combination of price and spec and also includes parking sensors, rear-view camera, Bluetooth and automatic lights and wipers.
Honda has been clever with the new CR-V – honing it enough to attract new interest without putting off existing customers.