Honda CR-V gears up as automatic choice

Honda has responded to customer demand with an diesel automatic versions of its best-selling CR-V, says Andy Russell.Car-makers ignore customers' wants, wishes and desires at their peril.

Honda has responded to customer demand with an diesel automatic versions of its best-selling CR-V, says Andy Russell.

Car-makers ignore customers' wants, wishes and desires at their peril. Honda is good at giving them what they want and with its CR-V the best-selling sports utility vehicle in its sector it's obviously getting it right

Now the Swindon-built CR-V, the car that created the 'soft-roader' market in the mid-Nineties, has been given a mid-life facelift and tweaked in response to customer feedback.


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You have to be eagle-eyed to notice the difference but existing CR-V owners will probably spot the new bumpers and front grille, while inside the plastics and materials have been upgraded, along with a new audio console design.

But it is what you can't see that really sets the new CR-V apart.

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Look carefully and you will notice it is now badged i-DTEC in the back window rather than i-CTDi - Honda has also taken the opportunity to give the CR-V fresh heart with a new diesel engine which made its debut in the Accord.

It's an evolution of the original 2.2-litre turbo diesel but is more powerful, quieter and cleaner and, more importantly, for the first time is now also available with an automatic gearbox as well as a manual.

This is the final piece in the CR-V jigsaw. Originally launched as a petrol automatic, the CR-V was first boosted by a diesel manual, then a manual petrol and now finally the eagerly-awaited diesel automatic which is now a must in the SUV class.

For while sales in some areas of the sector have fallen, one area that is growing is the diesel automatic segment. Both fleet and retail sales show significant gains and, with the CR-V the top-seller, Honda does not want to miss out.

The 2.2-litre diesel has always had it plaudits but the new diesel is even more refined and that's certainly the impression when you drive it. At low revs you could be excused for wondering if it is a diesel and when you kick down the automatic, while aware of the increased engine noise, it is never gruff or boomy.

Ideal in the traffic with the transmission's smooth, barely noticeable shifts, it also makes good progress on the open road but takes a firm foot on the throttle to make the gearbox drop down the ratios but the engine picks up cleanly and smoothly and whips the CR-V along.

In manual form, the CR-V diesel is known for its fuel economy and it takes a bit of a dent with the automatic gearbox, I was getting 35mpg running around and with a longer drive it averaged out at 38mpg on the trip computer, which ties in with Honda's figure.

If I have a complaint about the CR-V diesel automatic, it's not how it goes about its business but the fact that the gearbox, built in-house by Honda, has only five gears while some rivals have six and does not give you the option of using it manually in tiptronic mode by moving the lever into a separate gate once in 'drive' and shifting the lever back and forth. Instead the Honda's gearbox has lever positions for first and second gears and a button to lock it in third gear - ideal for those looking to tow with the CR-V.

The CR-V has always been one of the best-driving SUVs with car-like handling despite its taller body - thanks to a low centre of gravity - and thankfully that hasn't changed while the supple suspension deals effectively with bumps and lumps even with the larger 18in alloy wheels although there is some tyre noise.

The spacious cabin is light and airy, especially with the range-topping EX's huge panoramic sunroof and rear seat bases split 60/40 and slide back and forth 150mm so you can forego abundant rear legroom to boost the already decent boot. The boot has a lightweight removable shelf 330mm above the floor which allows an average-sized pushchair to be stowed beneath and still leave room for the weekly supermarket shop. Rear seat back split 40/20/40 and recline independently for added comfort. For larger loads the seats back fold on to the cushions.

The uncluttered dashboard and large dials put the driver firmly in control but while the fascia is user-friendly, the amount of hard plastic is disappointing for a car of this quality and price although, as we have come to expect of Honda, fit and finish cannot be faulted. The practical interior features plenty of storage including a separate lidded locker above the glovebox.

Available in SE, ES and EX trim levels, the top two are expected to account for 95pc of sales. On the safety front, all come with front, side and curtain airbags, stability control and automatic four-wheel drive. SE has useful creature comforts, but step up to ES and you get dual-zone climate control and parking sensors while fully-loaded EX includes electric driver's seat adjustment, leather upholstery, satellite-navigation, a rear-view parking camera and that panoramic glass sunroof.

The CR-V has been a huge success for Honda and is popular both new and used - the arrival of the diesel automatic only adds to its appeal.

HONDA CR-V 2.2 i-DTEC EX AUTOMATIC

Price: �29,595 (range starts at �20,610)

Engine: 2,199cc, 150PS, four-cylinder, turbo diesel

Performance: 0-62mph 10.6 seconds; top speed 116mph

MPG: Urban 29.7; extra urban 45.6; combined 38.2

Emissions: 195g/km

Benefit-in-kind tax: 31pc

Insurance group: 29E (out of 50)

Warranty: Three years/90,000 miles

Will it fit in the garage? Length 4,574mm; width (including door mirrors) 2,091mm; height (excluding aerial) 1,675mm

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