Smaller diesel makes a big impression in Honda CR-V

Honda CR-V 1.6 i-DTEC combines performance and economy.

Honda CR-V 1.6 i-DTEC combines performance and economy. - Credit: Archant

Honda's CR-V has some impressive forebears to match up to if it wants to succeed, but it has a diesel-fuelled ace up its sleeve, says Matt Kimberley of the Press Association.

The first and second-generation Honda CR-V left some rather large boots to fill. Even the initial model, which didn't offer a diesel, was loved by the people who bought it.

These days the focus has shifted and diesel is essential. High fuel economy and low carbon dioxide emissions make it a key selling feature for almost all classes of car.

Inside this CR-V you'll find a 1.6-litre i-DTEC unit, available only with two-wheel drive, that on the face of it looks rather puny next to the four-wheel drive car's 2.2-litre lump, but it delivers a pleasant surprise and is very flexible at low revs – something not common in 1.6-litre diesels. It feels, initially, like a much larger engine than it is.

Combined with an ideal driving position, firmly-sprung, positive clutch and a direct gear change with a well-positioned lever on the centre console, the diesel CR-V offers encouraging first impressions.

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Well, those aren't quite the first. That honour would go to the design, which makes a rather large car look not so portly at all. Parked in a row of cars, the CR-V doesn't look out of the ordinary with the clever proportions hiding of its true size.

Step into the cabin, though, and the amount of space is pretty staggering, especially head and shoulder room.

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With so much space to play with it's no surprise Honda has made a lot of it, with three large cup-holders in the lower centre console backed up by a large central storage bin between the front seats, where you'll also find the various media input ports. Two slanted bottle-holders have been shaped into the front doors, too, and the glove box is usefully large.

Don't worry about boot space, either. The load lip is quite high, as with all cars of this type, but there are acres of space for bags and enough vertical room to stack 'em high.

Back in the cabin, absorbing some more of the finer details, there's a mixed bag to be found. The main instrument cluster seems, at first, a bit messy, but very soon you appreciate why it's the way it is and it works very well. The large, central speedometer is very easy to read at a glance and the all-analogue gauges are equally clear.

The display screen on top of the dashboard struggles, though. In a car with a fabulous array of technology, from heated seats to dual-zone climate control, power-folding door mirrors and a reversing camera, the main display screen is just too small, too far away, too low resolution and too dated in its graphics. It's OK and it works fine, but compared to the best units among the CR-V's rivals it does leave something to be desired.

Back to the engine, which the more you use it just gets better and better. Like all diesels it clatters about its business at traffic jam speeds, but once you're up and moving it fades away into the background.

The gearing is interesting, and has been set up for generally lower-speed driving up to, say, 60mph. Fourth, fifth and sixth could be a good bit taller to try to save fuel, but Honda's engineers have wisely acknowledged the little i-DTEC's limits and not tried to demand too much from it. As it is, acceleration is still perfectly adequate, while driven gently on a cruise the car – a big thing, remember – can approach 60mpg.

There's a sense of confidence in the CR-V, partly instilled by its stability and composed ride, but also in its assured practicality. It's the sort of car that in daily family use would be hard to fault. It's so easy to get along with, and for that reason it makes a great family car.

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