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Car reviews - Honda - CR-V - 2WD VTi

Our Opinion

We like
Great around town, better looking, quieter, more refined, improved efficiency, spacious and functional interior, progressive packaging, round-town manoeuvrability
Room for improvement
Flighty steering in fast corners, 2.0-litre engine needs more oomph while 2.4L and AWD now costs thousands more, no rear parcel shelf in base VTi, rattly rear windows, foot park brake, some road-noise intrusion


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14 Dec 2012

REMEMBER the Honda Accord Aerodeck?

Thought not. Hardly anybody does. It was just a fancy name for the slow-selling fourth-generation Accord wagon of the early ‘90s. Its successor didn’t do much business either.

Eventually the advent of the Odyssey in 1995 and the CR-V SUV two years later put paid to any future Accord carryalls, and that’s a shame. Owners still appreciate their unassuming quality, refinement, and practicality. Though scarce to begin with, you still see a surprisingly high number plying our roads.

But nothing stands still in the automotive world, even for SUVs. In the name of efficiency, many are evolving, dieting and shrinking. Hence the proliferation of two- (and front-) wheel-drive versions.

In the case of the new-gen CR-V tested here, it’s also longer and lower to the ground, with a large cargo space, fold-down seats, and a tailgate free from a 4x4-style spare wheel appendage …

That’s right, folks. The Honda wagon is back! Except don’t call it that. Crossover maybe. Wagon? Never.

Great news, then, for, ahem, Aerodeck lovers, but bad news for fans of the old, all-wheel-drive-only CR-V who want to update.

You see, although the $29,790 VTi FWD auto starts at $300 less than the previous model, it actually costs $2700 more if you want AWD, since the 2013 equivalent (VTi 2.4L AWD) costs $32,790. Ouch!

Never mind. Even brief exposure to the new base (VTi 2.0L FWD) CR-V reveals a significantly better proposition.

Let’s begin with that rather Volvo V60-like posterior. From some angles it looks distinctly Picasso-esque. You’d never mistake this for anything other than a Honda.

Accessing the cargo area is easy thanks to a big door and low floor. Levers on either side automatically lower the split/fold rear seat flush with the floor in one single tug, to reveal a warehouse-like 1648 litres of luggage space.

Two six-footers can sleep back there. It’s hard to believe a full-sized spare wheel lives beneath that long, low and flat floor. Only the lack of a parcel shelf jars. Honda’s just being a cheapskate.

Moving forward, the back seat is roomy enough for three adults at a squeeze. The backrest is at a comfy angle, the cushion fine as long as journeys aren’t too long, and centrally mounted air vents provide fresh-air relief.

But two items irk: the middle seatbelt juts out from the ceiling and might scrape the neck of hapless wearers and the side windows in our example shook loose, rattling incessantly when lowered. For a moment we thought we were in a Ford Cortina.

Thankfully there is no lack of Honda DNA up front, from the vast sweeping arc of the solidly made dash to the intelligent placement of virtually every button and control.

There’s an appealing austerity to the unquestionably high-quality fit and finish, with closer inspection revealing interesting materials and textures that come into their own for subtlety. Are you listening, Hyundai?

Though this CR-V is lower than the last, it has an inviting sense of roominess and airiness missing in many rival compact SUVs.

So it is a bit of a pity that the old trademark walk-across access is no longer available due to a fixed console running from the dash through to the rear of the front seats. On the flipside, there are more nooks and crannies to store junk inside than in granny’s little old house.

As we said earlier, today’s CR-V is smaller, but the newcomer still offers an elevated seating (and excellent driving) position, on large bucket seats that feel better than any other Honda’s of recent memory, ahead of smart and concise instrumentation.

Although it is missing an auxiliary digital speedo (it would fit perfectly in the central odometer screen), we can’t think of a clearer analogue item. We also rate the blue-to-green ECON instrumentation lighting bars that encourage frugality by glowing green when ambling off-throttle. It subtly – almost subconsciously – encourages economical driving.

It will take a moment to learn the many switches festooning the handsome steering wheel, but once there, their logic is admirable. From operating the cruise control to answering a (Bluetooth) phone call, it all works superbly.

Mounted high up on the centre console is a multi-information screen displaying trip computer, streaming audio, and telephony data, supported by a controller and associated buttons that’s child’s play to figure out. It promotes intuitive screen scrolling without taking eyes off the road. Our only criticisms are the laughably Playschool graphics and dour black-and-white screens. Colour technology need not be rationed, Honda!

Speaking of tech – or the lack of it – a clumsy foot-operated park brake continues to blight CR-Vs bearing automatic transmissions. Who do the engineers think will drive this car? Mr C. from Happy Days once his De Soto dies?

More plus points: The superbly effective air-con is a cinch to operate, while the T-bar auto shifter is dash-mounted for easy reach. Don’t go looking for Tiptronic-style manual sequential shifters or flappy paddles in the base car, however. They’re AWOL in the 2.0L models.

From a vision point of view the CR-V is better than the last one (and ahead of most SUVs) for three reasons.

One: a more cab-forward body equals more panoramic forward vision two: thinner pillars mean less stuff is obscured and three: a rear camera switches on every time you select ‘R’. It is amazing how much more confident you feel parking this Honda as a result.

Indeed, aided by all that ‘hind’ sight and agreeably light electric steering, this SUV can slot into seemingly impossibly tight spaces, making it particularly handy around town.

In fact, in the front-drive VTi 2.0 at least, there are two quite distinct CR-V personalities – urban and rural.

Let’s begin with the first one, for this is a creature created for the city habitat.

For starters, there’s manoeuvrability that completely belies the CR-V’s size. The steering may lack feedback, but it is sharp and responsive to inputs, while the suspension – though a tad on the firm side – deals with the ruts and grooves with disdain. Basically, the Honda has a confident, well-planted feel.

Contrary to fears, around town, the 114kW/190Nm 2.0-litre is sufficiently endowed output-wise, offering unexpectedly strong step-off acceleration, as well as the ability to maintain the pace.

This is partly due to a wide range of revs to draw power upon (and the engine’s propensity to spin quite freely, past the 6600rpm red line), along with a willing and well-matched spread of ratios from the five-speed auto gearbox. However, we did note some mechanical coarseness about 4000rpm.

Add a couple of adults, and you need to press harder on the go pedal, but the CR-V’s performance is still frisky enough not to cock eyebrows.

Only when it is fully laden, with the air-con on, over hilly terrain, does the lack of capacity become apparent. For most applications, however, there’s enough oomph for everyday urban schlepping.

But don’t expect to average the official 7.8L/100km result either … more like an indicated 10.6.

Meanwhile, on rural roads, overtaking requires planning because there just isn’t enough instantaneous power response to quickly pull you through. Note though a Nissan Dualis or Mazda CX-5 2.0L suffer from similar lethargy.

Of more concern, and particularly in windy conditions, is the Honda’s steering, which begins to feel too light and too direct as speeds rise. Some might even say tippy-toed, and it doesn’t make for relaxed highway cruising.

Furthermore, if you take a less-than-smooth corner in a hurry, the steering rack shakes and rattles annoyingly, and is accompanied by quite a bit of body roll to boot, so it pitches and leans more than is ideal.

And on gravel roads the darty helm’s skittishness is no fun either. This is one case where early ESC stability control intervention is welcome – and encouraged. Fortunately, the CR-V also boasts exceptional road grip and a fine set of brakes that don’t fade with repeated use.

Nevertheless, we were glad to return to the urban grind, where the big front-drive Honda back in its natural environment again.

Three years ago, we drove the previous RE version – with 2.4L and AWD – and thought it dated, unrefined, and uninspiring. The SUV had evolved and the-then three-year old Honda had fallen behind.

Even with a smaller engine and front-drive, however, the new base RM CR-V feels fresh, smooth and clever, nailing it for practicality, space, safety, and equipment levels.

If you don’t mind mediocre open-road performance and mountain-road dynamics, the VTi 2.0 FWD is a leading SUV contender, especially if its main job will be to ferry your family across the endless burbs. Otherwise, go the (significantly smaller) Ford Kuga or CX-5 instead.

And if you’re a disenfranchised owner of an ageing Accord Aerodeck, you might think all your Christmases have come at once.

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