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Car reviews - Honda - CR-V - diesel

Our Opinion

We like
Competitive pricing, generous standard features list, efficient 2.2-litre diesel engine, smooth six-speed manual gearbox, interior packaging
Room for improvement
Five-speed auto lacks a ratio, steering lacks weight and feel, no front-drive entry diesel option


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21 Jan 2014

HONDA may have only launched its fourth-generation CR-V SUV range in November 2012, but 14 months is a long time in Australia’s massively competitive compact-SUV market, particularly when you don’t offer a diesel option.

Major rivals – think Ford Kuga, Mazda CX-5, Toyota RAV4, Subaru Forester, Nissan X-Trail and Mitsubishi Outlander – offer diesel options. Honda admits it arrived late to the diesel SUV party, but now the UK-sourced 2.2-litre turbo-diesel has finally landed.

The diesel carries a premium of about $3500 over equivalently specified petrol variants, kicking off from $38,290 in DTi-S manual guise and $40,590 with a five-speed auto, while the top spec DTi-L with auto only retails for $45,340 excluding on-road costs.

All are all-wheel-drive – like most rivals – but we think the lack of a cheaper diesel option is a missed opportunity.

The Japanese car-maker is not expecting CR-V sales to skyrocket with the introduction of the oil-burning version, but it does predict about 150 sales per month combined with 850 petrol units for a combined total of 1000 per month.

Speaking at the launch this week, Honda Australia director Stephen Collins said the diesel CR-V will appeal to rural buyers, with the company already registering significant interest from potential customers in regional areas.

Only very keen observers will be able to differentiate between the petrol and diesel variants as Honda has only tweaked the headlight and tail-light design and a matte grey grille.

Cabin changes are limited to some black plastic and chrome flourishes replacing the wood grain from the petrol variants, but apart from that it is business as usual for the CR-V interior.

Honda's 'smaller outside, larger inside' advertising slogan is more than marketing guff. The CR-V's cabin is spacious and there is ample headroom throughout, while legroom for the driver and front and rear passengers is more than adequate for this category.

Thoughtful touches like the knee pads on the transmission tunnel cover, an extra storage nook under the front door rests and the handy mirror in the sunglasses holder up front to keep an eye on misbehaving rear seat passengers further enhance the CR-V's family-friendly reputation.

The CR-V offers up 556 litres of cargo space with all seats in place, pushing out to 1648 litres with the second row folded down. This compares well to its key rivals, such as the Mazda CX-5 (403/1560), Mitsubishi Outlander (477/1608) and Ford Kuga (406/1603).

In this category, buyers expect good levels of standard equipment and the diesel CR-V delivers, with cruise control, Bluetooth, reversing camera and reverse parking sensors, dual-zone climate control and sat-nav all standard on DTi-S.

Premium features such as heated front and passenger seats, front parking sensors, power driver's seat with memory and leather trim that is unique to the variant are standard on the flagship DTi-L.

A full size spare wheel is standard on both variants.

Honda caters well to rear seat passengers with reclining back-rests in the second row while a lever in the cargo area flips the seats back and stows the headrests automatically for painless rear bench folding. It’s ingenious, and native to Honda.

In DTi-S specification, Honda has covered the seats in a fine micro-suede material that feels nice to touch but could wear quickly. Thankfully the seats offer excellent levels of comfort and support, at least in the front row, while the rear bench is a little flatter but still comfortable.

Naturally, the DTi-L feels a touch more premium with the leather trim featuring a pattern that is unique to this variant.

Honda's UK-built 2.2-litre turbo-diesel produces 110kW/350Nm, delivering less power but more torque than the 140kW/222Nm 2.4-litre four-cylinder unit powering some of the petrol variants.

Our first drive was in the entry-level DTi-S with a six-speed manual gearbox, and much like the diesel engine/manual gearbox combination of its Civic hatch stablemate, it is a winning combination in the CR-V.

The engine offers good levels of torque and power, producing quick, but not sportscar quick acceleration from a standing start, and solid performance when overtaking.

The six-speed gearbox is a delight, with tight, short throws making for an engaging drive. Although the five-speed torque-converter automatic is an ok transmission with smooth uncomplicated shifts, it made the CR-V feel slower and like less of a driver's car than the manual DTi-S. It lacks a ratio compared to rivals, too.

Honda's electric power steering feels light and not as sharp and responsive as we would like, though this lightness makes it a breeze to park.

The CR-V has a tendency to lean in corners – more than, say, a Kuga or CX-5 – and the MacPherson strut front and multi-link rear suspension (identical to petrol variants) errs towards being firm, but not harsh.

It remained composed on unsealed surfaces, thanks to Honda's electronic four-wheel drive system with 'Intelligent Control' system that the company says provides a faster response when a loss of traction is detected.

The diesel variants maintain the petrol version's super quiet cabin, with very little road noise creeping in regardless of the condition and surface of the road. Typical engine rattle is subdued by noise-cancelling padding.

Buyers shopping in the diesel SUV market value fuel efficiency and the CR-V has stepped up to the plate with official combined fuel figures of 5.8 litres per 100 kilometres for the DTi-S manual and 6.7L/100km when matched with an auto, while the auto-only DTi-L sips 6.9L/km.

After a brief stint on regional back roads and highways, the DTi-L recorded figures of 7.8L/100km, which is reasonable given the distance covered and acceleration.

All in all, the oil-burning CR-V is a worthy addition to an already worthy range. The Honda isn’t a patch dynamically on a CX-5 or Kuga, but its cavernous cabin and frugal yet suitably punchy new diesel engine should put it on your shortlist, at the least.

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