Car reviews - Honda - CR-V - range
Design, refinement, new-found dynamic aptitude, comfort, space, value, features, ease, long warranty
Room for improvement
No manual option, no diesel availability, AEB only available on top-line VTi-LX
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27 Jul 2017
THE Honda CR-V is one of the compact SUV originals. Along with the first Toyota RAV4 and the Subaru Forester it inspired, this ushered in the modern era of family car, making the company’s fortune in the process.
But while the succeeding three generations dominated in North America, they somehow never quite hit the heights with critics as well as consumers in the same way as some subsequent rivals, such as the Mazda CX-5.
Now, the new-from-the-ground-up fifth-generation CR-V aims to rectify that, improving in every single way to put the Japanese (via Thailand) medium SUV back at the top of the tree.
That the Honda CR-V was never a great driver’s car should come as a shock to precisely no one, but what might surprise many is just how ordinary each generation has been in terms of comfort, refinement and class.
While the powertrains were mostly sweet, smooth and swift, too much noise blighted the experience, while the suspension’s inability to properly cushion posteriors also annoyed.
Add cabins over the generations that were clearly designed for money-saving American consumers, and it is easy to see why so many punters migrated away from the brand and into the arms of Mazda, Subaru and others.
But the bucking – as well as the buck – stops here with the fifth-gen CR-V.
This is a CR-V designed and engineered for not just Americans, embracing the global family-vehicle consumer with an open heart as well as open arms. Neat styling and appealing proportions are a welcome break from the unnecessary fussiness that has blighted Hondas of late, while inside there is space galore for five adults (and two kids in the newly introduced seven-seater VTi-L version), backed up by a generously provided cargo area.
All the traps of old have been sidestepped. No obviously low-rent plastics – even in the base VTi. The seats are big and supportive. There’s no infuriating foot-operated park brake. All-round vision is excellent. And ears are no longer assaulted by random noises from the engine, suspension or outside environment.
Refinement levels rocket.
Moving the back seat, big thumbs up to the reclining backrests (that slide in the seven-seater version), twin USB ports and face-level air vents. Somebody took their time assessing the best of the competition back at Honda HQ in Japan.
As before, occupants sit high, with clear views of a very comprehensively specified dashboard, offering concise instrumentation (of the digital variety nowadays – but executed well), superb ventilation, and – at long last – a huge central touchscreen that combines a rear camera and useful multimedia/trip info with a good old-fashioned volume knob instead of fiddly fingering gesture movements. That’s progress.
Yet the real advancements are underneath the CR-V’s prettier skin.
As with the better Civics, beneath that sleek bonnet is a rowdy and racy 1.5-litre four-cylinder turbo that has the power and the torque to keep most owners of this 1.6-tonne plus medium SUV satisfied. Just be prepared to prod the accelerator on a regular basis, but all the herbs and spices are there for some spirited performance.
While we would prefer a torque-converter automatic (or, better still, one of Honda’s always-brilliant six-speed manual gearboxes), the default CVT does a more-than-adequate job in delivering what the right foot requests down through the front (or all four) wheels instantly.
Smooth and relatively unobtrusive unless you’re mashing pedal to the metal, which ultimately results in transmission-induced engine drone – the CR-V seems the equal of the 2.5-litre four-pot atmo units offered by rivals such as the CX-5 and Nissan X-Trail. It ought to be fuel-efficient as well.
What might surprise – and delight – keener drivers is how measured, responsive and faithful the steering is, resulting in fast and fun cornering characteristics, backed up by impressively contained body control. Though a tad on the firm side, the suspension is still supple enough, while the level of noise and vibration isolation will be a revelation to anybody who’s had to endure the worst of the previous generations’ efforts.
We were particularly impressed with how much more premium the top-line AWD version felt, even though it rode on the bigger (18-inch) of the two wheel/tyre packages. Perhaps it was the quality Michelins fitted, but the overall refinement and composure of the VTi-LX made it probably the best CR-V we’ve ever experienced.
Finding fault with the new CR-V proved tough on our almost entirely rural launch drive around the ACT. Some road noise intrusion over the coarsest of bitumen roof-mounted middle-rear seatbelt might annoy some owners and a couple of cabin plastic squeaks in one of the examples sampled… but otherwise this is a well-thought out and executed medium SUV.
Overall, then, Honda’s latest CR-V is back in the race. On first acquaintance at least, all competitors – including Mazda, Subaru and Volkswagen – had better take this series seriously again. It’s a job well done, and a much more changed and improved proposition than you might expect.
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