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

Our Opinion

We like
Space, comfort, practicality, cabin presentation, visibility, willing and efficient drivetrain, excellent brakes, ride comfort
Room for improvement
Only range-topper gets advanced safety tech, some awfully cheap bits, not the best handler, unintuitive touchscreen

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Honda logo7 May 2018

By HAITHAM RAZAGUI

Overview

FOLLOWING disappointing sales for two successive generations of CR-V, Honda Australia is pinning a lot of hope on the fifth-generation mid-size SUV.

We spent a week with the front-drive CR-V VTi-S that is one step above the base VTi – and which Honda forecasts to be its most popular variant.

CR-V loyalists keen on previous models’ spacious, airy cabins and a comfortable ride will find much to like here. The good news for everybody else – particularly Honda – is that much of this latest model now compares favourably against some its best competitors.

Price and equipment

Priced at $33,290 plus on-road costs, the Honda CR-V VTi-S 2WD tested here costs $2600 more than the entry-level VTi.

The VTi-S is the only CR-V on which all-wheel drive is an option, costing $2200. The second-from-top VTi-L ($38,990 plus on-roads) is the sole seven-seat variant and exclusively front-drive. Topping the CR-V range is the $44,290 VTi-LX that has all-wheel drive as standard.

Every CR-V comes with a 7.0-inch touchscreen featuring Apple CarPlay and Android smartphone mirroring, a reversing camera, dual-zone climate control, keyless entry and start, LED daytime running lights, driver attention monitor, 17-inch alloy wheels with tyre pressure monitoring and full-size alloy spare, cloth seats, hill start assist, and roof rails.

Being a VTi-S, our car had satellite navigation, front and rear parking sensors, a LaneWatch blind-spot camera, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a powered tailgate, 18-inch alloy wheels, automatic headlights and power-folding mirrors.

In addition to its third row of seats, the VTi-L comes with leather upholstery, heated front seats, eight-way electric seat adjustment on the driver’s side, a panoramic sunroof and automatic wipers. Being a seven-seater, Honda has also installed ceiling-mounted air-vents at the back extended the curtain airbags to protect third-row passengers.

The flagship VTi-LX is the only CR-V to come with autonomous emergency braking as part of the standard Honda Sensing suite that also includes adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assistance. Also standard are electric passenger seat adjustment, LED headlights, DAB+ digital radio reception, a self-dimming interior mirror, rear privacy glass, heated door mirrors and a leather-wrapped gear selector knob.

Overall, the level of equipment on our VTi-S was pretty competitive for the money but we’ve got to call Honda out on the lack of autonomous emergency braking or even forward collision warning that really should be standard across the CR-V range and not reserved for those who can afford the top-spec VTi-LX.

Interior

Honda has done a great job of upholding the previous CR-V’s airy, spacious interior while successfully addressing criticism over its plasticy, bland cabin presentation.

The level of interior space is exceptional, with acres of legroom for rear passengers seated behind tall front occupants and a second-row bench broad enough for three adults to sit side-by-side, or three bulky child seats to be installed.

Massive legroom translates to plenty of space for rear-facing infant capsules, but despite the presence of easy-to-use Isofix child restraint anchorages in outboard positions, the location of top tether points in the ceiling is less than ideal and results in obscured rear vision in a car that otherwise has exceptional visibility.

Good job, then, that the reversing camera and left-hand mirror-mounted LaneWatch camera both provide a crisp image to the central touchscreen, the former having a handy adjustable angle feature.

An almost flat floor aids comfort for the person sitting in the middle of the rear bench, while face-level rear air-con vents add to what is already an airy and well-ventilated cabin. The CR-V also keeps gadget-obsessed travellers happy with its myriad USB and 12V sockets throughout.

But the company has failed on two of the first touch-points customers will encounter. The exterior door handles have an awful flimsy, limp action and the insubstantial-feeling interior mirror felt as though it was about to come away from its mounting every time we adjusted it.

Likewise, the remote rear bench folding handles in the boot, which are made from a grade of plastic usually reserved for two-dollar shop novelties, are only matched for cheapness by their floppy, unsatisfying action.

Being a VTi-S, our car had a leather-bound steering wheel that saved the day with a deliciously tactile fine-grain hide similar to that fitted to recent Volkswagens. Overall, the presentation feels pretty upmarket with faux stitching on the many soft-touch surfaces, attractive cloth upholstery and a convincingly classy semi-floating touchscreen installation.

We did notice the soft-touch door surfaces don’t continue through to the rear, though. That said, this is a common cost-cutting trick not limited to mainstream brands such as Honda. We’re looking at you, Mercedes.

Drivers of different heights struggled to achieve a perfect driving position due to the ratchet-style backrest angle adjustment that resulted in a too-reclined or too-upright setting. Other than this, seat base angle, steering column adjustment and overall comfort levels were good.

Compared to the Civic from which the CR-V borrows a lot, Honda has clearly responded to feedback by including a rotary volume knob beside the touchscreen instead of a fiddly touch-sensitive slider. There are also physical buttons for adjusting air-conditioning fan speed, vastly simplifying climate control operation.

Unfortunately, with the exception of decent in-built sat-nav software, Honda has retained the Civic’s frustratingly unintuitive touchscreen system that encouraged us to use Apple CarPlay as much as possible. The weird-feeling and illogically labelled transparent Perspex steering wheel buttons were also an unwelcome carryover.

Luckily, the latest Civic’s brilliantly clear, information-packed digital dash is present and correct in the CR-V.

Interior storage is a strong point, headlined by the versatile two-tier centre console that is based around a large L-shaped space beneath the adjustable central armrest and featuring a sliding shelf that in its forward position can accommodate smartphones within easy reach of front occupants and secured by a grippy upper surface.

Moving it it back under the armrest reveals a set of USB and 12V sockets while creating two levels of storage inside what is an extremely deep bin, enabled by the same tiny amount of of transmission tunnel intrusion to the cabin that makes the passenger seating row so comfortable.

A pair of big cup-holders is located forward of the tray/bin combination, and another tray with in-built 12V outlet located ahead of that. As is CR-V tradition, the gear selector is located high up on a panel protruding from beneath the air-con controls.

The glovebox is also spacious and all four door bins can securely accommodate bottles – so long as they are not too tall – with room to spare for oddments. A small coin tray is provided by the driver’s knee and rear passengers get a pair of proper map pockets plus cupholders in the fold-down central armrest.

In the boot (about average in capacity at 522 litres with the 60:40 split rear seats up and 1084L with them folded flat) is a pair of well-designed fold-out shopping bag hooks. The cargo blind can be stowed beneath the boot floor when it is not in use, leaving a pair of shallow recesses that can help prevent small items from rolling around when it is installed.

Loading bulky items is a cinch due to the boot floor being flush with the tailgate lip. But the powered tailgate’s slow action and shrill warning beep wore thin during our week with the CR-V.

On the move, the CR-V was remarkably quiet, with a bit of engine noise under load but minimal wind-rush and well-suppressed road roar, even on notoriously noisy coarse-chip bitumen. Audio quality from the stereo was exceptional for a non-premium system, provided it was not turned up too loud.

Engine and transmission

The CR-V uses a 1.5-litre four-cylinder turbo-petrol engine developing 140kW of power at 5600 rpm and 240Nm of torque from 2000-5000 rpm, with a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) sending drive to the wheels.

It did a pretty good job of propelling this 1583kg SUV, the CVT being well-calibrated to mask any turbo lag while making the most of the broad peak torque spread to avoid the undignified rev flare typical of this transmission type.

Once up and rolling, the drivetrain was responsive to gentle and not-so-gentle throttle inputs – in which case the transmission kicks down in tangible ratio steps like a conventional automatic. When this happens, there’s plenty of go for accelerating up motorway on-ramps, if not for confidently overtaking a B-double on single-lane country roads.

The best part of the new CR-V drivetrain is that it is much more flexible and efficient than before. Those who live in hilly urban areas will especially find this latest model much easier to live with.

We found aggressive standing-start acceleration to be initially sluggish, which we suspect is a deliberate ploy to reduce wheelspin on front-drive CR-V variants such as the one we drove. Avoid mashing the pedal and it pulls away more than smartly enough to keep up with traffic.

So this is a car that feels happiest when driven moderately, when everything operates with an enjoyable sense of seamlessness. It’s not exactly effortless in the muscularly over-engined manner of a top-spec Ford Escape or Holden Equinox, but it’s an adequate setup for most mid-size SUV duties.

When more is asked of it, the engine remains refined, linear and climbs through the revs smoothly. It gets a little more urgent if allowed to rise above 4000 rpm but its subtle compared with naturally aspirated Hondas of old.

Average fuel consumption during our week of mixed driving was 8.6 litres per 100 kilometres, not bad for a petrol mid-size SUV, but some way off the official combined-cycle figure of 7.3L/100km. On the motorway the tables turned though, as we got an incredible 5.6L/100km, way below the official highway figure of 6.2L/100km.

Ride and handling

Consistent with the CR-V’s drivetrain characteristics, from a handling perspective this is not a car that likes to be hurried.

The payoff is excellent ride comfort at any speed and a supple yet surefooted feel on poor corner surfaces that can throw some more firm-riding competitors off the driver’s chosen line. Only high-frequency bumps from badly rippled or patchwork roads tend to upset the overall sense of calm onboard.

We found the CR-V nimble and agile enough around town, helped by consistent control weights and steering that is smooth, responsive and predictable.

Excellent forward visibility also contributes to suburban satisfaction.

Venture past the city limits and onto faster twisty roads and the CR-V more readily reveals its comfort bias. It’s a leap ahead of its vague, wallowing predecessor but the turn-in – once the driver has overcome the viscous, artificial off-centre steering feel – feels almost reluctant compared to keener competitors such as the Hyundai Tucson, Mazda CX-5 and Volkswagen Tiguan.

This, combined with a bit too much initial body roll and a clear bias toward understeer and means the CR-V isn’t exactly fun for the enthusiastic driver or particularly pleasant for their passengers along a winding back road.

If simply progressing briskly enough to not frustrate following traffic, you might just get away without incurring motion sickness on other occupants. It is a fine line, though.

On the upside, braking performance is excellent, hauling the CR-V up from triple-digit speeds with satisfying bite and decelerating with absolute authority. Impressive stuff.

It is hardly a dynamic champion at higher speeds, but we have to respect Honda for being realistic about the comfort requirements of its customers and the CR-V’s ride and dynamics are pretty much perfectly tuned for the kind of suburban environment mid-size SUVs spend most of their lives.

That’s kind of refreshing.

Safety and servicing

The entire fifth-generation CR-V range was awarded a maximum five-star ANCAP crash-test rating, with 35.76 out of 37 points overall made up from top marks in the side impact and pole tests plus 14.76 out of in the frontal offset test.

Electronic stability control with trailer stability assist, traction control and anti-lock brakes are standard, along with dual frontal, side chest and curtain airbags plus seatbelt reminders for all seats.

Honda now provides a five-year factory warranty with unlimited kilometres, unless you are a fleet or commercial operator in which case it is capped at 140,000km.

There is also a six-year rust perforation and three-year paint warranty, while roadside assistance remains a cost-option upgrade.

Maintenance intervals are every 12 months or 10,000km. Under Honda’s capped price servicing program, the first 10 visits cost $295 each, with the caveat that replacement brake fluid, cabin filter, air cleaner, fuel filter, spark plugs and transmission fluid are not included and cost between $55 and $271 extra depending on the vehicle’s age and kilometres (prices correct at time of writing).

Verdict

Good news if you are one of the CR-V faithful: Honda has delivered a much-improved version that retains the advantages of its predecessor while bringing almost every other aspect up-to-date.

As an all-rounder, the CR-V is no longer an also-ran.

Equipment levels are pretty good, the interior is supremely spacious with well thought-out built-in storage, and the ride is exceptionally comfortably.

From a fit-for-purpose perspective we can forgive the slightly dull dynamic experience – especially as existing CR-V owners trading up to one of these will think they have accidentally purchased a sportscar.

And despite our gripes about some flimsy plastics, the overall cabin quality and presentation is a substantial step in the right direction for CR-V kind.

But the lack of safety systems now considered essential such as forward collision warning and autonomous emergency braking should be standard range-wide.

We’re sure Honda Australia agrees but is hamstrung by internal bureaucracy, sourcing and product planning dramas that result in safety tech being packaged into expensive bundles that are uneconomical to fit to anything but the flagship variant.

Until this issue is resolved, the Honda CR-V is limited to worthy contender status rather than being among the segment front-runners as it otherwise deserves.

Rivals

Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport 2.0 ($34,390 plus on-road costs)
The contemporary Mazda hallmarks of upmarket interior and fun handling are present and correct, and the CX-5 is massively popular for good reason. Great value, with standard autonomous emergency braking, but this variant is hamstrung by not having the punchier 2.5-litre petrol engine option.

Hyundai Tucson ActiveX 2.0 GDi automatic ($33,650 plus on-road costs)
Spoiled by a thrashy and gutless engine, the otherwise smooth-operating Tucson is great to drive, easy to use and comes with a satisfying amount of standard equipment. But like the Honda it lacks autonomous emergency braking at this price point.

Kia Sportage SLi 2WD ($34,690 plus on-road costs)
Same asthmatic petrol engine as the related Hyundai and similar lack of autonomous emergency braking, but remains a generously equipped alternative with class-leading seven-year aftercare package.

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