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Driven: Honda CR-V hybrid to step in for diesel

Seven up: The CR-V is being offered with a seven-seat option for the first time in the nameplate’s history.

Diesel is a no-go but petrol-electric hybrid is on Honda’s local to-do list

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Honda logo28 Jul 2017

By BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS

HONDA is working on bringing a hybrid version of its all-new CR-V to Australia in the not-too-distant future, but the final timing is dependent on where the petrol-electric model can be sourced from in the most cost effective manner.

Speaking to GoAuto at the launch of the fifth-generation medium SUV, Honda Australia product-planning manager, Chander Balasubramanian, revealed a petrol-electric CR-V is the preferred choice over diesel variants that have been rejected for this market due to slowing demand and adverse publicity surrounding the fuel since the Volkswagen Group diesel emissions scandal almost.

“We are looking at that (CR-V hybrid) option,” he said. “But it is currently not available out of Thailand.

“Globally many manufacturers are moving towards hybrids, so I believe the hybrid has a good chance in Australia. We are working on it constantly but I cannot say when we will make that decision… and we are trying to understand how we can position that and once we finalise that we can work out the sourcing issues.”

Having its fingers burnt by the slow uptake of the previous-generation CR-V diesel back in 2014, Honda Australia is keen to reclaim the eco high ground gained over the last 15 years with models such as the now-defunct Jazz and Civic Hybrid, CR-Z and Insight.

“The diesel market has been either stable or declining, and we expect that to continue going forward so we are not looking at (the CR-V diesel) at this stage… despite its availability from Thailand,” he added.

Expected to be the second best-selling Honda after the Civic hatch and sedan, the fifth-generation CR-V since the series arrived in Australia in 1997 is a clean-sheet redesign, bringing turbo-petrol power and seven-seater option to the nameplate for the first time.

As reported when prices and specification were detailed in late May, the latest range kicks off with the VTi 2WD (front-wheel drive) with a continuously-variable transmission (CVT) from $30,690 plus on-road costs, which represents a $900 rise over the previous automatic equivalent or a $3200 jump when taking in the now-discontinued base manual into account.

Honda counters the price hike with what it claims is $3700 worth of added value.

However, while safety kit such as hill-start assist, driver attention and tyre pressure monitoring systems are also included, Autonomous Emergency Braking is only available (for now) on the range-topping VTi-LX AWD all-wheel drive from $44,290 – which is actually $1500 cheaper than the variant it ousts.

Honda has acknowledged the oversight and promised to rectify the situation with a much broader spread of availability starting from sometime in 2018.

Designed by an American in Japan, the CR-V departs from its predecessors by having a more global outlook. Despite being primarily created for the North American market (where, as the segment leader, sales are expected to hit 400,000 units annually), the optional third-row seating was devised specifically for the South East Asian markets, as the US has its own, seven-seater large SUV in the left-hand-drive-only Pilot.

Dimensionally longer (by 11mm to 4596mm), wider (by 35mm to 1855mm) and taller (by 6mm to 1689mm in the AWD) than before, the CR-V features a larger footprint too, thanks to 40mm longer wheelbase (now rated at 2660mm).

While the cargo area is now 250mm longer with a 1830mm flat space, at 522 litres (VDA), it trails the 556L of old in the five seater, while dropping the rears for a 1084L rating is shy of the previous 1120L available in the same mode.

The seven-seater’s volume ranges from 150L with all backrests in place to 967L flat to the front seats. The Honda also falls short of the Nissan X-Trail’s 565L, but beats the smaller Mazda CX-5’S 442L.

With development work commencing in Japan during 2012, the CR-V adopts Honda’s Earth Dreams philosophy of more efficient and cleaner engineering. While the MacPherson strut-style front and multi-link rear suspension designs mirror the latest Civic, no components in the newly lower-centre-of-gravity chassis are shared, somewhat surprisingly.

The same applies to the dual-pinion variable-ratio rack for the electric steering set-up, which sees turns lock-to-lock slashed by 0.8 revolutions to 2.3. The steering column is thicker and more rigidly located and the suspension is now mounted on floating subframes to help cut noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) from the transmission, while fluid-filled compliance bushings and larger broader-frequency dampers are said to aid both ride-comfort and dynamic handling characteristics.

A stronger and more rigid body, smoother underbody area, sleeker A-pillars, more flush windscreen and wiper designs, better sealing and smaller gaps cut NVH significantly over the old CR-V too, mainly due to the better airflow management that results.

The beefed-up structure and larger overall dimensions do contribute to extra weight, however, rising about 50kg in the base VTi (now 1536kg), though the heaviest VTi-LX AWD at 1630kg is actually 1kg less than its equivalent predecessor. More ultra high-tensile steel helps keep the grams off.

The new CR-V forsakes the old 114kW/190Nm 2.0-litre single-cam (2WD) and 140kW/222Nm 2.4-litre twin-cam (AWD) naturally aspirated four-cylinder petrol engines for a variation of the 1.5-litre twin-cam direct-injection turbocharged unit with dual variable timing control (on both intake and exhaust camshafts) as found in the Civic.

Offering 140kW of power at 5600rpm and 240Nm of torque from 2000-5000rpm, it employs a lower compression ratio and more pressure boost (from 16.5 to 18.5psi) than the smaller car to help the AWD scoot to 100km/h in 9.9 seconds.

It can also run on 91 RON standard unleaded.

Whether it’s driving the front or all four wheels, the only gearbox available is a CVT, with seven simulated steps for a more realistic feel, an ‘S’ sport mode with more aggressive mapping that holds on to higher revs for more responsive performance, and a torque converter to help cut turbo lag.

At the other end of the spectrum there is an Eco setting that, among other things, shifts up to the optimum fuel saving sweet spot.

The 2WD average 7.0 litres per 100km, or 0.4L/100km more in the AWD – better than the old 2.0L/2.4L five-speed autos’ respective 7.7/8.7L/100km outcomes.

The AWD system has also been heavily revised. It now accelerates away from standstill with up to 40 per cent of all torque transmitted to the rear axle for smoother driveability, switching to front-drive after that to cut mechanical drag and save fuel, until additional traction needs are called upon.

While it is unlikely to be used off road, the newcomer boasts extra ground clearance, jumping from 178mm to 208mm.

Stability and traction control-aided torque transfer helps with handling and road-holding, while a new electric brake booster is said to cut stopping distances. An electric park brake is standard across the range.

Honda says it worked on creating a more sophisticated interior, with better vision, higher-quality materials, more sound deadening and improved ergonomics.

The sole seven-seater version’s middle seats slide as well as fold, and feature a backrest-mounted inertia-reel seatbelt for the middle occupant instead of a roof-mounted one on non-sliding seats in the five-seater versions.

All models include front, side and curtain airbags, a rearview camera with multiple viewing options, dual-zone climate control with rear air vents, rear twin USB ports, keyless entry and start and walkaway locking, Honda’s Active Noise Control NVH reduction technology, a 7.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto display, tyre-pressure monitors, alloy wheels and a full-sized spare.

Stepping up to the $33,290 VTi-S in either 2WD or $35,490 AWD guises introduces an electric tailgate, satellite navigation, parking sensors all round, auto on/off headlights, a leather-sheathed steering wheel, folding mirrors, 18-inch alloys, and Honda’s unique Lane Watch system which displays the video feed of a left-hand mirror-mounted camera when the left indicator is in use to check for objects in the driver’s blind spot.

Meanwhile, the VTi-L 7 – the only CR-V with seven-seat availability for now – is $38,990, and brings leather-faced seats (heated up front and eight-way electronically adjustable for the driver’s), a panoramic sunroof, rain-sensing wipers as well as roof-mounted vents and extending curtain-airbag coverage to reach the third row.

Finally, the $44,290 VTi-LX is the second AWD variant, with five seats, LED headlights, heated door mirrors, a powered front passenger seat, privacy glass, DAB+ digital radio, auto dimming mirror, and – of course – AEB as part of Honda’s Sensing suite of driver-assist technologies, which bundles adaptive cruise control, autonomous emergency braking, lane departure warning and lane keep assist. Expect all these to filter down the range sometime in 2018.

Honda is also offering a couple of packs, including two Adventure Packs with racks or roof pods and luggage area protectors, among other items.

The CR-V benefits from Honda’s 12 month/10,000km servicing regime, with capped-price servicing for scheduled maintenance and the recently announced five-year, unlimited kilometre warranty.

There are well over a dozen rivals, including the CX-5, X-Trail, Subaru Forester, Hyundai Tucson, Ford Escape, Kia Sportage, Toyota RAV4, Volkswagen Tiguan and incoming Peugeot 3008. But only the Nissan, Mitsubishi Outlander and incoming Tiguan Allspace offer three-row seating in this medium-SUV class.

2017 Honda CR-V pricing*
VTi 2WD (a)$30,690
VTi-S 2WD (a)$33,290
VTi-S AWD (a)$35,490
VTi-L 2WD (a)$38,990
VTi-LX AWD (a)$44,290
*Excludes on-road costs

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