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Honda CR-V gets global focus

Junk in the trunk: Honda increased the luggage capacity of the new CR-V after sending engineering teams to IKEA car parks to determine what changes they needed to make to the cargo area.

Latest Honda CR-V less American, more worldly, says compact SUV project leader

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22 Nov 2012

ONE of the key factors that shaped the smaller-yet-roomier Honda CR-V was a desire to make it more globally relevant and less American-centric, Honda has revealed.

With design and development starting in Japan as the global financial crisis began to take hold in 2007, improving packaging efficiencies, quality, affordability and value for money were deemed more important than ever, according to project leader, Ryouji Nakagawa.

In Australia this week for the release of the latest, RM-series CR-V, the engineering veteran behind standout Hondas such as the S2000, Accord Euro Tourer and British-built Civic Hatch said the fourth-generation compact SUV was six years in the making.

However, despite adopting a slightly more European wagon flavour compared with the 2006-vintage model that preceded it – including a more cab-forward silhouette, greater windscreen rake, deeper windows, thinner pillars, lower roofline and reduced overall length – the same basic hardware has carried over.

Mr Nakagawa said this not only helped to contain costs during an extremely difficult financial period for the company, it also made commonsense, since Honda was essentially pleased with many aspects of the previous CR-V’s engineering and driveability.

“The goal was to create a ‘super CR-V’, so despite the smaller exterior dimensions, the interior offers more passenger and cargo space than before,” he told GoAuto through an interpreter at the RM-series launch in Adelaide this week.

Nevertheless, Mr Nakagawa explained that Honda listened to feedback carefully, particularly in the areas of perceived cabin quality, reduced noise and vibration and improved packaging.

While he would not be drawn to name check which competitor vehicles were used as benchmarks, he admitted that several European as well as Japanese compact SUVs were assessed during the development phase.

Honda even went as far as dispatching engineering teams to observe how compact SUV owners and drivers in Europe, Asia and North America used their vehicles in everyday situations – including in their homes and places of employment.

A special group was positioned in IKEA car parks, which helped lead to the decision to increase luggage capacity to segment-best levels, as well as lower the cargo floor for easier loading.

This is also the first CR-V with a single-lever folding rear seat-base and backrest function – a system similar to pioneered in the first Mazda6 five-door variants a decade ago.

Furthermore, Honda’s surveys led to the implementation of larger storage areas between the front seats (including three cupholders), thus losing the walk-through facility that previous CR-Vs offered since only a fraction of buyers used it.

Yet with more than 5.5 million units sold in 160 countries since the series started back in 1995, Honda was conscious of not alienating the existing customer base.

“We did not want to scare people away,” Mr Nakagawa said, adding that items such as the foot-operated park brake and dash-mounted gear lever were familiarity touchstones.

A familiar set of mechanicals further connects new with old, since the latest CR-V has come too early for the next-generation of “Earth Dreams” drivetrains (direct-injection four-cylinder and V6 engines as well as continuously variable transmission (CVT) and six-speed automatic gearboxes).

However, “fine tuning” of the existing 2.4-litre engine and more efficient five-speed automatic hardware have realised fuel economy gains of around 12 per cent, while the 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel model will be imported from Swindon, England, in the second half of next year.

Also cutting consumption are improved airflow properties over and under the CR-V, as well as electric instead of hydraulic power steering (with faster turn-in responses).

Further down the track, bigger efficiency strides are likely with the implementation of petrol-electric hybrid technology, although Mr Nakagawa refused to confirm if or when the CR-V would receive this.

“I would not rule anything out in the future,” he said.

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