It’s a foregone conclusion the Honda CR-V Diesel will provide a shot in the arm to the Japanese car maker, given the popularity of the CR-V nameplate and the public’s hunger for diesel-powered SUVs.
Honda has already sold over six million CR-Vs worldwide since the model’s launch in 1997 – 500,000 of those being the current fourth-generation car that was introduced a little over two years ago.
It’s just as popular in Australia, with buyers driving home more than 14,000 new CR-Vs since its November 2012 local launch, upholding it in Honda showrooms as its best seller.
But somewhat frustratingly, Honda Australia dragged its feet when it came to rolling out a diesel version of its compact SUV.
Until now, Honda has held the dubious honour of being the only remaining mainstream manufacturer not to offer a diesel alternative in the segment, after Toyota introduced a diesel-powered RAV4 in February last year.
Unfortunately, the CR-V Diesel demands a significant premium over its petrol counterparts. While the petrol models cost from $27,490, the entry-level DTi-S diesel starts at $38,220.
The DTi-S comes standard with a six-speed manual transmission, but Honda offers a five-speed automatic option from $40,590, while the top-of the-range DTi-L lifts the price to $45,340.
The pricing makes the CR-V Diesel almost $3000 more expensive than the 110kW/340Nm 2.2-litre RAV4 and 108kW/350Nm 2.0-litre Subaru Forester (both from $35,490), and slightly cheaper than the auto-only 129kW/420Nm 2.2-litre Mazda CX-5 (from $39,470).
Given the price premium Honda is asking for the CR-V Diesel, both grades are understandably well equipped.
Among the standard features of the entry-level DTi-S are auto headlamps and wipers, reversing camera with rear parking sensors, satellite navigation, auto-dimming rear-view mirror and dual-zone climate control.
Additional kit includes 17-inch alloys (shod with Continental tyres), cruise control, multi-functional leather-wrapped steering wheel, auto up/down power windows and tyre pressure warning system.
The top-spec DTi-L adds auto entry with push-button start, 18-inch alloys (with Michelin tyres), front parking sensors, bi-xenon headlamps, leather trim, heated front seats with powered driver’s seat, ambient door lighting and roof rails.
Unlike the CR-V petrol range, which is available in both two- and four-wheel drive, the CR-V Diesel line-up is offered exclusively with the latter on-demand system.
While it certainly doesn’t seem the most powerful engine in its class, don’t let the numbers fool you. The 2.2-litre direct injection unit’s 110kW of power (at 4000rpm) and 350Nm of torque (between 2000-2750rpm) are 19kW/70Nm down on the Mazda CX-5 diesel, 10Nm behind the Mitsubishi Outlander diesel, but 10Nm up on the Toyota RAV4 diesel, all of which have the same engine capacity.
It pulls effortlessly, even in its tallest gear, is free-revving and responsive, and is also refreshingly quiet for a four-cylinder diesel. There’s none of that horrid diesel clatter that still plagues some rival models during acceleration from a set of traffic lights.
There’s barely any turbo lag either, just a smooth, linear power delivery right through the entire rev range, resulting in plenty of punch for safe high-speed overtaking on freeways and country roads.
If anything, the new CR-V Diesel performs more like its petrol siblings in this regard, but with the benefit of considerably more low-down pulling power. Yet Honda also claims a low 5.8L/100km for the DTi-S manual (6.7L/100km for the auto) on the combined cycle compared with 7.8L/100km for the petrol 2.0-litre and 8.7L/100km for the petrol 2.4-litre versions.
We sampled both manual and automatic versions, and while Honda Australia expects over 90 per cent of sales to favour the latter, the manual at least allows drivers to get slightly more out of the engine.
Honda’s location of the gear lever just below the centre stack is ergonomically perfect, though the shift action is a tad notchy and the clutch take-up is late in the pedal travel.
While almost all of the CR-V’s rivals use a six-speed automatic transmission, Honda has stuck with its ageing five-speed unit (though the company is currently developing an eight-speed dual-clutch auto).
Fortunately, it’s a delightfully polished transmission delivering near-seamless gear changes, even in the high-revving Sport setting using the standard paddleshifters.
Unfortunately, the ride is more of a mixed bag.
The CR-V Diesel, like its petrol siblings, employs MacPherson strut front and multi-link rear suspension systems, which deliver a slightly firm ride for the Honda.
But while it’s not as pleasantly cosseting as some rivals, it’s far from uncomfortable.
The electric power steering feels a touch lifeless either side of the straight-ahead, but turn the wheel further and the response sharpens. It’s nicely weighted too, and there’s a decent level of feedback that adds to driver confidence.
There’s also plenty of grip and only marginal body roll on turn-in, so the CR-V Diesel feels largely composed and more than capable of delivering an enjoyable drive.
Visually, the UK-built CR-V Diesel is practically identical to the Thailand-made petrol model, especially given there’s no ‘diesel’ badging. It does get a unique headlight assembly however, including LED daytime running lights and rear combination lamps, while the top-spec DTi-L also receives active cornering lights.
Inside, you’ll find the same quality cabin as the rest of the latest-generation CR-V family.
There are plenty of soft-touch plastics on the upper dash, while harder surfaces feature on the doors, lower dashboard and around the centre console.
The instrument pod is dominated by the super-sized speedometer, which makes it easy to read at a glance, though there’s no supplementary digital speed gauge.
The driving position is superb and feels higher than most rivals, with plenty of adjustment for the steering wheel and driver’s seat.
Any complaints are restricted to the relatively poor resolution of the infotainment screen and the lack of a proper volume knob, though the CR-V’s Bluetooth pairing operation is one of the simplest we’ve encountered.
But overall practicality is where the Honda really scores over its rivals. Up front, the driver and passenger seats have plenty of room, with the driver gaining one of the largest footrests in the business – superb for long-distance touring.
The rear seating impresses most. There’s plenty of room for three adults with long legs, especially given the lack of an intrusive transmission tunnel (there’s just a gentle hump).
What’s more, there’s an impressive 556 litres of boot space, expanding to 1648 litres with the rear seats folded. The folding mechanism itself is brilliant; just flick a lever in the boot (or on the seat itself) and both sides automatically fold flat in a 60:40 split.
Honda might be last maker to market offering a diesel in the compact SUV segment, but fortunately it’s been worth the wait.
Offering segment-leading functionality and features, the CR-V Diesel ably carries the torch forward for this globe-conquering nameplate. But more than that, this diesel simply represents a better drive in every way compared with its petrol-powered sibling.
So while a significantly higher price tag means the Honda CR-V Diesel will be out of reach for some, it’s certain to be a popular addition to the already strong-selling range.