Will a car-like drive win buyers over?
Will a car-like drive win buyers over?
When the soft-road revolution kicked off in Australia a few years ago, the Honda CR-V was a steady performer which never took the market by storm, but it also never failed to sell. It sold because of its attributes - easy to park, roomy, reliable and well built.
Each successive generation has grown larger, and less square, but also more comfortable. And it continues to sell steadily. With just over a six per cent market share for the compact SUV segment (selling over 700 last month alone), it's certainly not a car which attracts the masses, so is it lost in the highly competitive marketplace we see surrounding us? A week behind the wheel and we have the answers.
Let's be honest here - it's not the prettiest car ever made. But it's an SUV, and by nature, their proportions are all wrong. You can see what Honda has tried to do. It's attempted to round off the square edges of the two-box design, typical of softroaders. But if you round off a little too much...well, let's just say the result is less than complimentary.
The front double-grille doesn't help matters, and coupled with the slanted chin, it looks awkward from the front. The side profile is much better, however the nearly arc-like shape of the glasshouse gives the D-pillar a thickness that contributes to reduced visibility. The rear is inoffensive; there's no edginess pushing the boundaries of design, though. It plays the design card pretty safely, then.
So it's a good thing that you'll be spending most of your time behind the wheel, and not looking at it from the outside, because it's behind the wheel that the CR-V shows what it's really made of.
We've all heard the marketing gurus for car companies deliver us spin in spades - it's roomier than the QE2, it has an interior to rival the Burj Al Arab, it exudes passion, it sips like a bird, etc. But if the brief to the designers was to make the CR-V feel like it was a normal passenger car, and not an SUV, then they've completed their mission.
Of course, there's no getting around physics - you have something with a lot of weight up top and it will exhibit body roll when going around a corner - but the extent to which it does roll is no worse than a Commodore Omega. The CR-V has miles of grip and you can turn in just like a passenger car.
The steering is also reasonable with decent weight, although it does lack feedback. Turn in feels nice, however it does need a little correction when exiting a corner as it doesn't self-centre quite as well as we'd like.
Braking is very good, with no fade at all, even after plenty of hard stabs, although the ABS is a little eager to reveal itself even in dry conditions. The ride is a little on the jiggly side at low speeds, however it’s not unpleasant, and if it means good grip, it’s a fair trade-off.
The main problem with the CR-V’s dynamics is its engine. Not that it’s not smooth, because it is; the 2.4-litre four-cylinder lacks torque, which means moving the CR-V’s bulk is an effort. 218Nm overcoming 1620kg of interia is bad enough, but to get it moving, it relies purely on revs. Maximum torque comes in at a very high 4200rpm, which translates to a loudness that shows how hard the engine is working. 0-100km/h in 11.5 seconds is not quick in anyone’s books, and coupled with fuel consumption of 10.0-litres/100km, there doesn't seem to be any positives at all.
Look at it this way: Mitsubishi Outlander VRX resides in the same category of compact SUV. It's also a petrol car. It weighs more (1727kg vs 1620kg), is quicker, makes more power and torque (by virtue of a larger V6 engine), yet only consumes 0.4L/100km more.
Or you could look to the Hyundai ix35, which has a smaller, turbo-diesel engine, which makes more power (135kW) and more torque (392Nm) at lower revs, with a fuel consumption of just 7.5L/100km and a quicker 0-100km/h time of 10.2 seconds.
While this 2.4-litre drivetrain may work well in the Honda Accord Euro, in the CR-V it’s just not cut out for the job. What it needs is a diesel engine under the bonnet, which would help it to get off the line quickly (by virtue of effortless torque), as well as return excellent fuel consumption. The gearbox, though, is fine with smooth shifts and despite a tallish first gear, well spaced ratios.
Our test car was the Luxury model, and inside, you’ll find a nicely finished cabin, and although there are some hard plastics around (door-trims and dashtop come to mind) it doesn’t look cheap. In fact at night with the deep blue backlighting, it even looks somewhat futuristic. The centre stack is quite busy, the on-off switch for the stereo is on the wrong side of the car, but the sound quality is good.
There are plenty of cubby-holes, lidded bins and cup holders, although the double stacked glovebox doesn’t quite have enough room in either compartment. Instrumentation is clear with large numbers and the centre screen shows just about anything you can call to mind.
The seats are fantastic up front, with drop down armrests, the rears being a little harder, but are able to slide fore and aft to reveal more boot space if needed. The rears also have excellent head-room. You can see where the bean-counters have cut corners, though, with the leather on the front seats using inserts to space out the material used – the different textures give it away.
Mums will appreciate the drop-down kiddy mirror which doubles as a sunglass holder, the wide-opening doors and the low lip height of the generous boot. However the thicker pillars may not be as welcome. The excuse that the pillar thickness is there for safety doesn't quite wash, either. In ANCAP crash testing, the CR-V only received four stars, and with current Government supported television commercials highlighting the need to choose car with more stars, Honda will have to step up its game to receive five stars on its softroader.
The Honda CR-V is an adequate performer with some good features, but they're mostly outweighed by a drivetrain and safety rating which are behind the times. The pricing on the lower-specced models is keen enough, but then so is some of the CR-V's competition.
The soft-roader revolution shows no signs of slowing - there's potential for the CR-V to be right up there. Let's just hope Honda Australia brings the diesel CR-V here soon.
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