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A new Honda CR-V has arrived, giving the company ammunition to tackle dominant rivals such as the Mazda CX-5, Hyundai Tucson and Toyota RAV4.
This redesigned and altogether more sophisticated model is the latest - and arguably most important - part of Honda's product-led revival, joining the still-new Civic sedan and hatch, and smaller HR-V.
Before we share our first impressions from the Australian launch held this week, some background. This is the fifth iteration of the Honda CR-V since the nameplate's 1995 debut. More than nine-million have been sold worldwide, including 170,000 in Australia.
While its lustre has dimmed of late, the CR-V was something of a pioneer in the medium/compact SUV class that today is the fastest-growing part of the entire automotive market. Now, Honda's back to reclaim lost market share.
The new range comes in four levels of specification, and is available with front- or all-wheel drive and a solitary turbo-petrol engine offering. It's bigger and more spacious than its already capacious predecessor, and also comes available for the first time with seven seats.
Honda makes no bones about it. While the Mazda CX-5 or Volkswagen Tiguan is pitched as something of a style statement, the CR-V is aimed squarely at families, people who probably value unpretentious practicality and ride height above all else.
And before you simply glide to the bottom of the page, we'll tell you that Honda has largely achieved this aim. The much-improved CR-V ticks almost all of the requisite boxes and leaps immediately onto our segment shortlist.
First, design. Looks are subjective, but the new CR-V is in this writer's opinion the best-looking (non-NSX) Honda in some time. Where the Civic and HR-V are needlessly fussy, this is clean, contemporary and handsome.
The wheelbase is longer, reducing overhangs. The rear wheel arches are flared, the windows are raked (yet still big), the bonnet is stylised and the vertical tail-lights are even pretty spunky. It has presence, a squat stance and good proportions. All models have LED daytime running lights, too, though only the VTi-LX gets LED headlights.
Under the bonnet is a similar 1.5-litre petrol engine to the Civic, fitted with a larger turbocharger - and different turbine blades designed to reduce resultant spool-driven lag.
Outputs are good for the class despite the small capacity, reported as 140kW at 5600rpm and 240Nm between 2000 and 5000rpm. Many rivals use a comparatively anaemic engine at base level, but the CR-V offers this unit across the board. Diesel option? Nope.
Claimed fuel consumption is a middling 7.0-7.4L/100km, though on our test we hovered around 9.0L/100km. The 0-100km/h time is 9.9 seconds, for anyone who cares.
The engine is matched as standard to a CVT-style automatic gearbox (with paddles on the two highest grades) designed to reduce cost, weight and emissions. In base models it channels engine torque to the front wheels, but higher grades come with an on-demand all-wheel drive (AWD) system.
It's an acceptable engine, good for a base model and about acceptable for the more expensive grades, getting the circa 1600kg (varies by variant) CR-V rolling along without protest under load and offering decent rolling response.
The CVT comes with artificial programmed ratios to mimic stepped gear changes, aimed at people familiar with a conventional lock-up torque converter. The typical engine drone elicited is minimised, far more-so than in a X-Trail or Renault Koleos under strain.
The AWD system is quite clever. Uncommonly, the car can take off from the line in all-paw mode to maximise initial traction. It's only at speed in nice conditions where the car reverts to FWD. The sensors on board re-send torque rearward (up to 40 per cent total) when slip up front is detected.
While still firmly in the 'soft-roader' mould suited to snowy trails or gravel, it's also worth pointing out that the CR-V's ground clearance is up substantially to 208mm, higher than most key rivals bar the (210mm) X-Trail.
The chassis is a new design, with Honda citing a need to bring more agile and confidence-inspiring handling to the picture, while retaining plushness in the ride. The balancing act has been done quite deftly.
Increased front and rear track widths, combined with rejigged front MacPherson strut and rear multi-link suspension (with low-friction dampers and tubular front/solid rear stabiliser bars) help sharpen up turn-in and flatten the body against lateral cornering inputs.
There's also a new electric power steering system, new fluid-filled suspension bushes and what appears to be more noise-deadening insulation, and greater sealing of gaps.
Also standard is an electric parking brake with automatic brake hold to stop you creeping around town, and an Active Noise Control system sort of like noise-cancelling headphones that keeps out road and wind noise.
Over a mixture of urban and regional winding country roads, plus the odd gravel trail, the CR-V feels generally well-sorted. There's some controlled body roll through corners, but the positive trade off is a generally excellent level of ride compliance, and good isolation from sharp hits.
The suppression of noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) is good for the class, while the steering has a very fast action. There's now only 2.2 turns lock-to-lock (down a full revolution), meaning less arm-waving in town and quicker responses at speed.
The CR-V is not a corner-carver like a Tiguan or CX-5, but its ride quality is first rate, and the body control/handling is safe and predictable. There are no pretensions here, which we admire.
We also admire the cabin layout. It lacks the semi-premium cache of a CX-5 or Tiguan, but it blends tasteful material quality on all variants with typical Honda virtues of space, practicality, tough build quality, and attention-to-detail.
Familiar Honda cues are here, including a floating tablet screen, space-age digital instruments that look tacky but do the job, nice material textures, thin A-pillars and frankly brilliant cabin storage solution headlined by a glovebox that fits a large handbag.
Spec-wise, kicking things off is the $30,690 (before on-road costs) CR-V VTi with five seats and FWD, matching the entry Nissan X-Trail ST CVT auto.
Throw in a sharp design, respectable powertrain, a sense of dynamic deftness that balances cushy ride characteristics with solid and predictable handling, and frankly excellent pricing, and you have an obvious winner. Shortlist it, just perhaps not in seven-seat form.
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Listen to the CarAdvice team discuss the Honda CR-V below, and catch more like this at caradvice.com/podcast.