The new 2018 Honda CR-V is as practical as ever, but adds more polished dynamics, design panache and thoughtful specification levels. It should be on your shortlist if you're after a mainstream compact SUV.
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.
The level of equipment is acceptable for the most part: “In fact, the entry VTi grade in the new CR-V range more closely matches the previous generation VTi-S, while adding $3700 of value over its predecessor,” Honda Australia director Stephen Collins reckons.
Standard fare includes 17-inch alloy wheels with a rare and hugely commendable full-size alloy spare, roof rails, LED daytime running lights (DRLs), keyless entry with push-button start (another commendable addition), reversing camera, dual-zone climate control and cloth seats.
Infotainment comes via a 7.0-inch colour touchscreen paired to eight speakers. There’s no integrated sat-nav but you get Bluetooth/USB, plus Apple CarPlay and Android Auto phone mirroring software.
Safety equipment is limited to six airbags and a Driver Attention Monitor that makes sure you’re alert, plus all the usual safety ‘acronyms’ (ESC, ABS etc.). In an age where tech such as Autonomous Emergency Braking is become commonplace, Honda may have missed a trick here.
Next up the chain is the VTi-S five-seater that Honda correctly expects will be the top-seller, priced at $33,290 in FWD form or $35,490 with AWD. It's the pick of the range, there's little doubt about it in our minds.
Additional features for the $2600 premium include 18-inch alloy wheels, an electric tailgate with height adjustment, proper satellite-navigation with SUNA updates, front and rear parking sensors, Honda's great LaneWatch blind-spot camera, automatic dusk-sensing headlights, electrically-retractable door mirrors and a leather-wrapped steering wheel in place of the VTi's cheap-o plastic number.
Next is the sole seven-seat option, called the CR-V VTi-L, priced at $38,990 with front-wheel drive only, and therefore clearly rivalling the X-Trail ST-L and Mitsubishi Outlander LS, or even something like the Skoda Kodiaq or a base Hyundai Santa Fe Active X.
Additional features include said seven seats with airbag protection for the rearmost row, plus genuine luxuries such as a panoramic sunroof, leather-appointed seat trim, heated front seats, eight-way adjustable electric driver seat with lumbar support and memory, automatic rain-sensing wipers and third-row ceiling vents.
Topping the range is the CR-V VTi-LX five seater with AWD priced at $44,290. Additional features include privacy glass, full LED headlights with active cornering lights, a High-beam Support System (HSS), auto-dimming interior rearview mirror, digital radio (DAB+) and a leather-wrapped gear knob.
You also get all of Honda's active and preventative safety tech including Adaptive Cruise Control, Forward Collision Warning, Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB), Lane Departure Warning, Road Departure Mitigation System and Lane Keep Assist.
Our main gripe with all this is that Honda doesn't offer this set of safety tech as an optional pack on lower grades, or even find a way to make AEB standard on everything.
Modern safety standards practically demand it, and we'd expect more than a token effort on a family car.
To the back seats, which are a mixed bag. On the plus side, every single CR-V variant offers two rear USB points and air vents, plus massive door pockets and a flip-down centre armrest. And both the VTi/VTi-S' cloth trim and the VTi-L and VTi-LX's leather trim are above-average in grade.
The five-seat CR-Vs offer perhaps the best back seats in the class, in terms of headroom, legroom, foot space, storage, amenities, ease of ISOFIX/tether access, entry/egress through the door aperture and outward visibility. The seats also recline. Only the X-Trail, Renault Koleos and Tiguan can compete.
The seven-seat VTi-L option has some flaws, though. The middle seats slide on rails, which is good. And the tilt/tumble mechanism to access the third row works well, as do the roof-mounted vents.
However, these latter features also decimate headroom, alongside the sunroof, meaning anyone over 180cm will feel squeezed in the middle seat row, even in the outboard seats. And the third-row pews are strictly for kids only. If you want a seven-seater SUV for semi-regular use, look for a bigger car.
Cargo space has dropped a smidgen but remains above the class average at 522L behind the second-row. The middle seats also fold flat, and can be made to do so via levers in the cargo area, liberating a 1.85m long flat space. This, plus the programmable electric tailgate, makes loading pretty simple.
The cargo area is also well-lit, offers various hooks, a 12V socket, and has aforementioned full-size alloy spare wheel/tyre as standard, with a sturdy jack. Honda quality... There's also a sliding cargo cover and various accessories to sex things up.
From an ownership perspective, the CR-V gets Honda's new five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty, and capped-price servicing at 12-month/10,000km intervals. You'll pay a below-average $1475 over the first 50,000km or five years at current prices, whichever comes first.
At the time of writing we've just left the Australian model launch for the new CR-V, but despite being so fresh in the mind we already believe that this iteration of such a familiar name deserves the success it musters.
While the lack of room in the seven-seater is a problem, and the current lack of active safety below the range-topper is a clear oversight, the Honda sits at or near the top of its class for five-seat cabin layout, storage, equipment and overall ease-of-use.
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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