While it may be the entry point to the CR-V range, the base-grade VTi neither looks nor feels like a cut-price path into Honda’s refreshingly competent medium SUV.
Honda might, at long last, have its mojo back after all. This generation of CR-V is now the brand’s biggest seller, and the Civic hatch and sedan that sell alongside it aren’t too far behind.
Admittedly, the Honda CR-V still trails more popular SUVs in its class like the Mazda CX-5, Toyota RAV4, Hyundai Tucson and Nissan X-Trail, but the fact that its sales to the middle of 2018 are hot on the tail of those cars proves Honda is back in fine form.
Looking at the CR-V VTi, it's not hard to see how Honda’s medium SUV is making its impact either. While it may be the cheapest version of the CR-V range, there’s not much missing to detract from the VTi’s appeal.
Under the bonnet, all CR-V variants share the same engine – a 1.5-litre turbocharged petrol four-cylinder with 140kW of power and 240Nm of torque – while some competitors offer smaller engines (or at least lower outputs) to keep the price of base models down.
An auto transmission is standard too. In Honda’s case, it's a CVT that seamlessly adjusts ratios rather than cycling through set gears to better match driving conditions, improve efficiency, and maintain passenger comfort.
There’s no all-wheel-drive version of the VTi, though, in case you had aspirations of heading off the beaten track. You’ll need to look to the slightly more expensive CR-V VTi-S for that option.
Standard kit includes cruise control with speed limiter, dual-zone climate control and rear ventilation outlets, cloth seat trim, manually adjusted front seats with driver’s height adjust, and a 7.0-inch infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Bluetooth, AM/FM radio, six speakers and four USB points throughout the interior.
Certainly, the inclusion of CarPlay means there’s no need to rely on Honda’s fussy infotainment layout that is difficult to decipher, not terribly user-friendly, and feels out of step and out of date compared to how polished the rest of the car is.
From the outside, the CR-V VTi avoids looking like any kind of lesser model thanks to 17-inch alloy wheels (and a full-sized spare), a liberal application of chrome on the grille, LED tail-lights and DRLs, front fog lights, dual chrome exhaust tips, and power folding mirrors with integrated indicators.
It’s the interior that matters, though, and in most regards Honda has done a good job, mixing a quality ambience with genuinely spacious dimensions sure to keep the whole family happy.
Up front, the driver faces a TFT instrument cluster that can display a huge variety of info, but latches onto a urethane steering wheel – sure to be hard-wearing, but not really premium at all.
That’s okay because other surfaces, like the dash and doors, are all excellently finished with a pleasant tactility and enough visual interest to keep things enticing. The centre console factors in huge, multi-configurable storage, plus cupholders, oddments space, and generously proportioned door packets – the interior is a real pack rat’s dream.
For those in the rear, sensible proportions mean there’s no shortage of head room or leg room, even behind taller front-seat occupants. Large, low windows also ensure an airy feel and clear outward visibility, even for shorter passengers.
With rear-seat ventilation outlets and a pair of USB ports at the back of the centre console, it should ensure some semblance of peace remains for back-seat travellers on longer trips too. Hopefully.
Further back still, with 522L of boot space to the rear seats, the CR-V provides a long, flat, wide space that is made all the more easy to load thanks to a completely lipless load floor and barely any bumper overhang to clear. Drop the rear seats and there’s up to 1084L to the window line.
Within the CR-V range, standard safety across all variants encompasses six airbags, traction and stability control, reverse camera, front seatbelt pretensioners, tyre pressure monitoring, and driver-attention monitoring, with a five-star ANCAP safety rating across the range.
More advanced safety systems like autonomous emergency braking, lane-departure warning, and the convenience of distance-keeping cruise control are reserved for the most expensive CR-V VTi-LX version only.
Take to the road and the CR-V continues to impress in a number of ways, particularly its compliant ride that almost thrives on some of the most pitted and roughly joined tarmac suburban streets have to offer.
From inside the cabin, occupants are barely troubled by small road niggles that can quake and rock other cars in its class – thanks must go (in part, at least) to the tall-sidewalled tyres, something even SUVs no longer feature. At its core, though, the CR-V’s suspension is simply well set up for comfort.
The same goes for attempts to keep noise and vibrations at bay, with a respectable level of noise suppression even at highway speeds. Honda has tuned its CVT auto to keep engine revs low too, which helps maintain the calm, but doesn’t do any favours for dynamic appeal.
In a classic case of ‘not all kilowatts are created equal’, the efficiency-minded automatic transmission zaps any appeal the CR-V’s 140kW engine might otherwise have, pulling revs down as quickly as possible at the expense of acceleration.
So, despite a healthy 140kW output, less powerful base-model SUVs like the 115kW Mazda CX-5 or 110kW Volkswagen Tiguan (which admittedly produces more torque) have a far more frisky feel, even just trundling around town.
The transmission isn’t the CR-V’s undoing by any means, though, with a launch feel that imitates the behavior of a regular auto, and a kickdown that similarly tries to emulate driving behaviours likely to be more familiar to anyone stepping out of older vehicles.
The dividend comes in fuel consumption, which even after a week of mostly urban commuting settled at 9.8L/100km – a long way off the 7.0L/100km mixed-cycle claim Honda boasts (and a litre off the urban-cycle claim), but still under the magic 10.0L mark, which is respectable for a car of its size, and only requiring 91-octane regular unleaded to ease the hip-pocket burden.
Honda’s running costs look decent with 12-month or 10,000km service intervals priced at $295 per visit, with additional costs for items like pollen filters, air filters, brake and transmission fluids that are all part of the service schedule, which pushes five years of servicing to $1817 (using time not distance as a guide).
That maintenance schedule isn’t a frontrunner in the segment, but stacks up well when you consider five years of X-Trail servicing will set you back $1528, while a CX-5 would be $1770 over the same period.
If you aren’t too upset with the CR-V’s easygoing approach to acceleration, and have made peace with the available safety specification, the rest of the package is a true return to form for Honda.
The interior isn’t overloaded with premium touches by any means, but is well put together and presents well, trumping plenty of the more basic ‘plasticky’ medium SUVs. The features list seems like a good fit to the CR-V VTi’s $30,690 (plus on-road costs) price too.
Where the CR-V really excels is its utilisation of interior space. Front and rear seats are spacious and comfortable, outward visibility is a strong suit, and boot space is about as capacious as you’ll find.
While it may not be at the pointy end of the latest automotive trends, or lead the medium SUV pack when it comes to safety, the CR-V is a bold step back to where Honda used to be – thoughtfully engineered, comfortable, quiet and practical.
All strong selling points for mainstream medium SUVs, and sure to play a significant role in Honda Australia’s growing sales presence.