Since arriving in the middle of 2017, the Honda CR-V has had a new ace up its sleeve, with the addition of a seven-seat model for the first time. The move is a timely one, as competitors broadly edge towards a new breed of mdium SUV-sized cars with two extra seats in the back.
Nissan’s already on to it with the X-Trail, Volkswagen has just introduced the Tiguan Allspace, and despite being classified as large SUVs, the Mazda CX-8 and Skoda Kodiaq are both essentially medium SUVs with extra seats (plus extra length) as well.
It makes sense then that Honda would dip a toe into this fast-growing pond.
Perhaps cautiously, Honda offers only one seven-seat variant of the CR-V range in the form of the VTi-L, which puts it one rung below the five-seat VTi-LX variant. The addition of two seats in the rear also puts paid to the all-wheel-drive system available in the VTi-S and VTi-LX grades.
Given the upper-range positioning of the VTi-L, pricing starts from a still-reasonable $38,990 before on-road costs, and there are no options or extra charges for things like metallic paint.
Seven seats for under $40K, not bad. The balance of equipment is otherwise decent too.
Like lesser members of the CR-V range, the VTi-L ships with dual-zone climate control, an electric park brake, keyless entry and start with walk-away locking, cruise control with speed limiter, and a 7.0-inch touchscreen with Bluetooth, USB and HDMI inputs, plus Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility.
There are also plenty of upscale inclusions like a powered tailgate, leather seat trim, 18-inch alloy wheels, auto lights and wipers, panoramic sunroof, heated front seats, eight-way adjustable electric driver's seat with lumbar support and memory, on top of three-row seating with full-length curtain airbags and rear ceiling air vents to match.
On the safety front, you might think Honda would load its more family-focussed variant to the hilt, but the opposite is true, with the VTi-L carrying almost the same equipment as the base-model CR-V Vi.
There are still plenty of inclusions like six airbags, front seatbelt pretensioners, traction and stability control, front and rear park sensors, wide-angle reverse camera, two ISOFIX and five top-tether child seat mounts, and driver-attention monitoring.
Above the standard package, the VTi-L also adds Honda’s lane-watch camera, which displays a view down the left-hand side of the vehicle when the indicator is activated to assist with lane changes.
The full Honda Sensing safety suite of the VTi-LX with autonomous emergency braking, lane-keep assist, adaptive cruise control and more is off-limits for the VTi-L right now, which just doesn’t sit comfortably in a car so obviously aimed at families.
On the inside, the CR-V does its best to make up for that with a roomy and comfortable interior for the first two rows, but row three, well…
It’s good to see additional ventilation outlets plumbed through the rearmost row, but if your family has expanded beyond the accommodation of a regular five-seater, this car still isn’t for you.
Early-to-mid-teens youngsters will be able to fit in the ‘back-back’ just fine, but lanky teens and adults will soon run out of room. The seats themselves are small and low set, and if the middle row hasn’t been shifted forward (it slides to aid versatility), there’s a minimal amount of leg room.
As temporary seats to drop your neighbours' kids to school they’re fine, but aren’t an ideal long-term solution for large families. Getting into those seats requires a two-stage lift for the second row rather than a single lever flip, as is usually the case for competitors.
Honda, which has had some fairly spectacular packaging solutions over the years, hasn’t excelled with the CR-V. The third row folds flat but doesn’t drop down out of the way, which leaves a stepped floor. With all seats up there’s a 135L sliver of storage space, and with the third row folded you can free up as much as 472L, or 967L with rows two and three tumbled down.
The VTi-L comes with just one engine, a turbocharged 1.5-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol, linked to a CVT automatic. Outputs are rated at 140kW and 240Nm, both of which are eclipsed by the similar-sized Holden Equinox and Ford Escape, although neither comes in seven-seat form.
Despite healthy output figures, the engine isn’t the liveliest, and is dragged down slightly by a CVT automatic tuned more for efficiency than performance. Unladen that’s not much of a problem, but trying to muster more from the drivetrain with a full load on board proves more difficult than it ought to be.
There’s certainly no question mark hanging over refinement, though, with appreciably low levels of engine, road and wind noise. Couple that with a smooth and settled ride, and the CR-V really hits the mark when it comes to what you might expect of a family chariot.
Over some of the typically urban imperfections that litter city streets, the CR-V barely flinches, riding comfortably over most surfaces and all without feeling heavy, cumbersome or oversized whether unladen or loaded with passengers.
Honda lays claim to a reasonably frugal 7.3L/100km official fuel consumption figure, but real-world testing (skewed more towards the commuter side of things) revealed 9.8L/100km on test mixed between drives with and without passengers – about as close as possible to the school run and work commute cycle, with a weekend out of town thrown in for good measure.
Other ownership considerations to keep in mind include Honda’s five-year warranty and capped-price servicing priced from $295 per visit (12-month/10,000km intervals), with additional costs for items like pollen filters, air filters, brake and transmission fluid that are all part of the service schedule. Expect to lay out around $1817 over five years (using time, not distance, as a guide).
Overall, Honda seems to have mostly struck upon a sweet spot in the market. Families with one or two kids looking for a little extra flexibility without supersizing will love the right-sized Honda.
A quality look and feel to the interior and a well-stacked features list tick plenty of boxes. Though the CR-V may not be any kind of packaging superstar, it does fit family life, as does the jump-in-and-drive simplicity of its driver environment.
There are a few areas where the five-seat version of the CR-V makes more sense, particularly if outright cargo capacity matters, and the lack of advanced safety systems in the most family-skewed model is ultimately baffling.
Justify your way around the safety omissions, though, and the high quality, high-comfort CR-V VTi-L is every bit the happy family helper.