Sales of Honda’s first seven-seat CR-V derivative in Australia, called VTi-L7, have tracked exceptionally well. So, it made sense to introduce an additional specification level at a cheaper price for growing families on a tight budget.
The 2019 Honda CR-V VTi-E7 is priced at $34,490 before on-road costs, which is $4500 less than the existing VTi-L7. It lines up above fellow smallish seven-seaters such as the Mitsubishi Outlander LS, Nissan X-Trail ST – products regularly the subject of sharp factory discounts – and Volkswagen Tiguan Allspace.
It’s also roughly $10,000 cheaper than a far bigger Toyota Kluger, Hyundai Santa Fe or Nissan Pathfinder based on list pricing. So, if you only have a small (in stature) family, and perhaps don’t always need that third seating row to be in use, maybe something like this is worth a look?
In exchange for its reduced entry price over the VTi-L7, the CR-V VTi-E7 misses out on the following features: rain-sensing wipers, dusk-sensing headlights, electric tailgate, panoramic sunroof, heated front seats, satellite navigation, parking sensors, a LaneWatch blind-spot camera, and steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters.
But it still offers a healthy feature list including leather seats, LED running lights and tail-lights, cruise control with speed-limiter, climate control with vents plumbed for all three seating rows, proximity key, start button, 7.0-inch touchscreen, four USB inputs, and a reversing camera.
Front occupants enjoy a functional cabin with: electric driver’s seat adjustment; a large instrument display with digital speedometer; simple steering wheel buttons for audio, phone and cruise control operation; a high-mounted gearshifter and electric parking brake; and a well-integrated touchscreen with a volume knob.
The driving position is nice and high, and the large windows and slim A-pillars improve outward visibility. The deletion of the higher grade’s sunroof also means the VTi-E7 has 57mm more head room for front occupants.
That centre screen lacks the VTi-L7’s Garmin sat-nav with SUNA live updates, but at least it has support for Android Auto and Apple CarPlay phone mirroring that lets you operate Google Maps or Waze. The actual operating system isn’t the fastest to load or the sexiest to look at, but its basic functionality is fine.
Honda is a master of practical design, and the CR-V is no exception. The centre console is massive, and capacious enough for a handbag. Ahead of this sits a set of cupholders and another more shallow phone cubby with a 12V socket. Big door bins, a decent glovebox, and a sunglasses holder in the roof complete the deal.
The build quality on our test car seemed fine, for anyone still holding concerns over the fact it’s made in Thailand and not Japan. There are black and silver contrasting inserts, and soft-touch padding on the dash and flanking the gearshifter, for your knees to rest against. Honda was smart to retain the easy-to-clean leather seats.
Second-row space is good up to a point, although the roof-mounted air-conditioning vents necessitate a hump in the roof that means seven-seat CR-Vs have 84mm less head room than five-seaters. Anyone under 180cm should have acceptable head room, as our pictures of my 170cm colleague Kez should show.
Interestingly, the deletion of the VTi-L7’s sunroof doesn’t increase the VTi-E7’s middle-row head room, because the glass area only really covers those in the first row anyway.
Second-row leg room is more than sufficient for adults, despite the fact Honda’s designers reduced this model’s by 84mm over the five-seater to squeeze in that third row. Kudos goes to the 90-degree-opening back doors that make entry and egress easier than many competitors do.
Second-row amenities include air vents and two USB points mounted behind the centre console, grab handles, a flip-down centre armrest with cupholders, LED reading lights, three top tethers and two ISOFIX attachment points.
The middle row folds 60:40, with the big portion on the driver’s side. A two-stage ‘fold and tilt upwards from the base’ motion provides an aperture to access the third row, which has 14mm less head room and nearly 200mm less shoulder room than the middle row does, and which is really only comfortable for children or adults under 160cm.
This third seat row sits low down, and the occupant’s head is placed behind the window next to the large C-pillar. On the plus side, the middle row can slide forward on rails to improve leg room somewhat, though it’s still tight. To Honda’s credit, third-row occupants have adjusting headrests, air vents, and full-length curtain airbag cover.
In reality, the CR-V seven-seater is best for a family with two or three kids, who want an occasional-use third row for sports training or school runs. At 4596mm nose to tail and 2660mm between the wheels, the Honda is almost 300mm shorter overall and 130mm shorter in the wheelbase than said Kluger, which is a ‘proper’ seven-seater.
Boot space is another traditional CR-V strength, though room with the third row of seats folded as flat as they go (which isn’t as low as the actual boot floor) is 472L, or 50L less than a five-seater CR-V offers. With the third row of seats in use you have 150L of space. The middle seat row folds flat to house longer items.
Honda is to be commended for managing to fit a full-size alloy spare wheel and 235/60R18 tyre below the loading floor instead of the temporary space-saver unit found in so many competitors' models. And, frankly, I don’t find the electric tailgate on the VTi-L7 much of a loss.
What about the way the Honda drives? Its engine looks small on paper, but don’t worry about displacement. It’s a 1.5-litre petrol with a turbocharger producing outputs of 140kW at 5600rpm and 240Nm of torque between 2000 and 5000rpm. The tow rating is a meagre 1000kg with a braked trailer.
While no rocket ship, it has the sort of diesel-style low-down torque delivery that gives you sufficient rolling response to poke into gaps or lug up hills, and is relaxed on highways. It’s also exceptional at saving fuel, with a claim of 7.1 litres per 100km on the combined cycle using 91RON. I managed 7.9L/100km on my loop.
All versions of the CR-V seven-seater are front-wheel drive only, since the driveshaft for an all-wheel drive would take up space. Five-seater CR-V models are available with on-demand AWD ideal for slippery grass, snow, or gravel.
The drivetrain’s weak point is its CVT, or continuously variable transmission, which might well cut weight and preserve petrol, but also detracts from the refinement when revving.
An unpleasant droning soundtrack is symptomatic of ratio-less CVTs, but the likes of Nissan and Subaru have created ones that do a sharper job than the one found here. In urban driving it’s rarely an issue, but should you wish to step on the accelerator hard, it takes the edge off your momentum.
On the upside, we like the addition of an electric parking brake and a button enabling Auto Hold – a function that stops the car from creeping if left in D when stuck in traffic. This means you get to rest your foot off the brake, and won’t momentarily roll backwards down hills before take-off.
Better are the CR-V’s ride and handling, which are miles ahead of the old model. The suspension (MacPherson struts at the front and a multi-link rear) wafts over broken and cobbled roads better than most competitors do, and there’s extensive noise-cancelling features throughout the body and glass. It’s very quiet, and very smooth.
While dynamic handling and steering are clearly not priorities here, the Honda does hustle through corners quite well, without excessive body roll or steering resistance. It’s certainly a stable, planted vehicle, and that’s what really matters in this class.
What’s disappointing is the absence of driver-assistance safety functions on any CR-V seven-seater. There’s no autonomous emergency braking (AEB), forward-collision warning, lane-departure alert, lane-keeping assist, or adaptive cruise control. At the very least, we would expect AEB. Even an options kit would be better than nothing.
Despite this, it retains a five-star 2017 ANCAP crash score based on its passive occupant protection.
From an ownership perspective, you get a transferable five-year warranty with no kilometre limit, plus an available seven-year roadside assist plan. Servicing intervals are either 12 months or 10,000km (15,000km would be optimal), with each of the first 10 visits currently capped at $312 a pop. Neither the cheapest nor priciest in class…
So, is the addition of a new entry-grade Honda CR-V seven-seater worthwhile? That depends on whether you can live without those extra features we mentioned. Given this model still offers phone mirroring to cover navigation needs, and seven leather seats with three rows of vents and airbags, it covers the basics really well.
Our recommendation is quite simple: if you regularly intend to carry six or seven people, then something like the Honda CR-V really isn’t quite large enough. But if you want an urban SUV to carry a couple of kids, and their friends occasionally, without the colossal footprint of a Kluger or Pathfinder, then it’s certainly a worthy offering.