We all love to lust over high-performance sports cars and extravagant luxury SUVs, but when it comes to buying a car for our own everyday use, we’re happy to trade ‘class-leading’ and ‘game-changing’ for a solid all-rounder.
It may not seem as exciting as a 0–100km/h sprint time of 2.3 seconds, but sometimes you need a car that has air vents all the way to the back, a price tag that doesn’t eclipse your mortgage, and extra room in case your obstetrician tells you, ‘Congratulations! You’re having twins!’.
Enter cars like the 2020 Honda CR-V VTi-L – a jack-of-all-trades with configurable cabin space and a sub-$40K price tag (before on-road costs). The five-door, front-wheel-drive VTi-L is one of two seven-seat variants Honda offers in its medium-SUV range, which is due to be updated with a facelift from next month.
Looking a the MY20 pricing, the VTi-L is the more expensive of the pair at $38,990 plus on-road costs, while the VTi-E seven-seater is $4500 less at $34,490 plus on-road costs. Both cars increase in MY21 spec, to $43,490 and $35,490 respectively.
For the price gap over its lower-tiered brochure-mate, the VTi-L adds a number of extra goodies including auto wipers, a panoramic sunroof, a power tailgate, built-in sat-nav, LaneWatch technology, front and rear parking sensors, and heated front seats, to name a few.
I’d suggest the sensors are a necessity in a car of this size, while the clever LaneWatch feature, expansive sunroof and power tailgate alone are more than worth the extra spend.
The CR-V VTi-L’s competitors depend on whether you think of it as a large five-seater or a small seven-seater. For reference, Nissan’s comparable seven-seater, the X-Trail ST-L, starts at $39,450 plus on-road costs, while Mazda’s similarly sized mid-spec five-seater, the FWD CX-5 Maxx Sport, kicks off from $36,290. By that token, the CR-V’s asking price is about right.
It's worth knowing then, that the VTi-L isn’t a fully blown seven-seater, in the sense that its rear row has limited leg room and the seats aren’t as substantial as other full-time seven-seaters.
The middle row, however, is a convenient sliding set-up and thus can be adjusted to offer around 150mm more legroom for either third or second row occupants.
As such, if you’re regularly carting five kids around, first of all, let me take a moment to acknowledge your mammoth effort! Second of all, unless there are two children you don’t really like that much, you should probably opt for a seven-seater from the large, not medium, SUV sector.
However, as a short-term fix for when your kids unexpectedly invite their friends on the school carpool, or you become a last-minute designated driver for a catch-up amongst more than a cab-load of friends... On a winery tour... With their kids at grandma's... The CR-V VTi-L is a winner.
Other wins include the rear row being incredibly easy to raise and lower, thanks to a simple pull-tag set-up even my puny arms could manage.
The flipside of this is that the third row doesn’t fold down flat, but thankfully, the rear floor is actually height-adjustable, meaning you can raise it to be level with the stowed seats to create a flat surface when you require one.
Even with the third row in play, the VTi-L’s boot space is a decent 150L, which rises to 472L with the rear row down – and there’s a full-size spare wheel under the floor, which is essential if you head out of town often. Even with the back row in action, I was able to fit a medium suitcase on its side comfortably.
All rows are well served with cupholders, and there are two middle-row USB ports and a central four-vent hub on the roof. Leg room in the middle row is awesome, plus you can recline the seats for extra comfort.
Head room is slightly reduced in order to accommodate the sunroof, but that in turn boosts the fun factor and gives the illusion of extra space in the back.
The VTi-L is powered by a four-cylinder, 1.5-litre turbocharged petrol engine paired to a CVT automatic transmission that drives the front wheels only.
I’ll be honest, the 140kW/240Nm engine doesn’t exactly feel like it’s brimming with zeal when you hit the accelerator, but I wouldn’t expect a car like this to take off like a racehorse.
More importantly, it feels stable, smooth and comfortable on the road, and is powerful enough to carry some extra weight. Road and engine noise are still noticeable, but not distractingly so.
Claimed fuel consumption in the CR-V VTi-L is 7.3L/100km. I spent a lot of time behind the wheel, including a three-hour round trip to the Great Ocean Road, with the car mostly in ‘Econ’ mode and real-world consumption came in at 8.6L/100km.
Personally, I still think this is pretty impressive for a car on the larger side, even if it’s a solid 1.3L above the promised figure.
Visibility on all sides is excellent, and further improved by the lofty ride height. Plus, I loved the LaneWatch feature, which is activated by the indicators and offers the driver a full camera view of the car’s left-hand blind spot. It’s particularly helpful when sharing the road with cyclists.
There are a few notable omissions on the driver tech and safety front in the MY20 CR-V VTi-L – it’s missing a head-up display, lane-departure alert and lane-keep assist, plus active cruise control, forward-collision warning with autonomous emergency braking and blind-spot monitoring.
Bizarrely, the VTi-S AWD has all of these things as standard and it’s priced lower than the VTi-L at $36,490 plus on-roads, although you sacrifice the two extra seats.
Fair to note too that for the 2021 update, the majority of these items are added as standard equipment on all but the entry-level model, under the guise of the Honda Sensing package.
Otherwise, other mod-cons are all present and accounted for, including an electronic parking brake, push-button start, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, dual-zone climate control, ABS, hill-start assist, electronically retractable side mirrors, auto headlights and wipers, heated electric memory seats and a power tailgate.
I found the central 7.0-inch touchscreen and entire infotainment system refreshingly simple to use, but comprehensive enough that I wasn’t left wanting. Meanwhile, the well-positioned digital instrument cluster meant I wasn't missing a head-up display for speed monitoring.
Looks-wise, I was pleasantly surprised by how contemporary and 'un-people-mover-y' the CR-V appeared (although its street cred was somewhat diminished by its personalised ‘CRV01’ plates).
Black trim accents like the ones around the CR-V’s side mirrors, windows and wheels are very on trend right now and they worked perfectly with the ‘lunar silver’ paint job. Inside, the leather-appointed seats and fuzzy felt seat backs are more utilitarian than luxurious, but not unattractive.
I came away from my time in the Honda CR-V VTi-L pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed getting around in it. It’s comfortable, affordable, attractive, accommodating of your various lifestyle needs, and has the cabin space of a much larger car in a smaller car’s footprint.
However, the lack of Honda’s full Sensing safety suite seems odd on its top-spec seven-seater family-oriented offering, especially when smaller, cheaper cars seem to score more tech. This might not be as big of a dealbreaker for you though, so it is certainly worth considering the price difference from the facelift model, and perhaps pushing for a stronger deal on a runout car.
Alternatively, you’d probably find a bit more standard kit in other similarly sized segment rivals from Mazda, Mitsubishi or Toyota, but not all of them score the seven seats.
When I drove this, I had noted that I’d love to see Honda marry the configurability, spaciousness and versatility of the VTi-L with more of the safety and driver-aid offerings standard on some of its other models. Seems my wish has been granted with the new-look car, as you’re going to need all that and more if you’ve got six passengers of the school-age variety. Godspeed.
Stay tuned for our 2021 Honda CR-V review some time next month