Australians love SUVs, and the 2021 Honda CR-V slots right into one of the most competitive segments in the Australian new car market.
Plenty of family buyers have moved away from the traditional large sedan and headed straight for dual-cabs, there’s no disputing that fact. However, a whole other subsection has also headed toward medium and large SUVs.
Medium SUVs have become the default family run-around battleground in 2020 then, and Honda needs the revised CR-V to succeed in our market. It’s worth going back for a quick recap of the, at the time unheard of, SUV trend in Australia, though.
Few people would ever have known then, that we’d be where we are now with their rampant popularity. In the early days, the term SUV didn’t even exist in the Australian lexicon.
About a year after Toyota released its immediately popular RAV4 in the mid-1990s, Honda came to the party with a medium SUV of its own which brought with it a sense of premium quality. It’s easy to forget now, given their proliferation, but first Toyota and then Honda broke new ground back then.
Times have changed though, and so have buyers’ expectations. Rather than simply offering a point of difference, this segment needs to deliver to an extremely broad range of expectations. Early on, the fact that the RAV or the CR-V was merely different, was enough.
Among a sea of Commodores and Falcons, it wasn’t so difficult to appeal. You could say now though, that medium SUVs are the Swiss Army knife of cars - provide something for everyone but do it reliably and stylishly. Doesn’t sound too hard does it?
Our launch CR-V takes the form of the VTi-L AWD five-seater. Pricing for the range starts from $30,490 for the Vi and tops out at $47,490 for the VTi-LX AWD (both before on-road costs) – there's full breakdown in our pricing and specification guide.
Our VTi-L starts from $40,490 before on-road costs, and we’ve got no options on our tester either, so what you see here is what you get.
The CR-V model range has been reduced from eight, down to seven, and there are two engines – a 113kW, naturally aspirated 2.0-litre and a 140kW, turbocharged 1.5-litre. Peak power for the 1.5L comes in at 5600rpm, while peak torque of 240Nm is available between 2000-5000rpm.
The four-cylinder is mated to a CVT, which is one of the smoother and most intuitive examples we’ve tested from any manufacturer. The ADR fuel claim on the combined cycle is 7.3L/100km and on test, the CR-V used an indicated 8.0L/100km, which is impressively close to the ideal number.
The VTi-L gets Honda Sensing, the brand’s suite of safety aids, as you’d now expect to be standard in this segment. The 7.0-inch infotainment screen (a little small compared to the competition) is also standard, as well as dual-zone climate control.
VTi-L grade also gets heated leather seats up front and a powered driver’s seat.
|2021 Honda CR-V VTi-L|
|Engine||1.5-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol|
|Power and torque||140kW @ 5600rpm, 240Nm @ 2000-5000rpm|
|Drive type||On-demand all-wheel drive|
|Fuel claim combined (ADR)||7.3L/100km|
|Fuel use on test||8.0L/100km|
|ANCAP safety rating||5-star|
|Warranty||5 years / unlimited km|
|Main competitors||Toyota RAV4, Mazda CX-5, Hyundai Tucson|
|Price as tested (ex on-road costs)||From $40,490|
If you came to driving age in the early 1990s like I did, Honda was (and still is to some extent) an aspirational brand – and not just because of performance cars like the original NSX or hot-hatch Type Rs. Those cars were part of the appeal, as was Honda’s dominant success in Formula 1.
There was more to it than that, though. If one of your mate’s parents had a Honda, it was a premium step up; stylish, elegant, almost European in terms of the reverence with which it was held.
While Honda would undoubtedly want to hold more of the middle ground in 2020, there’s no doubt the company would still like to remain true to some of that early '90s philosophy as well. It’s easier said than done though, in a segment like medium SUVs, where price is more often the driver.
The styling of the CR-V is a revision of what we’ve already seen – in that it’s unfussed, neat and clean. Honda has eschewed even some of the sharp lines it’s added to HR-V over the years, to deliver a medium SUV that is unashamedly designed to appeal to as many buyers as possible.
Same goes with the cabin, where it feels insulated, well designed, and high quality. Whatever that mythical ‘perception of premium’ is that so many manufacturers talk about, Honda has retained a feeling of quality inside the CR-V. Close the door, and there’s little intrusion from the outside world, with hardly any road or wind noise entering the cabin right up to highway speed.
The 7.0-inch screen does feel like it’s a size too small compared to the best in segment, but what it lacks in size, it makes up for in clarity, and response. It’s quick to respond to commands, worked faultlessly with Apple CarPlay on test, and is clear in any light.
The operating system is pretty simple too, making it easy to familiarise yourself with. Thankfully, Honda removed the weird haptic volume control, for a much more traditional switch, which works a lot better.
As is always the case with Honda, storage is cleverly accounted for with a massive central storage bin, and smart sliding shelf. Door pockets are useful even for larger bottles, but it’s the central console that is the smartest and most useful feature.
A small shelf ahead of the shift lever is ideal for smartphones, ensuring they aren’t sliding around the console or shoved into a cupholder.
The only criticism you could level at the interior is that it’s starting to feel a generation old. The best (and newest) in the segment, have moved the game on even further. However, the counter argument to that is the fact that latest and greatest isn’t always the most important factor to buyers, with Honda’s rock-solid execution and comfort a pretty strong selling point.
The fact that the real-world fuel figure is so close to the ADR claim is an indication that the engine isn’t working particularly hard around town, and the drive experience feels that way too. The CVT doesn’t slur and whine, and the 1.5-litre four doesn’t ever feel like it’s straining at the leash to either get up to speed or stay there.
CVTs have obviously come a long way from their initial applications, where they detracted so much from the driving experience. Honda’s latest iteration here is a good one, with the added benefit of real world efficiency.
You would expect the ride to be comfortable, and it is. That feeling of solidity inside the cabin, translates to the way the CR-V rides and soaks up bumps when you’re running around town.
The chassis is never unsettled, never lacking in competence, and never uncomfortable. If you do take a nasty hit, the CR-V settles quickly and evenly, making for a comfortable family hauler.
We tackled some country B-roads on launch too, and the CR-V continues to deliver to the family SUV brief. It’s spacious into the second row, there’s plenty of room for the kids’ gear in the luggage space, and the view out is expansive from the four main seating positions.
A full-size alloy spare is a bonus you don’t always get, and the CR-V is covered by Honda’s five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty with servicing required every 12 months or 10,000km, whichever comes first.
So, while there are newer, or more technologically up to date SUVs in the incredibly competitive medium SUV segment, few deliver the feeling of solidity and build quality Honda continues to execute so well.
If you’re the type of buyer who hangs onto their new car for seven to 10 years, the CR-V is one you should definitely be looking at. In many ways, Honda remains a premium feeling, aspirational brand.