The Honda CR-V was one of the pioneers of the mid-size SUV segment.
In the late 1990s, the concept was still a novelty. Now SUVs are mainstream, comfortably outselling small hatchbacks – and sedans of all shapes and sizes.
In its early days, the Honda CR-V was one of the biggest sellers in the class (alongside the original Toyota RAV4).Honda was so invested in the idea of weekend getaway cars, the first Honda CR-V came with a picnic table stored under the boot floor.
Now with more than two-dozen midsize SUV competitors, rivals are eating the Honda CR-V’s lunch. But Honda is fighting back. Now up to the fifth generation of the CR-V, this generation arrived in July 2017 and received a midlife update in late 2020.
The update coincided with price rises of up to $3200. The revised range starts from $30,490 plus on-road costs for the basic 2.0-litre petrol front-drive, and climbs to $33,490 plus on-road costs for the base model with a perky turbo 1.5-litre four-cylinder.
The 2021 Honda CR-V now tops out with a leather-lined and panoramic-sunroof-equipped VTi-LX with all-wheel-drive at $47,490 plus on-road costs, or more than $52,000 drive-away.
Metallic paint is a no-cost option on all 2021 Honda CR-V models, saving between $500 and $650 versus most competitors.
What we have here is, we suspect, the sweet spot in the range. And it also happens to be the middle of the new line-up.
This is the newly named Honda CR-V VTi-X front-wheel-drive. Replacing the previous VTi-S it is priced from $35,990 plus on-road costs (up $2700), which according to Honda’s website equates to about $41,000 drive-away.
Prior to this late 2020 facelift (there is a different bend in the front bumper and new wheel designs), only the most expensive variants of the CR-V were equipped with Honda’s advanced safety tech.
Now Honda has spread its crash-prevention technology across all models except the very cheapest in the CR-V range (the Vi). This is in addition to the six airbags that are standard across the CR-V range. The five-star ANCAP crash safety rating from 2017 carries over to the updated model.
In addition to radar cruise control, lane-keeping assistance, autonomous emergency braking (part of the Honda Safety Sense package), standard fare on this model grade includes a sensor key with push-button start, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, dual-zone air-conditioning (with rear air vents), electric park brake, and dusk-sensing headlights.
It also gains built-in navigation, a power-operated tailgate, and front and rear parking sensors.
As with all models in the Honda CR-V range, there is a full-size spare wheel and tyre under the boot floor – a welcome change in an era of space-saver spares and a must-have for many buyers). Tyre pressure monitors are also part of the package.
Warranty is five years/unlimited kilometres and service intervals are 12 months/10,000km, whichever comes first. (The industry average is 12 months/15,000km.)
Core servicing costs for each visit under Honda’s capped-price program start from $312; however, some intervals cost more as different maintenance items are replaced or serviced.
Based on the national average distance travelled of 15,000km per year, it would cost $2650 to service the Honda CR-V over five years/75,000km ($312 x 7 plus extra-cost service items listed on Honda’s website at certain intervals).
The capped-pricing servicing program runs out after 10 years or 100,000km, whichever comes first.
|2021 Honda CR-V VTi-X|
|Engine||1.5-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol|
|Power and torque||140kW at 5600rpm, 240Nm at 2000–5000rpm|
|Transmission||Continuously variable transmission (CVT auto)|
|Fuel claim combined (ADR)||7.3L/100km|
|Fuel use on test||8.0–8.5L/100km|
|ANCAP safety rating||5-star rating from 2017|
|Warranty||5 years / unlimited km|
|Main competitors||Toyota RAV4, Mazda CX-5, Hyundai Tucson|
|Price as tested (excluding on-road costs)||From $35,990|
On the road
Some people might initially be put off by the thought of the small 1.5-litre four-cylinder engine, but it’s turbocharged and a perky, efficient operator. Importantly, unlike many rivals, it runs on regular unleaded petrol.
Many other mid-size SUVs in this segment also have gutsy small-capacity engines (Ford, Hyundai, Volkswagen are examples). These types of SUVs are not designed for towing huge loads. Towing capacity is between 1000kg and 1500kg (this model is rated to tow 1500kg), which is enough to tow a small box trailer, a light camper trailer, or a jet ski.
Most customers never tow, however, and use the Honda CR-V (and its peers) as an everyday family car. In terms of handling the daily grind, the Honda CR-V has more than enough grunt and is easy and practical to live with.
The fuel-rating label says you can expect an average consumption of 7.3L/100km. On test during a mix of freeway and inter-urban driving, we saw an average of 8.0–8.5L/100km.
As is the case with many Hondas, visibility is excellent thanks to the large glass area, and the cabin and cargo hold are huge. There is a massive centre console and other generously sized cubbies in the door pockets. The back seats fold almost flat to create a massive cargo floor – one of the biggest in the class.
The seat fabric is a durable, technical weave, and the seats are comfortable and supportive (front and back).
There are two ISOFIX child seat mounting points and three top-tether straps, so you can install an old-school child seat in the middle of the back row.
The instrument cluster is clear and easy to read (aided by a large digital speed display) and most controls are intuitive to use. Helpfully, the infotainment system has a volume dial to quickly adjust sound.
The Honda CR-V also has steering wheel and touchscreen audio controls; however, as is the case in other cars, this can take frustrating fractions of seconds to locate and then adjust.
One point worth noting: this model grade lacks digital radio and a wireless phone charging pad (these are only available on the flagship VTi-LX).
An auto-dimming rear-view mirror is also (oddly) reserved for the most expensive model in the CR-V range, even though this convenience item trickles down to more affordable variants on some rivals.
Only the driver has a one-touch auto-up and auto-down power window (the flagship offers this functionality on all four doors), but most rivals have the same arrangement as this (reserving one-touch functionality on all four doors for range-topping models).
On the move, the 2021 Honda CR-V VTi-X is a smooth operator. The engine is a touch noisy while it gets going, but once cruising it’s fine, easily keeping pace with traffic and coping with steep hills.
The continuously variable auto (CVT) takes some getting used to. If you’re unfamiliar with the technology, it can sound like a slipping clutch. But this is normal operation, as the gearbox finds the optimum ratio. After a week or so of regular driving it will feel normal.
The turning circle of 11.0m is average for the class.
Most family SUVs aren’t going to set any lap records, of course, but the Honda CR-V feels stable in corners and roundabouts, and predictable in its steering. It’s light and easy at car park speeds and not overly sensitive once on the move.
The suspension can feel a bit lumpy on big expansion joins and patchwork roads, but by and large it’s one of the more comfortable mid-size SUVs available.
There is very little to not like about the 2021 Honda CR-V, particularly in the VTi-X model grade that ticks some important option boxes (power tailgate, navigation, front and rear parking sensors to supplement the rear camera, and of course the advanced safety aids).
I’m also a massive fan of the CR-V’s cavernous interior and cargo hold and well-appointed cabin, which are all holding up well amid newer rivals.
However, conspicuous by their absence: rear cross-traffic alert and blind-zone warning.
All 2021 Honda CR-V models from the VTi-X grade and up come with a “lane watch” camera (which displays an image of the driver’s blind spot); however, this is only active on the left side of the vehicle and when the left indicator is on.
Other blind-spot warning systems alert drivers with an illuminated symbol in the side mirrors when there is a vehicle in an adjacent lane that may be out of view.
And while rear sensors are standard on this model grade, rear cross-traffic alert is a feature worth adding, as we have found it very handy when reversing out of driveways and shopping centre parking spaces.
Please, Honda, can you complete the CR-V’s safety package and add these two features?
The Honda CR-V has received some welcome changes with this recent facelift, and we reckon the VTi-X is the pick of the line-up.