These days, I find some Honda models are often too quickly and unfairly dismissed by car snobs for being a touch pedestrian. The fact of the matter is, however, that the Japanese brand continues to pump out incredibly practical cars.
With its ultra-flexible cabin and option of five or seven seats, the CR-V medium SUV arguably epitomises this phenomenon.
The VTi LX grade I’m testing here ticks a lot of boxes. There’s all-wheel drive, a hell of a lot of interior space, a sunroof, leather seats, and exterior dimensions that aren’t nightmarish to manage around town.
The 2021 model-year update has made all of this a more enticing proposition, with all variants bar the base receiving Honda Sensing safety and driver assistance tech as standard, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as standard across the range.
It also gains a kick sensor on the power tailgate, a wireless phone charger and dual-zone climate control.
Naturally, there were price increases to match, with the car we’re testing here rising from $44,290 before on-road costs to its current price of $47,490 before on-road costs.
That hasn’t put it outside of the realm of its main competitors, however, with the Hyundai Tucson, Kia Sportage, Toyota RAV4 and Mazda CX-5 all offering petrol-powered, top-spec, all-wheel-drive variants for $46,000 or above.
However, the RAV4 also has the top-spec, all-wheel-drive Cruiser hybrid for $46,415 plus on-road costs – making it a slightly more enticing offering on paper.
Under the hood, the CR-V boasts a 1.5-litre, four-cylinder turbo petrol engine paired to a continuously variable automatic transmission – with max outputs of 140kW and 240Nm.
The VTi LX offers all-wheel drive (as does VTi L, but lower grades are front-wheel drive) and there’s an ‘ECON’ mode to lower fuel consumption, with slightly incongruous paddle shifters on the wheel if you’re inclined to manage the CVT's simulated gears yourself.
It might be just me, but I always find the inclusion of paddle shifters or a tiptronic gearbox a funny proposition in a family SUV that’s unlikely to do more than the school run – but hey, it’s nice to have I suppose?
Perhaps the CR-V’s greatest shortcoming is that there’s nothing particularly compelling about how it feels when you're behind the wheel. The cabin itself is comfortable, well laid out and fairly well appointed in parts, but there’s very little intrigue or excitement to its design – more on that shortly.
Similarly, the on-road presence is certainly capable but lacking in chutzpah. I always dislike the whiny drone of a continuously variable transmission and, while the Honda’s is certainly not as bad as some, it’s a bit of an auditory buzzkill.
Although acceleration from a standing start is smooth, it’s slow, with some turbo lag off the line – combining with the CVT drone to give the illusion of sluggishness. However, it’s actually a well-powered car that won’t leave you feeling lacking regardless of whether you’re hauling around a full boot or attempting to overtake on the freeway.
Otherwise, steering is moderately weighted – providing mild feedback and engagement, but enough light compliancy to feel flexible when space is limited.
|2021 Honda CR-V VTi LX AWD|
|Engine configuration||1.5-litre, four-cylinder turbo petrol|
|Power and torque||140kW at 5600rpm, 240Nm at 2000–5000rpm|
|Transmission||Continuously variable automatic transmission|
|Drive type||All-wheel drive|
|Fuel claim combined (ADR)||7.4L/100km|
|Fuel use on test||9.8L/100km|
|Servicing costs||5 years, 50,000km for $1949|
|Main competitors||Hyundai Tucson, Kia Sportage, Mazda CX-5, Nissan X-Trail, Mitsubishi Outlander, Toyota RAV4|
|ANCAP safety rating||5 stars, tested 2017|
|Warranty||5 years/unlimited km|
|Towing capacity||1500kg braked, 600kg unbraked|
My colleague Kez made the point that the elevated driving position, spacious interior and relatively upright, forward-sitting driver’s seat can make you feel like you’re a bus driver, and I thought this summary was spot on.
Naturally, this makes for excellent visibility of both what’s going on inside the cabin (I’d imagine the target buyers are likely to have some fairly wayward rear passengers they’d like to keep an eye on) as well as what’s happening outside, courtesy of generously proportioned windows.
In fact, you’re likely to get more chaos from the inside occupants than from any outside forces, with the CR-V’s cabin offering minimal road noise and ample ride comfort.
Finally, the all-wheel-drive system is great for peace of mind, but you likely won’t notice it at work – which is a good thing. It’s an on-demand system that picks and chooses when to send power to the rear wheels based on conditions, counteracting slippery surfaces and wet weather well.
As far as top-of-the-line variants go, the VTi LX certainly feels well equipped and comfortable, but not luxurious or particularly special, inside.
Not that it needed to feel any more spacious than it already does, but the VTi LX’s large sunroof really lends an airy, expansive feel to the cabin that’s the antidote to the hunched, cramped cabins of hatchbacks and sports cars.
Elbow room in the front is to be applauded, and I was grateful for the leather driver’s seat with electronic adjustment, leather steering wheel, generous cupholders, seat heaters and wireless phone charger.
I can’t say I’m a fan of having the gearstick elevated and located in the centre of the dash, but you’ll get used to it soon enough.
Meanwhile, the back seat is a boon for families and requires absolutely no compromise for kids and adults alike.
With the driver’s seat in my regular position, I had a good 20cm of knee room, while even middle-seat occupants won’t feel cheated thanks to a lovely wide seat base and no pesky raised section underneath their feet. It really is a sight to behold.
Similarly, the boot is a crowd-pleaser – it has height, width and depth on its side.
There’s a full-size spare wheel under the floor and 522L of room with the second row in place. If you fold that second row down and load it to the roof, it becomes a whopping 1658L (1084L when loaded to the window only).
While not quite best-in-class, that’s more than the Hyundai Tucson, Kia Sportage and Mazda CX-5, but the Toyota RAV4 has it beat by 20L.
Electric levers make lowering the second row really easy, the power tailgate is handy for loading and unloading large items, and there are thoughtful elements like the two large lights on either side of the cargo area in order to illuminate the space at night.
Weak points on the CR-V VTi LX are its dated, low-res infotainment system and basic digital driver display.
There’s no head-up display and the 7.0-inch central touchscreen is on the smaller side compared to competitors. Although, it works fine, apart from the fact you have to accept an annoying safety warning every single time you turn the car on in order to activate the control functions.
The CR-V range also receives a five-star ANCAP safety rating, but it’s circa 2017 and probably due for a reappraisal.
Still, the recent 2021 updates have meant all models bar the base Vi get the following: a forward collision warning, autonomous emergency braking, lane-departure warning, lane-keep assist, road-departure mitigation, and adaptive cruise with low-speed follow, plus high-beam support.
There are front and rear sensors on the VTi LX grade as well as a solid multi-angle reverse camera, but I could have used a 360-degree camera, which is offered on some competitors, as is a park assist system.
Honda quotes 7.4L/100km of fuel consumption for a mix of urban and freeway driving, but the best I could manage was 9.8L/100km. To be fair, however, my driving time skewed towards the suburbs and city – much more indicative of the school run than a weekend away – and my editor Trent was able to get 8.0L/100km.
My figure was closer to Honda’s quoted urban consumption figure of 9.3L/100km. There's no idle-stop system, which would have no doubt helped in urban confines.
Honda’s five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty is a solid offering bested only by Kia’s seven-year warranty or Mitsubishi’s 10-year offering (provided you service through the dealer network).
Scheduled servicing for the CR-V is $312 per visit, plus add-on costs for things like brake fluid, cabin filters and differential fluid on a separate schedule. You’ll need to visit every 12 months or 10,000km – bringing you to a total of $1949 for the first five services which may vary depending how far you travel in a year.
All in all, the CR-V is hard to beat in terms of cabin space and practicality – although the Toyota RAV4 is a worthy and well-loved challenger, particularly in economical hybrid guise.
While the CR-V is not class-leading in terms of its infotainment and connectivity, safety and driver assistance tech or fuel economy, it’s certainly reasonably priced compared to some rivals.
A bit more spend and a bit less space will get you into something sportier and jazzier like a Skoda Karoq, while those craving some more prestige with the same level of practicality may find their needs better met by a Volkswagen Tiguan or Tiguan Allspace (but be prepared to pay).
I’d possibly recommend cross-shopping the Tucson, Sportage or RAV4 before taking the purchase leap at a Honda dealership, but there’s very little about the CR-V that will let you down.