With a huge range of crossovers on the market these days, a new model needs a unique selling point to stand out from the considerable crowd.
Falling into a market sector where there are competitors from Ford, Mazda, Kia, Volkswagen, Toyota, Hyundai, Mitsubishi and, of course, Nissan, the Honda CR-V has got a hard job.
However, Honda’s biggest car has been with us since the mid-1990s and has a pretty strong fanbase. Nevertheless, the new “Earth Dreams” offering provides that attention-grabbing headline with a small capacity diesel engine posting 60mpg combined. We’ve been batting it about Yorkshire to see how it stacks up.
The essence of an SUV is a big square box and most customers would be hard-pressed to tell any of the 20-odd vehicles in the sector apart in profile. It’s probably fair to say that the CR-V slots right in here – it’s relatively featureless from the side, with only a window-line that plunges more rapidly to the rear than the roofline as an obvious design marking.
Taking a trip to the back of the car is not so inspiring either, though CR-V fans will be pleased to note there’s a very clear continuity from earlier generations of the car, with the tall tail light clusters that have been a feature for a number of years.
It’s at the front where the Honda serves to stand out and although the two-level fascia of the previous car has gone, the designers have sought to capture that look in a more standard form. Again, it’ll be pleasing to owners of the third-generation model, while also taking a step back from a pretty gawky and divisive look.
Still, although it’s handsome enough now it’s likely the case that if we were to present these images with the Honda badge edited out in a carwow quiz, you may mistake the CR-V for one of its Korean rivals. That’s not necessarily a bad thing – we loved the Kia Sorento – it just doesn’t stand out to us as a Honda. A facelift is coming soon to move the CR-V nearer to the Civic and that should improve things somewhat.
From the driver’s seat everything seems to be pretty good. The – now-traditional for Honda – dash-mounted gearstick might throw you at first, but it’s at a nice height and the throw is pleasantly short given the nature of the car. The plastic moulding it sits in though is something of a grime trap where it meets the transmission tunnel, and that could get annoying if you’ve a typical messy family!
The rest of the instruments are where you’d expect, feel pretty high quality to use and are clear and easy to operate. There’s a nice colour LCD information screen up high on the centre stack, above the sat-nav screen, keeping vehicle data and music separate from your maps should you choose. For the most part the materials quality is on the good side of reasonable, but the upper dash is boomy and gritty plastic.
You won’t be hunting for space inside the CR-V – there’s loads of it. Front- and rear-seat passengers will be happy no matter where they are, with ample head, shoulder and knee room. There’s no large transmission tunnel running down the middle of the floor either, so middle-seaters won’t have to adopt the usual straddle pose. In this SR specification model, the seats are clad in half leather, half Alcantara that we think is a better option than the full leather in the next model up; it’ll be less likely to burn you in summer or freeze you in the depths of winter.
The boot is huge at 589 litres – you’re going to run out of things to stuff in it far before you run out of boot. Still, if you’re habitually moving trees or stepladders about, the rear seats fold forwards with a single action that borders on fun to watch as the bases slide up and forward, the backs fold into the gap and the headrests tuck in – it’s like watching a folding power hardtop convertible.
The driving position is good and it’s easy to find a comfortable spot for most body lengths, with a typically SUV view of the road. That dropping windowline does make for some pretty thick D-pillars (where the roof joins the body of the car at the rear) though, so you’ll probably be best served specifying a CR-V with a reversing camera.
You’ll probably notice a big, green button down to the driver’s right hand side with Honda’s leaf logo on it – first seen on the Insight hybrid. Pressing this moves the car into Eco Assist mode, which adjusts the power requirements of cabin electronics and throttle map to help you squeeze a few more miles out of your drops of diesel. It also adds a green glow to the instrument cluster when the car thinks you’re driving efficiently.
Most of the time, the CR-V feels the part of the big truck, with good road manners and a fine – if not stellar – steering feel. The brakes feel good and they’re pretty firm too, while the short throw gearstick feels good to use too. It handles with fair aplomb, though bear in mind that this version is a front-wheel-drive model only rather than the four-wheel-drive you’ll find elsewhere in the range.
However it’s a pretty firm car, all things considered. It seems that Honda has gone down the route of counteracting the natural body roll that comes with a high centre of gravity with some solid suspension settings. It fusses over small bumps and larger ones are rather uncomfortable. Out on the motorway it’s a good thing to be in, though expansion joints are a bit testing.
This is where the headlines are on this model. It’s a 1.6-litre “i-DTEC” diesel, putting out 120hp and 220lb ft of torque, and it’s only available with front-wheel drive. The on-paper economy is 60.1mpg combined – emitting as little as 124g/km CO2 – with extraordinarily well-balanced urban and extra urban figures of 56.5mpg and 62.8mpg respectively.
While it pulls well enough most of the time, though there’s a little lack of eagerness for a rolling 2nd gear start. On a longer motorway run it settled into a low 50mpg rhythm, while school run use had it hovering at the bottom of the 40s – despite behaving, following the gear change indicators and having the dash lit up green for most of most journey.
That’s nothing to be sniffed at mind, but we figure you’re going to have to adopt some pretty unconventional driving habits to get near the official fuel consumption stats. We didn’t even test out the 11.2-second 0-60mph time, though it never felt slow.
Value for Money
With all the toys and suede on board, our test CR-V comes in at £27,815. The only option was the £500 “White Orchid Pearl” pearlescent paint, which was sparkling when clean but merely white when hidden beneath a layer of Yorkshire mud.
It’s fair to say you get a lot of car for your money physically and you’ll not be wanting for any more toys than you get. The SR does some to be the perfect trim level though. You’d only gain a power tailgate, panoramic roof and electric driver’s seat by moving up to the EX – and you’d lose that fluffy Alcantara on the seats – and it’s not available with this engine anyway.
It’s a tough sell at this price point though. For a two-wheel-drive crossover with a green-focused 1.6 diesel when competitors are offering their most powerful models with 4WD for nearly the same sort of price, it doesn’t seem a compelling purchase unless you really value the space.
The CR-V is a perfectly likeable option in the crossover sector. It’s good enough looking, while not standing out, and owners of the previous CR-V will be happy that the new look is a continuation of the old one.
But in general, despite that frugal 1.6, it doesn’t make sufficient case for itself above some of the sector’s smarter offerings. Unless that firm ride is a deal breaker there’s no way you’ll dislike it and it’s both roomy enough and well kitted enough to be a solid every day alternative to a regular family car.
We’d probably not be persuaded to walk past other showrooms into the Honda one for the CR-V, but it’s a solid choice that won’t disappoint.