Biting off more than it can chew?
The Honda CR-V has, would you believe it, been a part of our lives for the better part of the last two decades. Having gone through no less than five generations in that time, the CR-V has won over hearts and minds of families around the country, with Honda’s high-riding wagon even being proclaimed as Australia’s most popular SUV for a time. It’s easy to see why: The CR-V was positioned to offer value, reliability, and frugality to all who surveyed it (like with most Hondas), meaning it was never a difficult car to sell.
Like we said earlier, it’s back, and now in its fifth generation. Problem here is that it’s being offered for the first time with an option of 7-seats (5-seats are standard), which means the CR-V is not only taking on traditional competitors like the Hyundai Tucson and the Volkswagen Tiguan, but it also has to do battle with bigger models like the Kia Sorento and Hyundai Santa Fe. While the CR-V’s experience as the most popular five-seater SUV is beyond reproach, will its new positioning see it get thwarted by crowd favourites, or will it extend its reach and increase the wingspan of the Honda badge?
“This fifth-generation CR-V looks like it found a gym and reappeared as a beefed-up version of the last model.” — CarsGuide
Honda likes to take a progressive approach to design, and the CR-V is a great example of that. Both trained and casual eyes will report that the new CR-V isn’t vastly different form the model it replaces, with even the alloy wheels looking suspiciously familiar. While the changes might not be immediately obvious, the more you spend time with the new CR-V that you begin to notice and appreciate little things lie the more muscular haunches, the bolder front end, the more sculpted profile and the highly-revised tail.
The CR-V is not what you could describe as ‘sleek,’ not by a long shot, especially against rivals like the Mazda CX-5 and Kia Sportage. No, the CR-V is a mish-mash of complex surfacing and tangled elements, resulting in the car looking distinctly Japanese. Not to everyone’s tastes for sure, but we doubt it’ll sway too many buyers.
Engine & Drivetrain
“Honda has thoroughly modernised the CR-V’s mechanicals, slotting a version of the Civic’s boosted 1.5-litre into the snout of its medium SUV and culling the naturally-aspirated 2.4-litre entirely.” — Wheels Magazine
It’s always appreciated when a manufacturer keeps its engine lineups short and sweet, though Honda may have gone a step too far with the CR-V. While rivals offer atmo-petrol, turbo-diesel, and turbo-petrol options to suit all tastes, the CR-V comes in just one flavour, no matter where you go in the range.
Motivation for the CR-V comes exclusively from the same 1.5-litre turbocharged i-VTEC turbo-petrol engine that we first saw in the Civic, though it’s been revised to put out a healthy 140kW and 240Nm, which actually meets the power output of the outgoing CR-V’s 2.4-litre atmo engine, while delivering 18Nm more torque too. The 5-speed torque-converter automatic also gets the can, with the whole range being serviced by a smooth EarthDreams continuously-variable (CVT) automatic instead.
The engine is naturally more efficient than the outgoing car, and a little smoother too. The turbo + CVT combination makes for clean, progressive acceleration, and ensures that the torque you need is always available to you.
“Inside, the changes are far more substantial.” — AutoExpress UK
It seems almost like Honda was listening to motoring hacks when we collectively called the old CR-V’s interior a 90’s throwback, so they’ve put it a lot of work to ensure that the same criticism cannot be levelled at this new car. There are things like a digital instrument cluster with a linear-style tachometer, along with a touchscreen infotainment unit and a high-mounted gear-lever among others. Even the centre console in the CR-V appears to have been raised for this fifth-generation, making the cabin experience feel a lot more cosy and hemmed-in. It’s nice in here, and for all the right reasons.
The CR-V has grown in dimensions in every measurable way, and it shows inside. There’s acres of legroom and headroom, the latter thanks to Honda resisting the urge to give the CR-V a more “dramatic” roofline. There’s even a third-row of seats available on this model, a first for the ‘Compact Runabout Vehicle,’ allowing for extra practicality (if you’re willing to sacrifice cargo room to a degree). That said, if cargo space is what you’re after, we’d suggest looking at a size larger at cars like the Hyundai Santa Fe and the Toyota Fortuner perhaps, because the third row of seats are for occasional use, at best.
Behind the Wheel
“In all situations, the CR-V felt more than urgent enough…” — Practical Motoring
When in a CR-V, it’s worth remembering what this car is meant to do. This isn’t a sports car (even if the ’S’ in SUV might make you believe otherwise), and despite the ‘Turbo’ badging, this is a family-car through and through. Thanks to the CVT-automatic’s ability to keep the engine going at a constant speed means that there’s plenty of punch to the CR-V, with its roll-on acceleration particularly gutsy. Off the line however, you may find a tad bit of hesitation before the ensuing progress, but we doubt that’s going to be a deal breaker for many buyers.
Wind- and road-noise is well suppressed on motorway journeys, and the suspension help keep the car feeling stable and planted even as the speed creeps upwards. The CR-V’s suspension tuning offer an amazing levels of composure and comfort, no matter how big the alloys. Pliancy is the name of the game here, and if you want to make rapid progress over many miles without ever disturbing napping children in the back, this might be the car for you.
Despite all the traits that might suggest a wallowy ride, body control is actually not that bad. Rebound damping was something that Honda’s engineers focused on when tuning the CR-Vs suspension, and it’s paid dividends by allowing the big SUV to balance comfort and agility deftly. A quicker steering rack, lower centre of gravity and slightly-widened wheels means that the CR-V now enjoys a degree of dynamism previously missing from the recipe.
Safety & Technology
“Auto-emergency braking (AEB) is available… but only in the most expensive CR-V.” — WhichCar
In an ever safety-conscious marketplace, it’s only natural that the CR-V comes with standard kit like six airbags, anti-lock brakes, stability and traction control, LaneWatch (a system that aims to prevent blind-spot related collisions), and even a driver-attention monitor. Further up the range you can enjoy things like adaptive cruise control, autonomous emergency braking, and lane-keep assistance in three guises.
It’s worth noting that a lot of the really important safety kit is reserved for the top-flight VTi-LX variant, though that kit list is substantial. There’s Honda’s Collision Mitigation Braking System that is essentially AEB in a new frock, along with lane departure warning, lane-keep assist, and road-departure mitigation, making the VTi-LX one of the safest cars in this segment.
But again, that’s all for the VTi-LX.
Convenience tech is also a prevalent feature across the CR-V range, with things like an eight-speaker audio system replete with Apple and Android smartphone mirroring coming as standard. Also standard are things like dual-zone climate control, keyless entry/go, alloy wheels, a reversing camera, LED daytime running lights and ‘Trailer Stability Assist’ for those keen on using the CR-V for hauling (though, with a petrol engine, this isn’t recommended).
The Honda CR-V is quite a force in this end of the market, with many bowled over by its promise of dependability, reliability, and efficiency. To that end, the fifth-generation CR-V continues that trend while adding a healthy dose of modernity to things, something that the 4th-gen car seriously lacked. It’s a handsome, well-built, well-specced car that’ll prove a happy companion to families big and small all over the country, and we’re confident in saying that they’re making a pretty good choice.
If we had to find a fly in the ointment, it’s definitely the exclusivity of Honda’s active driver assistance systems to the dearest VTi-LX. We get that they want their flagship variant to get all the bells and whistles, but by reserving crucial safety kit for the range-topper, they’ve run the risk of being called a little mean. This is further underlined by the offering of competitors like the Mazda CX-5, Nissan X-Trail, and Volkswagen Tiguan all offering that life-saving autonomous emergency braking as standard across all models.
Recommending any one CR-V variant over the other is particularly difficult, given the steep step up kit-wise with every variant. The VTi-S 2WD makes a strong argument with its impressive standard kit list, with the 4WD variant worth considering if you’d like the confidence and sure-footedness of all-wheel drive, or if you’re actually someone who uses their SUV on unsealed surfaces. If you’re looking for a 7-seater SUV, we’d recommend you look at the likes of the Hyundai Santa Fe or Kia Sorento, or the Mitsubishi Outlander, as the two rearmost seats in the CR-V are, as we said earlier, for occasional use only.
Motoring – 78/100 – “In a growing medium SUV segment where there are many great choices, the CR-V needs to be many things to many families, and it needs to represent good value. It largely delivers. Is the CR-V a safe option for family buyers? Yes, it is. But has it done enough to attract buyers away from the competition?”
Drive – 7.0/10 – “The CR-V sets the benchmark for interior space and functionality among the compact SUV segment, without challenging its rivals in any other area. It's more flexible, more efficient and has more features than before while still maintaining a comfortable driving character and an affordable pricetag, making it perfectly suited to modern suburban families.”
WhichCar – 4.0/5.0 – “The new-generation Honda CR-V is a roomy medium SUV with an easy-driving nature and a very family-friendly cabin. Power comes from a strong turbocharged engine, and the CR-V balances a comfortable ride with good handling. You can have five or seven seats, and auto braking is available.”
CarsGuide – 7.8/10 – “In the mid-sized SUV world the X-Trail is known for being super practical, the Mazda CX-5 for its looks and the way it drives, and now the new CR-V slides into the gap between them. Great value, practical and good to drive, the sweet spot in the range is absolutely the VTi-S; well equipped, with the option of AWD.”
Wheels Magazine – 7.0/10 – “There are some oversights – the absence of autonomous emergency braking tech being a big one – but as a whole the CR-V is the modern offering that Honda needs in order to boost its relevance to SUV-mad Australian motorists.”
Practical Motoring – 4.0/5.0 – “The new Honda CR-V is a big improvement over its predecessor. It's now better to drive, better to look at and much more practical and roomy for family SUV buyers. The all-wheel drive system is now more practical and useful than before too. And the news that Honda is working on a way of getting its Honda Sensing active safety suite across the range is welcome as a lack of AEB in mid-level models is disappointing.”
AutoExpress UK – 3.0/5.0 – “Honda’s new CR-V follows the path set by the previous version, with minor changes to styling and space and more significant updates to the cabin and powertrains. We like the new 1.5-litre turbo petrol engine, but the driving experience is a bit lacking. Still, in terms of sheer practicality, the new CR-V—like the old model —is difficult to beat.”