Published on Tuesday 10 December 2013 16:21
Ten Second Review
The Honda CR-V is one of those vehicles that might not jump off the page at you when you read a review but more than earns its crust as an ownership proposition. Most UK buyers will want the version on test here, the 2.2-litre i-DTEC diesel, which comes only with four-wheel drive. Avoid the automatic version and you shouldn't be disappointed. The compact 4x4 market is changing fast and Honda needs to work hard to keep pace. This might be one that will appeal mainly to committed Honda fans.
It can happen to any of us. You find yourself with a couple of kids, you need something of a decent size to haul the family's gear around in but the thought of a big estate car doesn't really cut it for you. You've just found yourself right in the cross-hairs of the car manufacturers who want to sell you a compact SUV. But here's the thing. You don't like compact SUVs. You're not a Land Rover Freelander kind of person. So where do you go? The answer in an overwhelming number of cases is to your Honda dealer where you sign on the dotted line for one of these, the Honda CR-V.
The CR-V is the SUV for people who don't really like SUVs. Whereas many such vehicles are all about image, whether it be countrified or urban, the CR-V is typically Honda insofar as it majors on engineering, with a rather old fashioned belief that is it's built right, people will come. And so far they have, five million of these things having been sold over four different generations. In recent years in the UK, most of those have been diesel models - and it's the 2.2-litre i-DTEC variant that we're going to look at here.
With this diesel, there's only a four-wheel drive chassis on offer, which might be just as well given that this engine generates a hefty 350Nm of torque compared to the petrol engine's 192Nm. It gets to 62mph in a respectable 9.7 seconds. Peak power is rated at 150PS which is far from class-leading and leads us to think that maybe Honda has been a little slow to react to what its competitors are doing. Yes, this engine has been tweaked to improve its emissions but this 2.2-litre powerplant has been around a good while. By comparison, something like a 2.0-litre diesel BMW X3 is good for 185PS and betters this Honda powerplant in virtually every regard. But I guess that's the essential nature of the Honda's compromise. You can take virtually any aspect of its make up and find a competitor that does better. But when you look at its performance as a whole, it's still a vehicle that will generate big sales.
The four-wheel drive CR-V sends all of its power to the front wheels when you're driving on road, and there's no need to mess about with extra gear levers or buttons. It does all the thinking for you, diverting drive to the rear wheels only when it feels that the fonts might have a little too much to do. Honda believes that the majority of CR-Vs sold will continue to be all-wheel drive models and with a run of bad winters behind us, it's easy to see why. The hydraulically activated "dual-pump" system of the third generation CR-V has been replaced by an electronically activated system that provides a faster response when a loss of traction is detected. It also reduces weight by 17 per cent and minimizes internal friction by 59 per cent.
Design and Build
There's nothing especially striking about the look of this MK4 CR-V. But the cleverness inside more than makes up for that. Take the rear seat folding mechanism. This is something you'll get benefit from day in, day out. Pull a little fabric handle and the seat base tumbles forward, the seat back dips down and the rear headrest tuck in snugly. Even with these rear seats in place, there's a cavernous 589 litres of space, so there really is room for five and their luggage in this car. Drop the rear seats and within seconds you have 1146 litres at your disposal. The load length has been increased by 140mm to 1570mm, while the height of the load lip has been reduced by 25mm to make it easier to load heavy or awkward items. The boot of the CR-V can now accommodate two mountain bikes or four sets of golf clubs.
There are all sorts of other little design details that make the CR-V just easier to live with than many of its flashier rivals. If you'd bought a BMW X3 for example, you might well be faced with aggro every morning as to which child was forced to sit in the middle seat in the back as they'd have their knees tucked under their chins the whole way to school because of the big transmission tunnel that extends down the middle of the car. Choose a CR-V and there's no such headaches. Even in the four-wheel drive models, the floor is completely flat. Headroom in the back has also been improved, with the rear passenger's hip point being lowered by 38mm. Big windows make the rear feel airy and access is excellent. In fact the length and height of the car have been reduced by 5mm and 30mm respectively compared with the outgoing model, without reducing the interior space at all. So it's even bigger inside yet is easier to park. What's not to like about that?
Market and Model
For an i-DTEC 2.2-litre diesel CR-V, You'll need to square away from just over £24,500, with the top model knocking on the door of £31,000 or so. That strikes us as quite serious money and with BMW's X3 diesels starting at 28 grand and change, you can see why Honda's increasingly concentrating its attentions at the entry levels of the CR-V line up. So what do you get if you just want a basic S specification model? Quite a bit actually, although even at this end of the range it needs to impress in order not to be mauled by its increasingly impressive Korean rivals. There's 17-inch alloy wheels, dual zone climate control, cruise control, height and lumbar adjustable driver's seat, an auxiliary and USB connection for the stereo, a multi-function steering wheel, that brilliant One-Motion rear seat folding mechanism and heated door mirrors. As you ascend the range you'll find gear such as a power tailgate, HDD satellite navigation, leather seats and a panoramic glass roof.
Safety is very well taken care of with even the entry-level cars getting a whole host of kit including vehicle stability assist, trailer stability assist, hill start assist, hill descent control and the usual roster of airbag and clever braking technology. It's only the top two trims in the range that offer the option of a camera and radar system that brings into play adaptive cruise control, collision mitigation braking and lane keeping assist. Overall then, a strong showing when it comes to equipment, but so you'd expect at these prices.
Cost of Ownership
The diesel engine manages a combined cycle fuel figure of 50.4mpg and emissions of 149g/km, but think twice about ticking the box for an automatic gearbox as this drops economy to 42.8mpg and bumps emissions up a couple of tax bands to 174g/km.
Honda's EcoAssist might well help you improve your economy a little. It's a standard feature on all CR-Vs and as you drive more smoothly, avoiding heavy acceleration and braking, the ambient meter around the speedometer glows green; brake or accelerate sharply and the ambient meter around the speedometer illuminates blue. This ECON button helps achieve maximum fuel efficiency in real-world driving situations. When activated, fuel economy is improved by adjusting the performance of the engine transmission, air conditioning and cruise control, to help save a little extra fuel.
Residual values for the CR-V have always been very good indeed with no shortage of family buyers queuing up to take well-looked after cars off your hands. A 43 per cent three year/30,000 mile residual value for the entry-level diesel model is extremely good for a car that doesn't wear one of the premium German badges.
The Honda CR-V is a car that doesn't leap out at you in any one regard but emerges as a strong contender because of its sheer utility. This is a design where end use has clearly been an overriding design parameter. As such, you'll find the CR-V extremely easy to live with and you'll grow to love small design touches that probably wouldn't catch your eye the first time you mooch round the car in a showroom. In that regard, this Honda is a bit of a grower, a car that you'll own and wonder how you managed without. It's why so many CR-V buys are repeat purchases.
That doesn't really help Honda get new footfall into its dealerships though. It's tried to make the styling a bit more extrovert but with modest success. The CR-V finds its market share being attacked from all sides by some very impressive rivals. Honda is counting on buyers taking a measured view and weighing up its overall balance of qualities but in a sector when new and shiny often win sales, the CR-V is up against it. That's a shame because when it comes to sheer substance, there's very little that can touch it. Especially in diesel form.