More of an on-roader than off
The Honda CR-V will appeal to those who, in a segment where off-road usage is already a low priority, actually want a high-riding MPV. The CR-V meets this requirement perfectly, thanks to a roomy, versatile and comfortable cabin
Honda’s positioning in the soft-roader segment has always been unashamedly on the “girly” side in terms of mud-plugging ability, and with the latest version they’ve maintained that stance.
In fact, off-tarmac usage seems something of an afterthought, and in many ways the CRV is more like a compact five-seat MPV than a four-by-fun.
But it does at least look like a mini off-roader. It rides fairly high, has tall wheels and tyres, and wears a useful amount of lower body armour in the shape of black plastic protective cladding both front and rear (cut away to improve approach and departure angles) as well as along the lower portion of the flanks.
The CR-V is a striking design, but one that polarised opinion somewhat, with the rather busy front end not universally liked. Nonetheless, it is very distinctive, as is the rear view thanks to that curve of the rear quarter light down to the beltline, and the elongated tail lights which flank the curved rear glass.
It’s a large vehicle, and the longest, tallest and widest in class. Honda point out that overall length is down compared to its second- generation predecessor (mainly by taking the spare wheel off the rear door), and also claim a modest weight saving, despite the superstructure being stronger and stiffer.
Features and equipment
★ ★ ★ ★
Our test unit was an RVSi – the higher of two trim levels – identified as such mainly by the sunroof, though the truly eagle-eyed may notice the xenon headlamps.
The powertrain comprises a new 2,0-litre four cylinder as it did in the previous generation, but in manual versions it is now mated to a six-speed box, driving the front wheels in normal conditions. When the grip situation demands it, torque is diverted to the rear axle by Honda’s Real Time system, which via a pair of pumps detects the difference in rotational speed between the front and rear and allocates torque on that basis.
On the safety front, the new CR-V boasts six airbags, a full array of braking aids (ABS, EBD and BAS), but no traction or stability control. Instrumentation is a mix of analogue and digital.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
The airiness of the cabin is one of the CR-V’s most appealing aspects, and it comfortably wins the space race, making some rivals feel positively cramped. The light leather of the RVSi adds to the effect, and we liked the premium feel of the cabin.
It comes across as cutting edge, too, in terms of design, with a stubby handbrake lever that saves space, dual glove compartments, a rear-facing “conversation” mirror integrated with the sunglasses case, and sound ergonomics.
The steering wheel boasts satellite controls for the sound system and cruise control, and the centre stack (into which the gearshift is integrated) is a model of clarity. Rotary controls for the ICE and climate control are chunky, without raising questions about whether Toy Zone was the supplier.
We liked the dual function button that enables the left and right temperature settings to be synchronised, but were less enamoured with the lack of half-degree temperature increments.
Seating comfort is exceptionally good, and they’re supportive, too – which is just as well because the CR-V can go round corners with some pace. The driver’s seat is electrically adjusted – unlike the passenger’s – but both get a fold-down inner armrest. A huge compartment between the seats can hold 24 CD cases, a statistic which may be meaningless to the iPod generation.
Rear space and accommodation is also hard to fault. The backrest is split three ways (two outers and a narrower centre pew), while the cushion is split 60/40. This gives plenty of loading options, because the two sections slide separately through a 150mm range. When set to their rearmost position they also fold and tumble.
Both minimum and maximum luggage volumes are impressive, while Honda has added a sturdy board which enables the luggage compartment to be split horizontally. There’s also a well-made retractable cover, and an elasticised net to clip over objects in the boot.
A couple of oversights though: while there’s a powerpoint in the boot there isn’t a light, and while we prefer full-sized spare tyres (even on the softest soft-roader), Honda has missed the opportunity to provide a useful plastic “bucket” to fit inside the deep recess of the wheel.
★ ★ ★
Despite being lighter than before, and having a decent 110 kW, the CR-V is no ball of fire. In fact, it feels lethargic until the needle reaches 3000 r/min, and from then on it is merely adequate rather than feisty. While its engine capacity is unchanged, this is a new, single-cam multivalve engine, which should theoretically be more driveable even though it produces the same 190 Nm (albeit at 200 r/min higher).
We don’t think it is, and overtaking ability is no great shakes, bearing in mind we conduct flexibility tests using fourth and fifth gears on a six-speed box. With that number of gears it is a relaxed open-road cruiser, but at Gauteng altitudes it didn’t take much of an incline to necessitate a downchange – even when unladen.
In addition, the accelerator action is unnecessarily sharp in its action, making for jerky responses coming on and off the throttle, especially in low gears.
Using more revs (as one is forced to do) seemed to have little impact on fuel consumption, and it should average just under 10 litres per 100km – an impressive figure for this kind of vehicle, we feel.
Ride and handling
★ ★ ★
The CR-V can probably be described as the sports car of the segment, and it has been engineered to feel more like a sedan than its rivals, say Honda. To this end they’ve lowered the centre of gravity by 35mm, and tuned the suspension – which remains largely unchanged in design and layout – to make the CR-V feel like your average 3-series or C-class.
So it corners flat, feels exceptionally secure and has excellent, electrically assisted steering. Placing it where you want it is easy, though it can become a little more tricky when the road is bumpy.
Having said that, it certainly encourages and enables one to drive it more briskly than one would most rivals, and its precise handling is a notch or two above the establishment.
But it is the harsh low-speed ride that detracts from the CR-V’s appeal. It jars over anything bigger than modest indents, and even with the tyres inflated to the low end of the recommended pressures, it sometimes feels too stiff-legged around town. We suspect the anti-roll bars are simply too unforgiving to allow individual wheels to follow sudden undulations in the road surface.
This lack of downward travel – or droop – definitely counts against it off-road. Our test track at Gerotek highlighted this fact, and along with a lack of suspension articulation soon meant a wheel was well off the ground, and spinning helplessly before the four-wheel-drive hardware transferred torque to where it was needed.
Honda say on this new set-up 20% more torque than before can be allocated to the back wheels, but this process still happens too slowly to place the CR-V at the top of the heap. We haven’t had the opportunity to test whether its reaction was fast enough to be of benefit on wet tarmac.
Factor in the lack of any form of electronic control system to assist the driver, and modest 185mm ground clearance (our measure verified Honda’s claimed figure) and the CR-V’s positioning as a road warrior is confirmed…
★ ★ ★ ★
It’s a case of different strokes for different folks and we see the CRV appealing to those who, in a segment where off-road usage is already a low priority, actually want a high-riding MPV. The CR-V meets this requirement perfectly thanks to a roomy, versatile and comfortable cabin, where the storage solutions and convenience features such as automatic wipers and auto-on headlights will be far more important than something like hill descent control.
Honda’s marketing logic will no doubt stand them in good stead, but those shopping in the “hard-core” end of the cross-over segment (though that sounds like a contradiction in terms) may not be able to live with its limitations.