Huggable Honda hefts-in helpful values
While admitting that it has been almost four years since he last drove a Honda CR-V, Iain Robertson still holds the brand in high-esteem, considering that it is neither mainstream, nor premium, but Honda-class.
Snob value is immense, regardless of where you might like to place yourself in the social structure. While the term possesses negative ramifications, it is fair to state that we all seek consumables and fixtures and fittings that exceed expectations in a timelessly elegant manner and that also project an unfailing image of inherent durability and classiness. Whether buying a new refrigerator, a sofa, or a wristwatch, the brand and its associated values are what confirm the sale for the vast majority of us.
The motorcar is no different. It is why our roads and most of them in Europe are overwhelmed by Audis, BMWs and Mercedes-Benzes. New, or used, they are perceived to fulfil a social demand that we might deny publicly but which we adhere to privately, rain, hail, or shine. The decline of mainstream Fords, Vauxhalls and Peugeot-Citroens has become abundantly clear ever since the premium brands took precedence.
Mainstream suggests a humdrum existence. One in which boredom is an inevitable condition. Even the circus-clown within former Premier, John Major, could not escape from the grey-suit, accountant-on-the-lamb, monotonous image that he projected. In-parliament talk of ‘Mondeo-man’ hardly inured the chap to the role. No. We all aspire to better and our modes of transport become the signature of our lives and livelihoods, whether we can afford them, or not.
Yet, nuzzling in a comfortable sub-set that could be called its own, is Honda. Neither mainstream, nor premium. Honda is a classless entity that embodies all that is beneficial from the premium labels, without the commonality and tedium of being mainstream. There was a time for a number of British brands, such as Triumph and Rover, even Jaguar, that they would share the same status, which has now been deserted by all the rest. In some respects, that places Honda in a happy and unique place, to make it even more huggable.
The latest CR-V has been with us for the past few months, with prices starting at a ‘lowly’ £22,000 for a 2WD version of the SUV line-up. It is another status issue and, while not exactly ‘inexpensive’, the CR-V does have rivals that are significantly less costly. Buyers of cars of this type want the 4×4 look but not necessarily the capabilities. If it looks ‘the biz’, it becomes a reasonable purchase proposition. Of course, no sensible two-wheel-driver would ever admit that punting off-road is an alien activity, as long as the car looks the part….while saving a few vital shekels in the process.
The ‘safety’ aspect of 4WD is really only a consideration, should you live in an outlying, or remote part of our sceptred isles, or, if somebody else is footing the bill, like the company accountant, whose role it is to inject some jiggery-pokery into the figures, to ensure that the taxable benefit is as low as it can possibly be. Besides, stick a set of Low Temperature Tyres on the Honda and it will go anywhere that the 4×4 version might. Fortunately, one of Honda’s pillars is that of corporate affordability and, in its latest form, powered by the brilliantly refined and effortless 1.6-litre i-DTEC engine that develops a modest 120bhp, Tax Band C is a most palatable end-game.
My test car is in SE-T trim, which effectively means it is halfway up the price-list, with the addition of Bluetooth connectivity (which I believe should now be standard and not optional on all new cars) and factory sat-nav. Priced at £25,825, it carries a £765 premium over the standard SE version, which means that it is fairly judiciously priced, although I would not, personally, give it a ‘value-added’ tag.
The specification is quite generous, with dual-zone climate control, front and rear parking sensors, an in-built rear-view camera, auto-lamps and wipers and a very pleasant half-leather and Alcantara trimmed interior, among a host of other expected items of equipment. For a start, the seat and steering column adjustment is now generous enough to allow a two-metres tall driver to get comfortable. The previous generations have always been a bit cramped, so maybe Honda is starting to appreciate that its Northern European and North American customer bases consist of notably larger people than buyers from its oriental home base.
Access is easy through the wide-opening side doors and a sensible seat hip-height ensures that obtaining the right entry position is also aided appropriately. The driver is fronted by what I term a typical Honda, dial-within-dial instrument layout. It is stylish and not as confused as it might be. In fact, reading the necessary information requires no more than a momentary glimpse on the move. The centre stack consists of an inset information screen, below which is positioned the sat-nav and ancillary controller screen. Of course, as is fast becoming the custom, the steering wheel spokes carry switches for most of the regular functions.
While the test version of the car would not be expected to provide safe passage across the ‘boonies’, its 1.6-litre diesel engine is a brilliant on-road gem. A healthy amount of pulling potency ensures strong mid-range performance, while it can despatch the 0-60mph benchmark in a whisker less than 11 seconds. This figure does not highlight the tremendous pull, even in sixth gear, from as little as 1,200rpm. Of course, less gearshifting can also translate into improved fuel economy. While the Official Combined return is given as 62.8mpg, I was more than contented with the digital read-out of well in excess of 50mpg, a figure attained without trying too hard to do so.
The CR-V’s handling belies its lofty ride height. Instead of the car feeling topply, the steering is beautifully weighted and very direct, without being nervous in its reactions to driver input. The brakes also provide solid retardation and a pleasant pedal weight. Of course, the suspension damping is also well-chosen, resisting body roll, while remaining supple enough to remove the inevitable crashes and severe bumps promoted by our broken roads network. Neither does the CR-V behave like a front-driver and, even pressing-on through bends of varying severity, there is an accomplished and agile attitude that is adopted by the car.
As mentioned earlier, the more spacious cabin is a welcome aspect but the boot is also as practically large and well-shaped as before. The rear seats fold readily to increase the boot area to more than double its regular size and a false floor allows personal possessions to be secreted out of view. Other storage slots abound within the cabin and even keys can be kept within the door cards, leaving plenty of space for the drinks-holders and other items of travelling paraphernalia.
Possessing a delightful in-cabin tactility, as well as a sense of controllability to its overall dynamics package, bodes well for Honda customers, who know what they like about the brand. Judging by the large numbers of CR-Vs that populate our roads, it is fair to state that it is a model possessing a well-defined place in the market. This fourth generation version simply continues a trend set by the original almost twenty years ago..
Conclusions: Thanks to the new technology applied to Honda’s smaller capacity diesel engine, low tax, moderate fuel economy and decent performance are available in the new CR-V package. It is an exceedingly likeable family car that would serve equally as a respectable business vehicle and that is a by-product of its virtually classless stance. Yet, almost everyone loves Honda and, as it is also British-built, it has another good reason to be on your choice list.