Constant evolution has changed the Honda CR-V beyond recognition
When Darwin wrote his treatise on ‘The Origin of Species’, he could have been writing about the Honda CR-V, opines Iain Robertson, who can scarcely recognise the original version of the model launched in 1997.
In order to remember the first generation of Honda’s primary SUV model, you need to take a look at the current Skoda Yeti. While both are highly respected cars, by both media and consumers, the Yeti could be said to be ‘stuck in an evolutionary rut’ as dedicated as its brand name. On the other hand, the Honda has moved on and, much like Caesar, the lead ‘animal’ character in the latest ‘Planet of the Apes’ movie series, it is mastering speech, discovering politics and revealing that mankind is finished (well, maybe not the last aspect).
Using regressive therapy, under the influence of a swinging pocket watch, it is all coming back to me…Austria…1997…glorious sunshine, mountain roads and perfect driving conditions. The boxy but quite attractive CR-V was revealed to an expectant group of motoring scribes from the UK. It was nicely screwed together. While we would also be taken on a harem-scarem helicopter flight to the top of a mountain, where wintry conditions would not allow us to land, to experience the car on a high ski-slope, we could just about spot it in the swirling snow below.
What we had not been informed was that our pilot was one of the stunt helicopterists, who had flown these same cathedral-like mountains, with their lethal rocky outcroppings and innumerable sheer drops, during the previous James Bond movie production. It was a tremendously thrilling experience, if mildly life-affirming (how would I ever forget it?), during which I discovered the knack of screaming so loudly and piercingly that only dogs could hear my anguish and abject fear.
That original iteration of the CR-V, the Compact Recreational Vehicle, was a smartly attired, well-engineered but, ultimately, numb estate car that put Honda on the SUV map. To be frank, I actually preferred it to the subsequent versions. It was built in the UK, which helped with Honda’s reputation of being the only Japanese carmaker neither to hold out its hand for government ackers, when they were available, nor to blackmail it, with insinuations of taking production overseas (say ‘Hello’ Nissan and Toyota!).
Apart from some typical mid-life revisions that also included a more punchy 2.0-litre engine, in 2001, a brand new model was introduced. I can well remember it. I was the only motoring scribe who elected to drive back one of the British-specification cars from its Madrid launch venue. Well, that is not entirely true, as I found the CR-V’s cabin to be so cramped and unwelcoming, despite the increase in overall dimensions, that I elected to drive back in a Honda Jazz instead. It was a great exercise and I fell in love with the Jazz for its sheer ingenuity and strength of purpose.
The third generation (not UK-built, in 2011) introduced us to a style conscious model, which was already a million miles away from the Mark Two version. My most memorable drive of that car was on a back-to-back video’d test (in 2012) between it and the Subaru Forester, in which the latter trounced the Honda out of the park. It was stylish enough but it felt very self-conscious, with its Merc GL-Class lookalike body and countless frilly trim details. It was capable enough but it seemed to lack character and individuality.
The latest version is altogether more pointy and projects a more up-market image, a factor supported by its phenomenal success last year, during the first nine months of which no less than 50,000 examples were sold in Europe, helping it to become the world’s best-selling SUV, so what the heck do I know about this class of car? To be honest, I prefer the antediluvian Yeti, which does offer me a significantly better driving position and chassis dynamics, with which I feel very comfortable. Yet, the CR-V clearly has something about it, especially in this latest guise, so a more intense investigation is clearly necessary.
Perhaps its most forward-thinking aspect is the latest 1.6-litre, 157bhp iDTEC turbo-diesel engine, arising from the firm’s ‘Earth Dreams Technology’ series. Allied to the company’s nine-speed automatic transmission (six, seven, or eight ratios were clearly not enough), the CR-V boasts the best power-to-frugality equations of anything else on the market, in the category. Euro-6 emissions compliant, it replaces the former 2.2-litre diesel unit and, by using friction reducing technology, its CO2 rating is a cool 129g/km in manual form (134g/km as an automatic), which makes it one of the least taxing vehicles in the sector.
As is fast becoming the case with other automatic transmission developments, notably from the Japanese manufacturer, Aisin-Warner, despite the large number of gears, a lighter, more space-conscious unit results that is perfectly suited to the dynamic needs of the CR-V. Featuring smart electronic management, it can block-shift up and down the ratios, according to the driver’s throttle, or brake, pedal depression. Intriguingly, this engine and transmission combo relieves the overall weight over the previous CR-V by a whopping 65kgs, a factor that is actually noticeable, when punting the car around twisting back lanes.
Some valuable recalibrating of spring and damper rates, plus new bushes and significantly altered suspension geometry answer all of my prior criticisms about the CR-V. Both front and rear tracks have been widened (by a mere 15mm), which enhances the overall stability of the car, while dramatic improvements to the electrically-powered steering not only enhance responsiveness at the helm but also make it more engaging and a less remote experience for the driver.
A round of noise reduction changes have improved cabin refinement considerably, which is most welcome. However, the ride quality of the CR-V is now vastly improved. The car feels more compliant and less easily bounced off the road on less forgiving surfaces. As a result, I can state categorically that, while the ‘blue-haired residents’ of leafy Surrey, who constitute the vast majority of Honda’s most reliable customer base, will probably remain blissfully unaware of many of the changes, the rest of us will be able to enjoy a fishing trip to the Highlands in far greater comfort, as the new CR-V simply lopes along in un-harried fashion.
As you might expect (because all carmakers are ‘at it’), the new CR-V is packed to the gunwales with new and ‘advanced’ technology. Honda ‘Sensing’ is the latest application of cameras and radar sensors to enhance the crash mitigation qualities of the car (notably in Executive trim, because it is abundantly clear that Honda believes anyone less than an ‘executive‘ probably will not survive ‘Armageddon‘). Yet, it incorporates forward collision warnings, lane departure, traffic sign recognition, blind-spot information, cross-traffic monitoring, high beam support (which sounds as though callisthenics are on the high-end, keep fit priority list too) and adaptive cruise control.
To be honest, I am not the greatest fan of predictive crash technology, preferring to believe in the old chestnut of proper driver awareness by education. However, ‘blue hairs’ everywhere can sleep easier at night, full in the knowledge that the lovely Honda parked in their heated garage will save them from themselves at every juncture and stop sign and ‘Darby & Jones’ motorway excursion and so on…
Of course, customisation is not just the remit of BMW Mini and Suzuki. No less than five, individual packs will satisfy the soul of anybody wanting more chromium plate, better aerodynamics, more illumination, enhanced convenience and greater luggage management. They will, naturally, add to the weight for the 1.6-litre motor to lug around but that will scarcely matter, as most CR-Vs spend their lives on the inside lane, or attempting to clamber up the steeper hills of the Lake District, with a ruddy caravan in tow (the CR-V is rated with a towing capacity of two tonnes).
Conclusion: You might note that I have given away very few figures. The 1.6-litre CR-V (2.0-litre petrol and 120bhp diesel versions are available) will pass the 0-60mph sprint in a moderately sprightly 9.7 seconds, before topping out (weight dependent) at around 120mph. You can expect a moderate 42mpg. Its most ingenious features include the new lights introduced fore and aft, the infotainment system (Android friendly) and the intelligent, single-handle, easy-folding rear seats that more than double the capacity of an already spacious boot. There is a lot to admire on the latest iteration of the Honda CR-V. However, in saving the best for last, let me inform you that, while prices for the new CR-V commence at £22,340 for the 2.0-litre petrol 2WD, the 9-speed auto version of the 1.6-litre 4WD diesel model is a whopping £35,620, which might prove to be a bitter pill to swallow.