2017 Honda CR-V Exterior

It was the car that started the trend for “soft roaders”, but has the CR-V still got what it takes? Gareth Butterfield takes one for a test drive

WAS surprised to learn, while reading up on the Honda CR-V, that it was the first car to introduce the motoring masses to the “soft roader” class. Now, that particular segment might be as pointless as it is popular, but it’s busy and it’s here to stay.

But has the granddaddy of them all lost its way in a market filled with young pretenders, or does it still have what it takes to compete with the best of them?

2015 CR-V

Happily, it’s had a few facelifts since the early days in the 1990s. It never looked exceptionally dull, but it’s never been the most stylish small SUV either. However the smarter front end in the new versions looks more purposeful and the barely altered back end still looks sharp in the modern world.

Inside it’s a fairly typical story of Japanese function over form, but there’s some classy blue lighting smattered around and plenty of storage cubbies. It’s also really comfortable and visibility is excellent, so the slightly dull dash can be forgiven.

Another area Hondas have always scored highly on is build quality; and this latest CR-V does not disappoint. It feels very well screwed together and its old design still translates well into a genre that now has so much competition. There’s certainly nothing to dislike about the interior.

2015 CR-V

That said, at first glance, the relatively small infotainment screen looks a bit naff and aftermarket, but once you get to know it and skip past the sub-menus you’ll find it’s got a wi-fi enabled Android operating system which turns it into a dash-mounted tablet. This is still something of a rarity in cars, for reasons I’ve yet to fathom, but it’s definitely a plus point for Honda as far as I’m concerned.

There’s also a fairly healthy selection of buttons to poke around at elsewhere, especially in my top-spec test model. And these reveal one of the CR-V’s major selling points – its attention to driver and occupant safety.

All the latest gadgets you could find in a car twice its price are there, from smart traction control to lane-keep-assist. The only trouble is, some of them are a bit “jumpy”. On a few occasions the car freaked out on me un-necessarily and slammed its brakes on, while giving me a firm tug on the seatbelt. The adaptive cruise control, although great to see in this sector, also feels a bit fidgety and a sensor continuously told me off for driving with one hand. I found this annoying, but those who take a little more care over their driving might not notice it.

2015 CR-V

All this technology, bundled in with some off-road assistance on the four-wheel-drive, diesel-only versions, comes at quite a price. In fact, a starting price of around £23,500 and a top price, with all the goodies bundled in, of the best part of £40,000 sits it uncomfortably close to some very prestigious competition. Would you buy a Honda when you could afford a BMW or Audi? Quite.

Having said that, there are some more big plus points for the CR-V. It handles really well, the boot is cavernous (although a lack of a third row of seats sets it back somewhat), access and space in the back is brilliant, as is visibility and, in diesel guise, even with the sluggish automatic gearbox, it’s very economical.

2015 CR-V

Its engine, in fact, is one of its best features. Honda has always been good at producing a lively, quiet and powerful diesel that will return good fuel economy and the 1.6 i-DTEC is a peach. Seriously, ignore the petrol engine because with its higher emissions, lower power output and two-wheel-drive only option, there’s really no point.

Choose the diesel version, stick to one of the better-value mid-spec versions and you can’t help but be fond of the CR-V. It might be the patriarch of a sector that’s brimming with great cars but its clever design, great road manners, fine build quality, fantastic engine and simple practicality keep it on a par with most of them, if not always a cut above.