The all-but-perfect Honda CR-V Hybrid warrants seriously high praise
Achieving perfection is the aim of every carmaker but very few of them have been as capable as Honda and its latest hybrid CR-V model has made a major impression on Iain Robertson, who declares that it is the consummate compromise crossover.
Ever since the otherwise amazing Honda Corporation lost its nominal leader, when Soichiro Honda passed away in 1991, only a year after I enjoyed an entire and very fortunate day spent in his company at the British Grand Prix (Silverstone), it would be fair to state that the company has behaved like a headless chicken. It is almost as if Mr Honda departed the scene, with all of the operational secrets stashed in his head…probably nearer to the truth than most Honda management would like to believe.
This was the carmaker that had innovated consistently throughout its history. It seldom followed but usually led the rest of the new car market. A great Anglophile, Soichiro was treated with dismissive lack of respect by the British government of Mrs Thatcher, especially during the period, when Mr Honda established a manufacturing base in Swindon and supported the failing Austin-Rover with a run of Honda-engineered models. Had he not done so, that firm’s yo-yo business model would have terminated several years sooner than it did eventually!
Fortunately, models signed-off by him continued to be produced for several years after his death. Launched to great acclaim on the domestic Japanese market in 1995, when I sampled the first European version a year later, I shall admit to becoming very enamoured by the Honda CR-V. It was the company’s first entry into the SUV market. Powered by a 126bhp 2.0-litre petrol engine, it was nippy, handled sweetly and was moderately easy on the fuel. A very pert design (by Hiroyuki Kawase), it was equipped with a convertible boot floor (that, once the legs were folded-out, could be used as a picnic table) and featured an optional shower (complete with modesty curtain) powered by air pressure from the rear door-mounted spare wheel, which was a boon for outdoor enthusiasts and their animals.
Sadly, the subsequent three generations of CR-V left me utterly cold. It was an immense success in almost every market, notably North America, but it lacked character and even capability, especially in 4×4 guise, thanks to poor prioritisation of the torque bias to either axle. It was acceptable on-road but completely useless off it. However, the latest iteration, the fifth generation having just received a mid-life refresher, is so good that it is sure to stop Mr Soichiro Honda from turning in his grave. If anything, it embodies the ideal balance of all that made ‘Hondaness’ such a highly rated commodity around three decades ago.
In a market predominated by tick-box mentality, the latest version of the car fills the list with positive virtues. The CR-V Hybrid SR e-CVT is an SUV (Check!); as everyone and his dog seems to want to drive an ‘SUV’, it presents the commensurate visual appeal. It is exceptionally spacious (Check!); considering that it is a mid-size contender, the amount of seat adjustability and resultant space fore and aft is phenomenal. It is of excellent high quality throughout (Check!); lovely high-end, tactile and soft-touch trim materials are applied subtly and judiciously. It is refined (Check!); thanks to superb sound-deadening. It rides and handles well (Check!); its low-speed ride comfort is sublime, while the car retains fine stability at higher speeds. It drives through a Constantly Variable Transmission that works (Check!); at last, a CVT that does not lose itself and remains driver responsive. It is frugal (Check!); with plenty of information relayed to the driver, to enable high fuel economy. In fact, no matter by which parameters the latest sculpted CR-V is judged, it either meets, or exceeds them by a convenient country-mile.
The test car is a 2WD example, a factor that is fine by me, even with my relative antipathy towards most SUVs, as it never needs to venture off-road, yet it provides easy access for up to five people to its comfortable and roomy leather-lined cabin, through four wide-opening doors. Crack open the hatchback and there is a splendid 497-litres of flat-floored boot, which can be expanded by tugging on the convenient levers to lower the 60:40-split back seats to an excellent 1,064-litres up to the window-line, more if you use the space above. As a practical estate car, CR-V more than meets muster and its styling does not limit it.
Powering it is a 2.0-litre petrol engine (143bhp), with Honda’s first application for Europe of hybrid technology. The pair of electric motors develop a healthy 181bhp. Working in harmony, they power the CR-V from 0-60mph in 8.5s, to a restricted top speed of 112mph (to ensure battery and motor integrity). The car’s CO2 rating is 120g/km, with an achievable 53.3mpg in prospect. Driving through an electronically managed CVT (with paddle-shifters that give access to several ‘step-off’ ratios, even though the unit is devoid of gears) that is operated using the compact switches in the centre console; the driver can select any of three driving modes (Sport, EV and Hybrid), which the car’s management system can shuffle through normally, without intervention. Its actual zero-emissions potential is just 1.2-miles.
I must state that Honda has actually shocked me with the overall competence of the recently revised CR-V. It is significantly more ‘everyman suitable’ than 99% of the motor industry’s current offerings. It looks good and makes the driver feel good, which is a great way to reach a conclusion.
Conclusion: While there are zero novelties with the new Honda CR-V, the car impresses with an array of practical and user-friendly features that combine to create a new normal in the family car scene. I have no qualms about recommending it to both private and business vehicle sectors.