The latest Honda CR-V has a third row of seats, but that’s not the only way it’s trying to broaden its appeal…
SINGAPORE — Sometimes it pays to listen at a car launch, and so it was at the press preview for the new Honda CR-V.
For moment it was like being at the press conference for a performance car, with plenty of talk from the CR-V’s chief engineer Koji Hirano about “enhanced linearity” for the steering, the use of “liquid seal compliance bushes” (whatever those are) and the “optimisation of stroke” for the brake master cylinder. Phew. Read on to find out more:
Liquid seal compliance bushes? Stroke optimisation? Huh?
Never you mind. Those sound like improvements to something designed for the track, but the CR-V is the car that made the industry realise that off-road vehicles don’t actually have to be able to go off-road.
Instead, it set what was an unusual template 20 years ago for the modern “soft-roader” or crossover as we know it: little to no mud-plugging ablity, but car-like manners on the road, with the raised ride height of a 4×4 and some of the butch design. The letters, it’s worth noting, stand for “Comfortable Runabout Vehicle”, and the car was true to them.
So, more of the same?
Yes and no. Countless “soft-roaders” have emerged since the CR-V’s creation, and now you can’t shake a tree without at least one of them falling out of it. So the Honda has evolved noticeably in an attempt to stay a step ahead. For one thing, this new generation model has an extremely wide brief: it’s slightly posh inside, wants to be better than a BMW X1 to drive, and has something of a trump card in the form of two fold-up chairs in the boot.
So it’s a seven-seater now?
Again, yes and no. It’s obviously available as a seven-seater, as you can see from the test car here, but there’s a five-seat version that serves as the entry-level model, being $16,000 cheaper than this one. Note our test car’s front foglamps and 18-inch alloys (instead of 17s); they’re the easiest way to spot a seven-seater, since both models are otherwise twins.
Between the two, the five-seater is essentially the driver’s choice: significantly lighter (131kg, actually), so a bit quicker to 100km/h (0.4 seconds) and slightly less thirsty (7L/100km instead of 7.3L).
That’s still a bit close for such a big price gap…
True, but the seven-seater is obviously aimed at responsible family blokes, with the extra moolah having gone into a suitable equipment list. To go with the third row of seats, there are half a dozen airbags (the five-seat model has just two), parking sensors front and rear (as opposed to just the rear), and Honda’s handy “LaneWatch” camera-based blindspot monitor system. We don’t know why more cars don’t have that, actually.
Ok, sounds nice and safe, but get to the fun stuff.
Well, there’s also a power tailgate, keyless entry and engine starting, and another convenience feature called Walk Away Auto Lock; park your CR-V, wander off and if you forget to lock the car, it’ll do so by itself. That’s more useful than it sounds, especially if you’re a bonehead like a certain Managing Editor who frequently comes back to an unlocked car, grateful that Singapore is such a low-crime country.
There’s an eight-way power adjustable front seat (four-way for the passenger) but, oddly enough, no memory setting. Maybe the driver isn’t meant to share.
Would he want to?
Maybe not. The CR-V is surprisingly… well, maybe “fun” is too strong a word, but it’s certainly not dull to drive. The experience seems centred around a quick steering rack, with just 2.2 turns needed for it to go from lock to lock. That makes the Honda pretty eager to dart into bends, although on the highway you do become mindful that tiny steering inputs have a bigger effect on altering its course than in other crossovers.
The suspension is noticeably firm, maybe to support the weight of seven people, but the result is a car that does transmit bumps through and into the cabin. The damping is excellent, however, so even on a properly lumpy road the CR-V’s body never feels floaty.
Nor does it wallow around corners, and the nose doesn’t feel like it wants to push wide even if you’re chasing an imaginary laptime.
There’s an overall coherence to the way to behaves, actually, and if you suddenly found yourself on a nice piece of road you’d been keen to give it the beans. In that sense, it’s as good as the BMW it wants to be, with a bit less ride comfort but more steering precision.
Cool! So it’s more like a Sporty Runabout Vehicle now?
Well, yet again, yes and no. There’s a bit of ice water to cool your ardour, in the form of the Continuously Variable Transmission. These things are built for efficiency, but they sure take the edge off the engine’s performance, in the Honda’s case smoothing out the power delivery to take all the drama out of hard acceleration.
If anything, in spite of the CVT you can feel that the CR-V has quite a punchy engine. It’s similar to the one in the turbo Civics, except it has a bigger turbocharger with a more efficient turbine.
Once it spools up it tugs the CR-V along pretty smartly, and you sometimes get a chirp from a front tyre if you exit a filter lane aggressively.
It’s not a particularly smooth engine, though, and you’ll know when it’s working hard because it pipes up about it, emitting a bellow that sort of resembles a robot lion’s roar.
How is it in more serene, everyday situations?
Well, there’s a hint of exec car about the CR-V. There’s a panoramic glass roof to flood the cabin with light, and the dashboard materials feel decently upmarket. Whatever your hand touches tends to feel like it’s built to last, in that Honda sort of way.
The instruments have gone digital and are bright and clear, and the dash itself is nicely uncluttered by buttons, thanks to the touchscreen infotainment and navigation system.
It’s slightly laggy, and the navigation graphics look pretty last-generation, so Honda has some work to do there, but it’s relatively straightforward to operate. All that said, it’s still a family bus at heart.
In what way?
There are numerous concessions to practicality; Honda says the cupholders are placed so you never have to look at them to find them, for instance, and between the front seats there’s a fairly enormous storage space that’ll conceal a tissue box or hold a laptop.
A platform for a bear to perch on…
… or a deeper compartment if he prefers to stand. The choice is his
There are USB ports galore (including two for rear passengers), and large spaces for drinks bottles. Everything an on-the-move family needs, of course, including those fold-up seats…
Speaking of which, do they turn the CR-V into an Odyssey replacement?
Actually, no. If you’re an adult, the third row isn’t really for you. Your head will meet the ceiling unless you slouch, and you need to be fairly spry to be able to climb back there with dignity.
That said, the middle row slides forward by as much as 15cm so legroom isn’t a problem, and the rear air-con system is pretty much the best in the business, with a powerful blower and four vents flooding the space with icy air.
Moving the middle seats out of the way is a seemingly clumsy two-step process (drop the middle seatback, and then tip the whole thing up), but there’s a reason for it: it helps create a flat loading floor, which ought to make heaving that mountain bike into the boot easier.
While the CR-V is undoubtedly practical, for some reason there’s no luggage cover. That strange omission aside, there’s up to 1,627 litres of boot space available — a bit more than in an Odyssey, as it turns out.
Where does that leave the CR-V?
The Honda’s place in the market is actually pretty well-defined. In handling terms it’s among the best in the crossover market, it’s got a badge that people (rightly) trust, and having a third row of seats is still a draw in this market.
It might be arguable whether the first one’s appearance in the car market really did change everything, but 20 years on, the car itself has certainly evolved into a bit of everything.
NEED TO KNOW Honda CR-V 7-seater
Engine 1,498cc, 16V, inline 4, turbocharged
Power 193hp at 5,900rpm
Torque 243Nm from 2,000 to 5,000rpm
Top Speed 200km/h
0-100km/h 9.4 seconds
Fuel efficiency 7.3L/100km
Agent Kah Motor Co
Price $161,999 with COE