Alvin Thomas tries the highly practical and newly-improved Honda CR-V SUV that is more refined and focused than ever.
If you’re in the market for a sizeable crossover SUV, the list of cars you can choose from is endless (figuratively).
Today, everybody from the trusty Japanese, all the way to the South Koreans, the British, Germans and even those jocular Frenchmen with their Peugeots and Citroens; pump out five-seater crossovers.
Heck, the crossover culture has spewed over to the extent even the British-marque, Jaguar – a manufacturer long known for its sedans and sports cars – has caved in to customer demands to produce the (arguably brilliant) F- and E-Pace crossover SUVs.
And with so many contenders, it may be wearisome to choose the best. But, in my opinion, two have always taken centre stage: Honda’s CR-V and Toyota’s RAV4.
While, we haven’t driven the latter since 2010, I can vouch that it is indeed these two vehicles that gave birth to what we now call the “sports-utility culture”, when they were launched in the 1990s, thus starting the ominous switch from small, compact sedans to larger, boxy SUVs.
Fitted with a full-sized spare wheel on a sideways opening tailgate, and finished with quirky styling details, these crossovers were far from polished family haulers. These were essentially lifestyle vehicles for rich kids to play with or for soccer moms that didn’t want a vehicle that resembles a… err… van.
Today, however, things are a tad different. My tester CR-V, which, by the way, was just launched on the Oman market a few weeks ago, looks fabulous – if a bit like Darth Vader from upfront in black colour tone.
Nevertheless, the CR-V – now in its fifth-generation – not only looks better than ever but also looks much more refined and focused.
Granted, the third-generation may still be the king in sales figures, but given the choice, I would still opt for this new one.
My test car, which was finished in an almost hazel-colour tone, looked the part with its all-new wedge-shaped full-LED headlamps and larger grille opening.
Apart from that, the new shape of the front bumper and the neatly (and subtly) integrated chrome strip on the lower portion of the same gives the car its right proportions.
The rear, however, with its new awkward, yet striking LED tail lamps and chiselled bumper, pursues a love-or-hate design. It was a risky call by Honda designers, but I must say that the CR-V is a well-rounded package as a whole and it’s a vehicle the design of which you begin to appreciate over time. Trust me! It will grow on you.
My top-of-the-range “Touring” variant also came with visually-striking 46cms alloys and gains “AWD” (All-Wheel Drive) badging on the tailgate.
Much of these theatrics carries over to the interior, too. As expected, much of the insides are wrapped in soft-touch surfaces. There are generous amounts of padding on the arm-rests, the top of the centre console and much of the door panels.
Moreover, the seats are also wrapped in faux-leather, and strips of faux-wood flank the dashboard and door panels.
Hard plastics on the bottom-portion of the cabin break an otherwise luxury-like aura, though. It will definitely not concern the average driver, but the Honda’s interior is still centuries ahead of many of its Asian and American rivals.
Stepping inside doesn’t require much effort; even short passengers can easily enter and exit the cabin. The seats are cushy and soft and hunker you down comfortably even if you’re in the (rear) middle seat.
Once inside, the driver is greeted with a large digital instrument cluster and an 18cm capacitive touchscreen on the dashboard. The latter runs an Android-based OS and can launch mobile applications and even a web browser (!)
The Google Chrome browser is laggy, but it is still very handy if you want to stream music or videos from YouTube. The overall interface is quite slick, if with only a slight hint of stutter when the app drawer is full and the processor running on maximum power. The head unit also supports Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, and beautiful-looking Garmin-powered maps.
If you thought that the tech was adroit then get a load of the interior space and storage compartments (literally!). There’s plenty of leg and head room for five passengers, and the compartment is airy and spacious.
The boot on the CR-V is possibly the best in its class, with 1104-litres of space behind the rear seats. Of course, there’s more on offer if you stow the rear seats.
There are all sorts of storage spaces – aside from the usual door pockets, seat pouches, cubbie-holders on the dashboard and open cup-holders; the centre console also has a sliding removable shelf with space under it.
Honda hasn’t skimped on features, either. My test car came with smart keyless entry and start, cruise control, pinch-proof height-adjustable power tailgate, a small sunroof, LED headlights, fog lamps, power front seats, and a decent-sounding stereo system with HDMI, Bluetooth and USB connectivity points in both the front and back.
I also appreciated the gimmicky “LaneWatch” right-lane camera and driver-drowsiness monitor that detects erratic driving, although most CR-V drivers can learn to live without those.
Underneath the hood lies one of Honda’s gems: a 2.4-litre four-cylinder engine with direct injection. It pumps out about 184hp at 6400rpm and 244 Nm of torque at 3900rpm, which is good enough to haul the vehicle from naught to 100kph in nine seconds flat (!)
The acceleration figures may sound a tad uninspiring but it could very well be due to the 39-degree-Celsius summer heat at the time of testing. Funnily, while all the power is available past 6400rpm, I was electronically limited to 3900rpm at launch.
The motor is furthermore mated to a CVT “automatic” transmission, which uses seven simulated ratios with the steering-mounted paddle shifters. The CVT does suffer from the traditional “rubber band” effect that plagues most CVTs while accelerating hard, but most drivers won’t mind that.
The transmission is otherwise very responsive; even at high speeds. There is also a “sport” mode that tightens up the CVT’s ratios, however, performance levels largely remain the same.
As for the ride, the CR-V didn’t fail to impress: the ride is smooth and the springs soak in most of the bumps efficiently. The steering is precise, and the variable-ratio electric-power steering is a breeze to manoeuvre around town.
Noise levels while driving are moderate, and wind noise is usually at a minimum, unless you push the car past 150kph or something. The engine can get a tad loud upon trashing the pedal to the metal, though.
Handling is a mixed bag, as the CR-V manages body roll with much efficacy, at normal speeds. But, push it a bit more, and you will invoke tyre squeal and ultimately, understeer. But, it is nothing the brakes cannot deal with. Furthermore, they are effective and offer very good stopping power.
I never thought I would say this, but, I think I actually enjoy driving the Honda CR-V. It’s a remarkable crossover, with admirable levels of versatility, and above all, enhanced levels of engineering and development as can only be seen in a Honda. It may not be as ginormous as the brand’s own Pilot SUV, but it’s very nearly there. And that’s high praise in itself.