Soft-roader was once a term of derision, applied to vehicles for breeders wanting to look like explorers. Then came mass acceptance. SUVs are now the family rule, no apologies required.
Along with the Toyota RAV4, Honda's CR-V is the model most credited with creating the species. Now the new CR-V is here. Some 5.5 million CR-Vs have sold since 1995, more than 133,000 of those through Australian showrooms. This is the first generation with a version that drives two wheels only, something increasingly in keeping with entry level soft roaders.
The base-model front-driver is available in two versions VTi and VTi Navigation. The all-wheel drive model line-up coming with an uprated version of the enduring 2.4-litre four-cylinder petrol engine. The first diesel CR-V comes next year.
The new CR-V kicks off at the sharp end of the pricing scale. The front-wheel drive VTi with six-speed manual and 2.0-litre engine is priced from $27,490, the five-speed auto from $29,790. Standard fare across the range includes alloys and a full-size spare, electrically-retractable mirrors, insulated glass, keyless entry, Bluetooth phone link and audio streaming for the four speaker sound system.
The VTi fitted with navigation is an auto-only proposition and slips over the hump to $31,790. With all four wheels driven, the VTi auto starts from $32,790. Trainspotters can pick it by the silver roof rails, with the features list also containing variable intermittent wipers, paddleshifters, a mirror-tilt in reverse gear, an alarm.
The VTi-S auto is priced from $36,290. For the extra you add automatic headlights, rain-sensing wipers, dual-zone climate control, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, fog lights, auto-dimming centre rearvision mirror, rear parking sensors, sat-nav and six speakers.
If you must have the flagship, the VTi -L starts from $42,290. That gets you leather trim, auto-levelling HID headlights, active cornering lights, 18in alloy wheels, chrome exterior mirror covers, power-adjustable and heated front seats, front sensors, sunroof, keyless entry and ignition.
Small but clever engines have been a Honda hallmark and the CR-V. The smaller engine produces 114kW and 190Nm. The 2.4 delivers 140kW/222Nm. Fuel consumption has dropped from 10l/100km for the auto down to 8.7 l/100km. The engines both run on 91RON and both benefit from the long-serving VTEC valve system, which adjusts the lift and opening time of the valves, as well as the presence of a variable timing control system to control the inlet cam.
The new “Econ” alters the throttle mapping for better fuel economy, as well as telling the cruise and climate control systems to lean towards lower energy use. So-called Motion- Adaptive Electric Power Steering (EPS) teams with the stability control system to assist the driver's steering input.
The overall look is more aggressive, with more curves in the bodywork and a decent stance on the road. The engineers have endowed it with a flat underbody and paid attention to the wheel arches to help reduce the drag. The wheelbase is unchanged but overall length has been reduced by 20mm; the height has been sliced by 30mm Honda says there has been no change to passenger space. Loadspace is up, however. With rear seats up, its grown a suitcase to 556 litres, or 1648 litres when the back seat is folded.
Sound deadening material is on the floorpan below the passenger compartment, as well as in the rear doors, rear wheel arches, door frames, front bulkhead and bonnet; the doors also now have a double seal.
Already the recipient of five stars from ANCAP, the new CR-V has stability and traction control, dual front, front-side and full-length curtain airbags, anti-lock brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution. Reversing camera is standard range-wide; optional on the VTi are rear parking sensors but fitted standard on the top two AWD models (as is an auto-dimming centre rear vision mirror), with the flagship VTi-L getting front parking sensors as well.
First impressions of the new CR-V are a sharper look and a roomy interior. Despite a smaller footprint, the updated SUV (which sits on the old car's platform) has enough space to sit behind my own driving position, although the lowered rear bench does put the knees a little higher than ideal.
Cargo space is ample - aided by one-touch fold-down seats - and it has a full size spare across the range. The console and instrument layout is easier to decipher and use, as well as being informative - two centrestack screens display trip and infotainment info, as well as the satnav display, while a third screen in the instrument binnacle adds to the information on hand for the driver.
The first model driven was the flagship Luxury auto, powered by the updated 2.4-litre engine. The interior is let down a little by some hard plastics and overly-firm leather seats, but the cabin is quiet and the ride quality is good. The powerplant is willing but needs revs on board, something the driver can dictate using paddleshifters. Claimed fuel consumption has dropped into the 8s but the launch drive had numbers between 10 and 12L/100km.
Press-ahead driving is not this car's forte but up to a point it is comfortable in corners, without excessive bodyroll, but dynamically the CX-5 remains unassailed as the segment leader for on-road dynamics. The electric power steering feels over-assisted and doesn't give much feedback to the driver about what's going on under the nose - it's not as much of an issue in an SUV as it is in a sportscar, but back-to-back drives in the old car displayed the differences in steering, as well as improved ride quality and insulation.
Missing? Some of the active safety features that are in the car in other global markets, but also there's no stop-start fuel saver on offer here, something that is also in the CR-V elsewhere, sacrificed (says Honda Australia) for the value-for-money equation, contradicting some of the fuel-saving "green" credos mentioned in the same presentation.
Another disappointing discovery was roof-mounted child seat anchor points - as well as the strap for the centre lap-sash seatbelt in the rear seat. A full boot of luggage behind a cargo barrier is not tether-strap friendly in this setup. The switch to the two-litre automatic front-wheel drive model was far less of a step down than the numbers would suggest - given the AWD's lack of off-road intent, the front-driver has plenty about which to like.
Tipping the scales at almost 100kg lighter, the smaller engine sings a nicer tune, without being overly intrusive. The lower outputs make climbing hills a little more leisurely but the entry-level automatic should be far from the last choice of the new range.
Honda is aiming to sell 1000 a month, rising to 1200 or more when the diesel arrives next year. Ignore the manual pricepoint car and the VTi front-drive auto is $29,790, which is right in the ballpark of its opposition. Comfortable, practical, flexible and useful, the CR-V will continue to find favour in Australia, but getting back to the top of the SUV heap isn't happening with this model generation.
Price: from $27,490
Warranty: 3 years/100,000km
Service interval: 10,000km/6 months
Safety rating: five star ANCAP
Spare: Full-size alloy
Engine: 114kW/190Nm 2-litre petrol four-cylinder; 140kW/222Nm 2.4-litre petrol
Transmission: 6-speed manual (FWD only) or five-speed automatic; FWD or AWD
Body: 4.5m (L); 1.8m (w); 1.7m (h)
Thirst: 7.8-8.7L/100km, tank 58 litres; 182-201g/km CO2