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New Honda CR-V first pictures

THE first pictures of the next Honda CR-V point to a raging battle with the Toyota RAV4 next year.

The new soft-roader, which will be built in Thailand for Australia, is considerably bigger and much more refined.

It has a wide range of new equipment and engineering advances, from an improved real-time all-wheel-drive system to side-curtain airbags and even radar cruise control and a towing stability system.

A new-style tailgate lifts up vertically instead of opening door-style as in the current CR-V. The spare tyre has been moved inside the car and under the floor.

But Honda Australia has warned local shoppers not to expect the full list of equipment on the European CR-V, which has just been made public ahead of its official unveiling at the Paris Motor Show at the end of the month.

"We cannot comment on the final specification, but I cannot imagine everything being standard in Australia," Honda Australia senior director Lindsay Smalley says.

"Our car is coming out of Thailand, so some of the equipment they fit as standard for Europe will not be available."

He has already ruled out a diesel engine, though there is a new 2.0-litre petrol motor.

And the price will be higher.

"The car in Australia will definitely be more expensive than the current model because of the equipment upgrades," Smalley says.

The look shows a Honda closer in styling to the BMW X3 and X5 4WDs, and more similar in size to the bigger RAV4 that arrived here earlier this year than to the outgoing CR-V.

The previous model was more like a jacked-up Civic sedan than a serious off-roader, but Honda says it is aiming to hit both targets with a newcomer more car-like to drive. Its centre of gravity is cut by 35mm and it has a 30mm wider track, but better off-road ability.

The AWD system is now quicker to react and can transfer an extra 20 per cent of the car's torque.

Equipment on the European CR-V shows the targeting of the car, with front side-curtain airbags, electronic stability control (with Trailer Stability Assist) and active front headlamps.

The basics are the same, led by a body with bigger doors and a stronger crash structure for a claimed five-star NCAP safety rating.

Honda in Europe says the 2.0-litre engine is more efficient and makes the car slightly quicker in a 0-100km/h sprint.

Honda Australia is not confirming any of the details beyond the basic looks until sales start in the first quarter of next year.