Honda CR-V VTi-L 2016 review | road test

26 October 2016
 by 
, CarsGuide

The first iteration of Honda's CR-V arrived way back when the Japanese company was still producing exciting cars like the original NSX, the S2000, the Prelude, the CR-X and early versions of its bonkers Type R Integra and Civic, with engines revving to 8000rpm.

That seems a long time ago, because aside from the recent relaunch of the exclusive and expensive NSX, Honda's range has become about as exciting and colourful as milk. The CR-V has been the company's mainstay in Australia as the appeal of the rest of its yawning range has waxed and waned. It’s the one model that just kept on selling, no matter what.

Two decades on, the mid-size SUV market is a tough segment to play in, and on paper the CR-V doesn't look like much. This might be the top-of-the-range VTi-L, but winning over buyers is about a lot more than just a long spec sheet.

Price and features

The CR-V range consists of eight trim levels, starting with the front-wheel drive VTi manual at $27,490, adding auto for $2000 and working its way through the new Limited Edition spec, the VTi-S, and on to the all-wheel drive VTi-L at $42,290, which is our high-stepping steed for the week.

The VTi-L reaches your driveway on 18-inch alloys, loaded up with dual-zone climate control, reversing camera, keyless entry and start, cruise control, power windows and mirrors, roof rails, rear wiper/washer, sat nav, partial leather trim, a full size spare, electric heated front seats, rear spoiler, front fog lamps, sunroof, dusk-sensing active headlights, auto wipers and LaneWatch.

All doors open wide, making entry easy if you're wrangling kids, prams, dogs, toys or all of the above.

LaneWatch is a camera hanging off the left-hand rear vision mirror that switches on when you hit the left turn indicator. More useful than a blind-spot monitor (and Subaru's forward-facing camera), you can see what's going on bicyclist-wise, and even motor-bicyclist wise, which is a handy safety feature. You can also activate it with a button on the end of the indicator stalk if you just want to impress your neighbour as you take him for a spin.

The six-speaker stereo has two USB ports, Bluetooth and a seven-inch screen, running Honda's own (very ordinary) interface. There's also an HDMI port, presumably for when you're pretending to enjoy watching the kids play sport. 

Our car also had metallic paint ($575) and the $3500 Advanced Driver Assistance (ADAS) package, which adds active cruise control, forward collision mitigation (high speed) and lane keep assist with steer assist. Total cost before on-roads comes to $46,635. .

Design

The CR-V is an acquired taste to look at; a bit like a Japanese Picasso. As with most Hondas, there's way too much going on up front, with lines and angles striking out everywhere and massive headlights. The VTi-L adds plenty of chrome and black mesh on to this already crowded bonce.

Head around to the side and things calm down, with a stylised arrowhead rear quarter window to cap a fairly conventional, high-set windowline. Around the back things are positively restrained, by comparison, with the CR-V's trademark of vertical taillights and wide tailgate. 

From the side, those taillights look like they're being pinched by the arrowhead windowline, which is kind of a designer's visual joke. Problem is, that combination makes the car look a bit chunky from the windscreen back.

The cabin is one of the loftiest on offer in the segment, with huge headroom for front and rear passengers as well as plenty of space in all other directions. Five adults can fit inside, with plenty of rear legroom and an almost bowling green-flat floor maximising foot space and making it feel like you could be on a small plane. The rear bench is very flat in the seat but the back is adjustable for rake.

All doors open wide, making entry easy if you're wrangling kids, prams, dogs, toys or all of the above.

The dashboard is a highlight, with a clean and clear design consisting of a big central dial with a useful screen in the middle, flanked by a tachometer on the left and fuel and temperature on the right. It's simple and sleek, unlike the centre stack.

The central area of the dash is a busy place, with two separate screens - a main, seven-inch unit and a high-set smaller one showing trip-computer information. The colouring of both is a bit garish, with glaucoma-spec contrast and a distinct feel of Strathfield Car Radios, circa 1985, to them. 

While the stereo controls are ludicrously fiddly with tiny buttons designed for pixies’  fingers, and a poorly designed touchscreen, the rest of the cabin is a model of ergonomics. Except for the foot-operated parking brake. Those things are awful and belong in the bin of history.

Practicality

The CR-V is old-school in a number of ways, but in the practicality stakes, it's second to none. The boot is a gigantic 556-litres (nearly 40 percent bigger than the class-leader CX-5's effort), expanding to 1648 with the 60-40 split-fold seats down. With a wide loading aperture, high-opening tailgate and low loading lip, getting bulky items in and out is uncommonly easy. There are a couple of netted cubby holes and a pair of bag hooks in the boot, under which is the full-size spare.

The seat-folding mechanism is especially slick and is down to Honda's Magic seat technology.  With the pull of a strap or a boot-mounted latch, the rear seat base slides away, allowing the seat back to fold down, leaving a completely flat load area. None of its competitors does it this smoothly or easily, not at any price, and it’s bloody impressive.

The spec sheet cheekily claims nine beverage holders, but the reality is a pair of cupholders up front (that aren't very good), two in the centre rear armrest (also not very good, too shallow and ill-fitting) and the doors each have a spot for a 500ml bottle. You could probably squeeze three cups in the front if you're keen and the cups are small. None of the designated cupholders have the squidgy rubber bits, so you'd better have the right size cups and a gentle driving style if you want your crotch to stay dry.

Engine and transmission

The VTi-L is equipped with the larger of the two available naturally aspirated four-cylinder petrol engines in the CR-V range. At 2.4-litres, it also has two overhead cams versus just one in the 2.0-litre cars. Outputs are reasonably modest with 140kW (at 7000rpm - holy sporty SUV Batman) and 222Nm available to push the 1595kg CR-V along.

A five-speed automatic transmission feeds the power to all four wheels and it's worth noting that its main rivals all have at least six speeds. Towing capacities are rated at 1500kg with brakes and 600kg without.

Fuel consumption

Honda claims 8.7L/100km on the combined cycle but given the rev-hungry characteristics of the engine, that would be quite a challenge. Even a reasonably gentle week with the car in flowing suburban traffic and some highway running yielded a 12.4L/100km average. 

A lack of stop-start tech is not helping that figure, and is something that much cheaper Mazdas (and others) now feature as standard.

Safety

Six airbags, ABS, traction and stability controls, brake assist and brake-force distribution.

The CR-V was awarded the maximum five ANCAP stars.

The $3500 ADAS package adds forward collision mitigation and lane keep assist as well as active cruise control.

Driving

There is nothing startling about the way the CR-V drives. It's an almost entirely unremarkable experience, which is likely what Honda was aiming for (it seems to heave been their general dynamic goal for years now). But goodness, does it does feel old. 

The ride is reasonably compliant if a bit lumpy on the 18-inch wheels and the suspension does bang a bit over sharp bumps. Apart from that, the engine is a distant whirr, everything does what it's supposed to and the throttle is pretty lively, which can almost help you forget that the power and torque are barely adequate for such a big car.

The five-speed automatic can be a bit slow to react, especially in Eco mode, but if you don't expect too much of it, you won't be disappointed. There's almost no point in working the engine to its 7000rpm redline to find the power peak, because  the usable torque has already come and gone at 4400rpm. 

If you do try to get enthusiastic, the all-wheel-drive grip easily overcomes the meagre twist - it's all very safe and competent feeling. And unintimidatingly slow.

Out and about, it's all perfectly bland, leaving you to get on with chatting to your passengers and enjoying the tremendous view out all that glass. It really is a pleasant place to be, with tonnes of light pouring in through the big windows, the improved materials (this one seemed better than when this CR-V launched) and inoffensive design making for an agreeable experience. 

There are a few tricks to watch out for. The active cruise control and lane keep assist seem to only work over 40km/h. When the car in front brakes to below 40, the cruise control brakes the car to that speed then gets off the brakes and flashes a warning at you to brake yourself. Which sort of misses the point of such a system. If it knows there's a need to keep braking, why not just do it?

Similarly, the lane keep assist doesn't do anything below that speed, but once over that limit it gently nudges the car away from the centre line… most of the time. Neither system is entirely convincing.

The only other noticeable downsides are the flat, unsupportive front chairs and the weird active seat belts, which wind themselves in via an electric motor when you go around corners. When you unclip them at the end of the journey, the belts try to trap you in the car by retracting themselves while still looped over your shoulder. Seems a bit clingy...

Ownership

Honda offers a three-year/100,000km warranty and a five-year/100,000km capped price servicing regime. You'll need to visit a dealer every six months or 10,000km (which ever comes first) and shell out either $267 or $305, for an annual average over five years of $572. 

The scheme doesn't cover a number of scheduled items such as brake fluid, air-conditioning filters, fuel filter ($270!) or spark plugs at 100,000km, an additional cost of $176.

2min Insurance Quote Pricing & Specs

Verdict 

I've said what might appear to be a couple of fairly unkind things about the CR-V, but the fact of the matter is, it's not here to surprise and delight with a super-sharp chassis, sexy looks or a spectacular spec sheet. It's here for you to load you and your stuff in and go from A to B with a minimum of fuss, and it does that very, very well. All CR-Vs do that, it just depends on how much you want to spend and how slowly you want to go.

Where it loses marks is in its old-feeling driveline, high real-world fuel consumption and very old-tech, including a lacklustre entertainment and navigation system.

The CR-V seems stuck between two eras and when you're playing in the mid-$40k range, premium brands start calling with their badge cachet and better technology, both under the bonnet and in the cabin. Unless you really want to spend $40,000-plus on a CR-V, the VTi-L might be a bit of a stretch. Perhaps cast your eyes further down the range for better value.

Is the CR-V the medium SUV for you? Tell us what you think in the comments below.

Click here to see more 2016 Honda CR-V pricing and spec info.

Specifications

  • Price From $46,635
  • Fuel consumption 8.7L/100km (combined), 201g/km CO2 Tank 58L
  • Safety 5-star ANCAP
  • Seats 5
  • Warranty 3 years/100,000km
  • Service Interval 6 months/10,000km
  • Engine 2.354L 4-cyl unleaded, 140kW/222Nm
  • Transmission 5-spd automatic, 4WD
  • Turning circle 11.4m diameter
  • Dimensions 4545mm (L), 1820mm (W), 1685mm (H)

Honda CR-V VTi-L 2016 review | road test

What we like

  • Cavernous interior
  • Overall build quality
  • Clever rear seats

What we don't

  • Lumpy ride
  • Poor front seats
  • Thirst

Key Features

  • 5 Star Safety

Rivals

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