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Honda CR-V 2018 review: VTi-LX

EXPERT RATING
8
The Honda CR-V is much bigger, much safer and much more plush than its more fun-focused ancestor, but does it have as much charm?

I’m on good terms with the CR-V badge.

My family had a second-gen car in the noughties, in which I learned to drive. Back then, the CR-V was alongside the RAV4 as early ‘soft-roader’ SUVs. They still had all-wheel drive systems as standard though, as they were marketed toward younger people who wanted a bit more of an ‘adventure’ lifestyle.

As history shows, it was a good bet – SUV now dominate the market. They’ve changed though, man. Sold out even…

The 20- or 30-somethings that were single or had young families in the late ‘90s or early ‘00s now have bigger families or maybe less adventurous lifestyles and SUVs have adapted.

So, here we are with the top-model CR-V, which is now in its fifth generation. It’s bigger, safer and much more premium than its more fun-focused ancestor, but does it have as much charm? I spent a weekend finding out.

Saturday

I thought it would be a good idea to take my mum (a serial CR-V fan) for a drive around Sydney’s Northern-Beaches in the VTi-LX to get her thoughts on it.

Her first observation was that the VTi-LX is a car to behold. The CR-V has certainly grown, having gained a fairly significant 46mm length and 75mm of width over the second-gen car. 

The fifth-generation CR-V looks seriously big, even for the segment. The fifth-generation CR-V looks seriously big, even for the segment.

Design-wise it’s hard to say Honda has crafted just another anonymous SUV. It's filled all that extra room with almost too many lines and curves.

In profile it has a sportier demeanour than your average commuter SUV, but from the front it's close to over-designed, there’s just too much going on. The back is busy, too but looks purposeful and defined as a family hauler.

The CR-V looks reasonably unique, even if it is a mess of lines and angles. The CR-V looks reasonably unique, even if it is a mess of lines and angles.

Not everybody will be a fan of the science-fiction 18-inch alloy wheels, but they’re certainly unlike anything else on the market.

At the VTi-LX spec you’re also scoring sophisticated LED headlight clusters that are auto-dusk sensing, feature ‘Active Cornering’ and have auto-adjusting high-beams. It’s a full-fat bit of kit.

Maybe not everyone will be a fan of the 18-inch alloys. Maybe not everyone will be a fan of the 18-inch alloys.

The premium look and feel extends to the inside. Although it’s still a little-busy design-wise, it really nails the top-spec atmosphere. The build quality is excellent and there are soft-touch surfaces in all the right spots.

The eight-way adjustable leather seats look and feel fantastic, all the switchgear, and even the entire steering wheel is chunky and purposeful.

It’s a nice place to be. I’d say within the segment it’s up there alongside the Mazda CX-5 GT and Akera for quality cabin ambience.

The interior of the CR-V is impressive in terms of cabin ambience. The interior of the CR-V is impressive in terms of cabin ambience.

In both the CR-V and Mazda, it feels as though the cars were designed to be high-spec models and then had parts stripped out for lower grades. That stands in contrast to the similarly-priced Hyundai Tucson Highlander and Toyota RAV4 Cruiser, where it feels as though nice bits have been added to a lower-spec car. If you don’t believe me, go and test drive them and compare… you’ll see what I’m on about.

One thing the CR-V might even pip the Mazda on is road noise. Especially at city-speeds the CR-V detaches you from the road almost altogether. Even potholes barely made an audible mark inside the cabin thanks to the not-excessively large wheels and ‘triple-sealed’ doors. It's a difference you'll really notice around somewhere like Sydney's northern beaches, where the roads are pretty average...

Front and centre inside is a 7.0-inch multimedia screen which has awesome connectivity, with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Digital (DAB+) radio and even an HDMI port which you could get creative with. It's a shame the standard user interface is laggy and generally terrible looking.

Thankfully, Apple CarPlay or Android Auto can be used to hide the pretty average multimedia interface. Thankfully, Apple CarPlay or Android Auto can be used to hide the pretty average multimedia interface.

Much like it’s smaller Jazz sibling, the CR-V is super practical. Honda has all its bases covered from eight cupholders, a massive adjustable centre console to ample legroom in both seating rows. 

Also, thanks to there being a seven-seat version of the CR-V (though, sadly not in this spec) the boot space is ample at 522 litres (VDA) with the seats up. That’s bigger than the Tucson and the CX-5 but slightly smaller than a RAV4. Plus the second row folds fully flat and the boot opening is massive making it truly easy to use.

  • The seats fold fully flat, and the boot opening is massive. The seats fold fully flat, and the boot opening is massive.
  • Thanks to there being a seven-seat version, the boot with seats up is one of the largest in the class. Thanks to there being a seven-seat version, the boot with seats up is one of the largest in the class.

For the record: My mum loved it, she thought it felt plush and had plenty of room in the boot for her two dogs. 

Sunday

To stretch the CR-V's legs a bit more I took it from Sydney's north shore on a freeway stint out to the base of the blue mountains in Richmond. It was a solid day of freeway driving intersected with stop-start suburban trawling, covering about 120km for the round-trip.

At just 1.5-litres the CR-V's engine is one of the smallest engines in the mid-size SUV category.

That doesn’t stop it from competing power-wise, with 140kW/240Nm on tap thanks to a turbocharger. It’s about on par with the CX-5’s much bigger non-turbo 2.5-litre engine.

The 1.5-litre engine has impressive specs, but the fun is dulled by the CVT transmission. The 1.5-litre engine has impressive specs, but the fun is dulled by the CVT transmission.

It doesn’t translate to fun-factor behind the wheel though. It’s paired with a CVT transmission which exacerbates turbo-lag and isn’t exactly enthusiastic to let you stay in the power-band. Annoyingly, it takes a firmer-than-usual prod of the accelerator to squeeze thrust out of it.

As I found out, this is troublesome when you're already at freeway speeds and need that surge of power to overtake.

What this set-up does give you is a remarkably good fuel figure. Despite my lead-foot antics to battle the CVT, the trip computer was returning 8.0L/100km over the course of a tank of fuel. 

That’s not too far off Honda’s 7.4L/100km official figure and given that number was ever-decreasing I reckon I could have easily hit the official figure given an extra week. Impressive considering the VTi-LX weighs in at roughly 1600kg. 

The drive experience was reasonably refined, but never sporty. This is a car focused more on comfort than dynamics. It was a surprisingly good companion on the freeway in terms of refinement, although the engine would make itself quite audible above 2500RPM (if the CVT ever let you get there) and there was some minor wind noise, likely due to that over-sculpted body.

The ever-handy active cruise control will have you looking right past that though, which brings me to my next point about safety features.

The VTi-LX has the lot, and by the lot I mean basically every sensor and warning system you could think of and then some. It has the ever-important Auto Emergency Braking (AEB), Lane Departure Warning (with Lane Keep Assist), Active Cruise Control as well as Honda’s ‘LaneWatch’ tech instead of Blind Spot Monitoring. It’s a wing-mirror mounted camera that gives you a live-view of your blind spot on the multimedia screen. At first, it’s weird but neat when you get used to it.

Honda's LaneWatch is a bit odd at first, but handy after you adjust. Honda's LaneWatch is a bit odd at first, but handy after you adjust.

During my drive home, a taxi pulled in front of me and suddenly decided to brake (a common occurrence in Sydney), while I was prepared, the AEB system jumped in and had begun braking even before I could get my foot on the brake pedal. 

While hardly a life-saver at the speeds I was travelling, it was reassuring to know the system would really do something with those few milliseconds required to move your foot from throttle to brake in a genuine emergency. 

Reversing camera? Got that too, and it’s a decent one, even at night.

Of course, these features are on top of the regular stability, airbag and braking refinements that give the entire CR-V range a five-star ANCAP safety rating as of July 2017. An extra safety notch for long-distance Aussie drives is the full-size spare.

It’s worth noting that the advanced safety bits are only available on the VTi-LX and for that reason alone I’d say it’s the pick of the range.

You’re probably wondering then how it competes on price…

Well, it’s good news here too, because the VTi-LX is cheaper than the top-spec RAV4 Cruiser, Hyundai Tucson Highlander and the Mazda CX-5 Akera (although, you may want to consider the similarly-equipped CX-5 GT which is about $700 cheaper at the time of writing).

There is a seven-seat version of the CR-V available, but for some (I assume technical) reason it’s only available at a mid-spec VTi-L grade and misses out on the full safety array. While that’s a niche, it’ll disappoint some buyers.

The VTi-LX also looks good on the ownership front, as the standard CR-V warranty of 5 years with unlimited kilometres is competitive in the segment (and honestly, should be the minimum). The servicing schedule is on-par demanding your attention once a year or ever 10,000km.

Verdict

I liked the CR-V badge before, but I came out of this review with a fresh appreciation.

It nails the premium feel at this price-point, ticks all the safety boxes and is a practical yet surprisingly efficient family hauler. It even competes well on price.

Just don’t expect inspirational performance… and while the connectivity is there, the standard user-interface is a bit of a sore spot on an otherwise great package.

Would the VTi-LX be at the top of your list in the top-spec mid-size SUV category, or is the unique styling a bit too much? Tell us what you think in the comments below.

Pricing Guides

$35,990
Based on 473 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
Lowest Price
$26,888
Highest Price
$46,990

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
+SPORT (2WD) 1.5L, ULP, CVT AUTO $30,888 – 35,490 2018 HONDA CR-V 2018 +SPORT (2WD) Pricing and Specs
Vi (2WD) 2.0L, ULP, CVT AUTO $26,888 – 30,990 2018 HONDA CR-V 2018 Vi (2WD) Pricing and Specs
VTi (2WD) 1.5L, ULP, CVT AUTO $27,988 – 32,990 2018 HONDA CR-V 2018 VTi (2WD) Pricing and Specs
VTi-E7 (2WD) 1.5L, ULP, CVT AUTO $33,880 – 35,488 2018 HONDA CR-V 2018 VTi-E7 (2WD) Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
8
Tom White
Journalist

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