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Honda CR-V 2021 review: VTi


Daily driver score

4/5

Urban score

4.3/5

You can plot the moment when Honda’s mainstream range’s accent switched from Japanese to American.

After unprecedented success with the first few generations of Civic and Accord Stateside, the mid-‘90s ushered in larger versions of both, including a high-riding wagon iteration of the former known, of course, as CR-V.

That went ballistic everywhere – in its home market, North America and especially Australia, just as this sort of family vehicle was gaining traction. Along with the pioneering Toyota RAV4 and Subaru Forester, it was one of the first waves of what we know today as Medium SUVs.

Today's fifth-gen CR-V launched back in 2017 doesn’t even hide its Yankee doodling – it’s clearly been created for that market. Big, bold and quite beautiful in its own way, the RW-series is a bestseller in America. That’s a phenomenal feat.

What’s it doing here then? The September 2020 facelift ushered in revised bumpers, grille and tail-light lenses, a redesigned centre console, updated multimedia system with a 7.0-inch screen, new colours and a more safety gear (except on the base Vi powered by a 113kW/189Nm 2.0-litre engine), as well as the inevitable price rises.

Are they enough to keep the Japanese-owned, American-focussed, Thai-built CR-V competitive? We drive the mid-range VTi – the least expensive version with the 1.5-litre turbo petrol engine – to find out.

Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?

Priced from $34,200 plus on-road costs, the CR-V VTi has an immediate and appealing advantage over most of its equivalently priced competitors like the $35,100 Hyundai Tucson Active X, $33,590 Kia Sportage SX, $33,190 Mazda CX-5 Maxx, $32,665 Nissan X-Trail ST, $35,190 Subaru Forester 2.5i and $34,695 Toyota RAV4 GX… and that’s turbo muscle.

No humdrum atmo fours for this particular Honda, because the VTi is powered by a 140kW/220Nm 1.5-litre four-cylinder turbo engine, driving the front wheels via a continuously variable transmission (CVT). Only the $35,990 Ford Escape beats it for bang-for-your-buck in this segment, clocking in with a stirring 183kW/387Nm 2.0-litre turbo smasher.

The VTi also gains (at long last) Honda’s ‘Sensing’ safety package that includes autonomous emergency braking (AEB), forward collision warning with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control with stop/go functionality, lane departure warning, lane-keep assist and steering assist. These come on top of the usual kit like six airbags, stability and traction control, anti-lock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist, anti-trailer sway, driver attention-lapse warning, a hill-holder device and ISOFIX child-seat anchor points.

Apple CarPlay and Android Auto come standard with the VTi. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto come standard with the VTi.

However, unlike the Mazda CX-5 and some others, the CR-V skips on Rear Cross Traffic Alert (RCTA) and Front Cross Traffic Alert (FCTA), which automatically brakes the vehicle at up to a certain speed when nosing or reversing into traffic. 

You'll also find keyless entry/start, climate control air-con, a reverse camera, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, electric park brake, remote-down for all electric windows, four USB ports, eight cupholders, tyre-pressure monitors, 17-inch alloy wheels and a handy “conversation mirror” for front occupants to glance out back.

There’s also something called Active Noise Control, which Honda describes as eliminating “noise caused by both (engine) cylinder deactivation and exhaust noise… (via) a front ceiling-mounted microphone and a rear tray microphone to detect any “booming” sound…then emits a mirror “anti-noise” signal through the audio system’s speakers, which effectively cancels those booming sounds and creates a quieter passenger compartment. ANC is always working, even when the audio system is turned off.” As you'll find out, we wondered whether ours was working as it should...

It may not get a lot of flashy additions, but it does come with a full-size spare. It may not get a lot of flashy additions, but it does come with a full-size spare.

Be aware that there is no sign of a smartphone wireless charger, Honda’s excellent “Lane Watch” side camera, digital radio or satellite navigation in the VTi. You will need to spend more on higher grades for those items.

But a full-sized spare is included.

Is there anything interesting about its design?

Honda seems to have two disparate styling themes – overwrought and fussy for passenger cars and clean ‘n classy for SUVs. For proof compare Civic/Odyssey and HR-V/CR-V. All obviously from the same stable but on opposite sides of the aesthetic fence. To our eyes, anyway.

So good looking is the existing CR-V, in fact, that styling must surely play a huge role in its North American success, because the face, proportions and tail-light look just right. If only more SUVs were as easy on the eye.

Though now approaching its fifth birthday, the RW-series CR-V’s design is one of its strongest assets. Though now approaching its fifth birthday, the RW-series CR-V’s design is one of its strongest assets.

There are two further factors driving the Japanese crossover’s outstanding success.

Firstly, the Honda walks the fine line between wagon and SUV, with just enough extended-roof elongation to appeal to followers of the former, combined with the necessary elevation to appease fans of the latter.

Though now approaching its fifth birthday, the RW-series CR-V’s design is one of its strongest assets. We pity the team tasked with the styling of its successor.

So good looking is the existing CR-V, in fact, that styling must surely play a huge role in its North American success. So good looking is the existing CR-V, in fact, that styling must surely play a huge role in its North American success.

How practical is the space inside?

And the second big deal about the Honda is just how family friendly it is.

The CR-V is of the larger variety of medium SUVs, like a wagon wearing stilettos, offering exceptional ground clearance (198mm) and large apertures to clamber through as you slide your backside onto lofty seats. Note that the rear doors open up a full 90 degrees to aid entry/egress.

It’s immediately clear why the Honda has such magnetic showroom appeal once sat in place. The driver feels instantly at home, surrounded by acres of space, a broad seat and excellent forward and side views afforded by deep windows. Ventilation is generous, storage vast – you can fit half a Bottle-O shop between the doors, centre-console cave and glovebox – and most switchgear and controls are exactly where they’re needed.

The driver feels instantly at home, surrounded by acres of space. The driver feels instantly at home, surrounded by acres of space.

Attention has been paid to limit the amount of hardier plastics visible to the casual eye, due to careful application of vinyl, glossy black appliques, metal-look trim and even some carbon-fibre-look material dotted about the place. It smells a bit down-market, but the execution is high quality.

When Honda’s current hexagonal-themed digital instrumentation debuted in the existing Civic back in 2016, we called it out for being big and clear but hardly a thing of beauty; it’s astonishing that BMW seems to have followed suit with their current equivalents. At this VTi level, there aren’t any ‘virtual cockpit’ style configuration options, just big simple and dumb-proof icons for vehicle settings, multimedia, communication, trip-meter and other functions.

Honda has also been listening to feedback because the multimedia system is massively better than before; still touchscreen-operated, its functions are much clearer and the previous, fiddly haptic slider action has been binned for a good old-fashioned volume knob. Hooray! Two USB-A ports and a 12V outlet are provided in an excellent location. But the fact that the driver must confirm the infotainment system start-up with a press of a button every single time is infuriating. Torturous even.

Probably the first thing most folk will notice with approval is how wide that bench is. Probably the first thing most folk will notice with approval is how wide that bench is.

The front seats are on the large side, yet are sufficiently comfy; the backrest has a lever adjustment for rake, there’s a height lifter and the sides are gently bolstered to help locate you better. No lumbar support adjustment, however, is disappointing.       

Just as important in the CR-V is the second row (some models offer a seven-seat option). Probably the first thing most folk will notice with approval is how wide that bench is, allowing for a trio of adults to sit back there without too much intimacy or discomfort. The 60/40 split/fold backrests recline a little, contain a helpfully wide armrest complete with cupholders, and their cushions provide adequate support.

Additionally, big feet can easily tuck in beneath the (narrow-shouldered for easier front vision) front buckets, there’s face-level ventilation, a pair of additional USB-A ports, bottle-holder door bins, two map pockets, individual reading lights and side windows that go three-quarters of the way down. Oh well, Fido. At least the way the light floods inside lifts the ambience. And the overall craftpersonship is in keeping with Honda’s reputation.

  • Much thought has gone into the Honda’s packaging even to the literal end. Much thought has gone into the Honda’s packaging even to the literal end.
  • Cargo capacity is rated at a cavernous 522L, extending to 1084L with the rear seats folded. Cargo capacity is rated at a cavernous 522L, extending to 1084L with the rear seats folded.

If you’re a fan of the earlier-generation CR-Vs, you may lament the discontinuation of the famous picnic table-cum-boot floor gimmick, since instead there’s just a great big flat board that’s two-sided reversible for wet gear to be stored on. Users can also fold the backrests down using a handy lever system located just inside the tailgate area, there are two lights and a full-sized spare wheel living underneath.

The luggage compartment has a big, square opening that’s easy to load things through too. Much thought has gone into the Honda’s packaging even to the literal end. Cargo capacity is rated at a cavernous 522L, extending to 1084L with the rear seats folded. That brings a welcome flat floor right up to the front seats.

Spacious, practical, airy, easy and versatile, the CR-V ticks so many boxes it is difficult to imagine a better medium SUV for the money.

What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?

Aside from diesels, Honda never really jumped on the turbo bandwagon in Australia... not until the current generation Civic and CR-V launched.

Related to the less powerful unit found in better Civics, the L15B7 VTEC is a 1498cc 1.5-litre twin-cam 16-valve four-cylinder turbo petrol engine that meets Euro 5 emissions standards.

The VTi is the cheapest CR-V you can buy with this far-superior engine than the old single-cam 2.0-litre atmo unit offered in the base Vi. The VTi is the cheapest CR-V you can buy with this far-superior engine than the old single-cam 2.0-litre atmo unit offered in the base Vi.

Delivering 140kW of power at 5600rpm and 240Nm of torque between 2000rpm and 5000rpm, it tips the scales at 1536kg, for a power-to-weight ratio of a commendable 91kW/tonne.

The VTi is the cheapest CR-V you can buy with this far-superior engine than the old single-cam 2.0-litre atmo unit offered in the base Vi. It drives the front wheels via a continuously variable transmission, with no manual alternative available, sadly.

How much fuel does it consume?

We averaged a reasonable 9.1L/100km at the pump.

While that’s some way off the official 7.0L/100km (translating to 160 grams per kilometre of carbon dioxide emissions) on the official combined average cycle (that drops as low as 6.0L/100km on the extra-urban run while the urban result is 8.8L/100km), the CR-V was not spared in the interests of fuel economy. Very hot weather, lots of air-con on and quite a few higher-speed runs affected that outcome, and in that context, for such a tall vehicle weighing in at nearly 1.6 tonnes, that’s not too bad.

Note that the CR-V is tuned to operate on standard 91 RON unleaded petrol, though ours was run using the premium brew.

Fitted with a 57-litre tank, some 815km between refills is possible, extending to 952km if you pussyfoot around. Which you may not, given the rortiness of the turbo VTEC.

What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?

Tested in 2017, the CR-V achieved a five-star crash-test rating.

Unlike the entry-level Vi, the VTi ushers in Honda’s ‘Sensing’ safety package that includes AEB (or Collision mitigation Braking System in Honda-speak), forward collision warning with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control with stop/go functionality, lane departure warning, lane-keep assist and steering assist.

The lack of such safety is reason alone to leave the Vi alone and save up for the VTi instead. The AEB works between 15km/h and 100km/h.

Tested in 2017, the CR-V achieved a five-star crash-test rating. Tested in 2017, the CR-V achieved a five-star crash-test rating.

Honda Sensing comes on top of the usual kit like six airbags (front, side and full-length curtain items), stability and traction control systems, anti-lock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist, rear parking sensors, anti-trailer sway tech, driver attention warning, a hill-holder device and a pair of ISOFIX child-seat anchor points as well as three tether hooks.

However, unlike the Mazda CX-5 and some others, the CR-V skips on Rear Cross Traffic Alert (RCTA) and Front Cross Traffic Alert (FCTA), which automatically brakes the vehicle at up to a certain speed when nosing or reversing into traffic. 

What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?

Like all Hondas, the CR-V offers the industry-standard five year/unlimited kilometre warranty with roadside assistance, so it trails Kia’s leading seven-year coverage as well as Mitsubishi’s conditional 10-year regime.

It also calls for servicing once every 12 months or 10,000km whichever comes first, and features capped-price servicing known as Honda Tailored Servicing, that lasts for five years or 100,000km.

As of April 2021, each standard ‘Base’ service cost $312 annually for up to 12 years or 120,000km.

What's it like to drive around town?

The CR-V is a big medium SUV with a small crossover’s ability to live and love the inner-urban or city life. That’s because it’s easy to get in, drive, park and see out of; and even the 11-metre turning circle is pretty good for a 4635mm long by 1855mm wide by 1679mm high-riding wagon.

Another urban bonus is how responsive the 1.5-litre turbo is. Yes, CVTs are renowned for being a bit laggy down low and droney at higher speeds, but the CR-V’s is tuned to leap off the line quick-smart and keep pulling hard as the revs rise towards the red line. Excellent for zipping in and out of traffic spots.

Out on the open road, this powertrain continues to impress with its fast and fiery nature. The VTi keeps building up speed well beyond what is legal in Australia. There is a lot of muscle and flexibility in the Honda’s performance delivery.

There is quite a bit of road and tyre noise intrusion over some types of surfaces. There is quite a bit of road and tyre noise intrusion over some types of surfaces.

Floor the accelerator, though, and everybody in the car will know it, because the engine is quite vocal. Not unpleasantly so, but louder and perhaps a tad coarser than we’ve come to expect in a Honda. That, plus the inevitable engine drone at a certain part in the rev range where the CVT deems it to be the ratio point providing optimum power and efficiency, can make for a noisy ride at times.

After prolonged heat during our week with the CR-V, the rains came, and with it, slippery roads. This led to some obvious torque steer, whereby the front tyres scrambled to maintain traction and so spun the wheels, resulting in some undesirable shuddering coming in through to the driver.  

But, beyond that, the Honda is a beautifully sorted machine dynamically, with nicely-weighted steering that imbues the driver with confidence to enjoy what’s on offer. For a biggish medium SUV, the CR-V’s handling is light yet controlled, offering poise and precision aplenty, while always feeling connected to the road.

The Honda is a beautifully sorted machine dynamically, with nicely-weighted steering. The Honda is a beautifully sorted machine dynamically, with nicely-weighted steering.

That sense of composure also translates at higher speeds, or over gravel, backed up by a strong set of (four-wheel disc) brakes, while the suspension (MacPherson struts up front and a multi-link independent arrangement out back) is notable for providing ample absorption on rougher roads.

However, back in town, we’d like a bit more softness over smaller-frequency bumps, while there is quite a bit of road and tyre noise intrusion over some types of surfaces.

Overall, the CR-V is a talented and capable performer, albeit one that can be fairly vocal at times.

Although it’s getting on a bit now, the CR-V’s enduring popularity is understandable, and enhanced by the 2020 Series II facelift.

Though a family-orientated medium SUV, it’s handsome; though big and spacious, it never feels too unwieldy. And while not expensive, there’s always a sense of quality engineering, Core traditional Honda attributes right there.

We cannot recommend the undernourished and ill-equipped base Vi, but as a starting point, the cheapest turbo VTi also shows most of the big-name players how to play the value card, especially considering how much muscle you get for the money.

There are rivals that may be cheaper or roomier or comfier or faster or more lavishly equipped for around $35,000, but very few combine all of the above with as much brio as the VTi. It’s a compelling value-for-money all-rounder.

No wonder not just canny Americans love it.

$34,200

Based on new car retail price

VIEW PRICING & SPECS

Daily driver score

4/5

Urban score

4.3/5
Disclaimer: The pricing information shown in the editorial content (Review Prices) is to be used as a guide only and is based on information provided to Carsguide Autotrader Media Solutions Pty Ltd (Carsguide) both by third party sources and the car manufacturer at the time of publication. The Review Prices were correct at the time of publication.  Carsguide does not warrant or represent that the information is accurate, reliable, complete, current or suitable for any particular purpose. You should not use or rely upon this information without conducting an independent assessment and valuation of the vehicle.