Published on Sunday 29 November 2015 10:30
Ten Second Review
Most compact 4x4 buyers want something safe, stylish, reliable and economical. If it drives well, is generously equipped and offers a choice of two and four-wheel drive, so much the better. The recipe for the success of Honda's CR-V is a keen understanding of buyer requirements and an almost neurotic attention to detail. Hence why the fourth generation version just can't fail.
Sometimes you wonder why so many car manufacturers get it wrong when designing a compact 4x4. The template for success has already been set by Honda's CR-V. First launched in 1995, the intervening three generations of this appealing SUV have been uncannily accurate barometers of customer taste. Yet when rival manufacturers target the market, they go a bit bigger, or a bit sportier or add off-road pretensions and all too often end up with a fundamentally dishonest vehicle that has strayed from the design brief.
Honda is nothing if not realistic about customer requirements, which is why this fourth generation CR-V, built in Swindon and now offering more space, efficiency and better quality doesn't deviate too far from the script that found five million customers around the world. Why mess with a winning formula?
There are some quite fundamental changes to this generation CR-V's oily bits. The big one is that you can now buy a CR-V in either front or all-wheel drive with the 2.0-litre 155PS i-VTEC petrol engine. Go for the base 1.6-litre diesel and it's 2WD only, while the pokier 2.0-litre diesel is 4WD only. A very clever electrically assisted power steering works in concert with the car's stability control system to initiate counter steering in the event of a skid, so as to prompt the driver to steer in the right direction.
Honda believes that the majority of CR-Vs sold will continue to be all-wheel drive models and with a run of bad winters behind us, it's easy to see why. The hydraulically activated "dual-pump" system of the third generation CR-V has been replaced by an electronically activated set-up that provides a faster response when a loss of traction is detected. It also reduces weight by 17 per cent and minimizes internal friction by 59 per cent. Hill Start Assist (HAS) is standard across the range and stops the vehicle rolling backwards during hill starts. Hill Descent Control (HDC) makes its debut on the CR-V and is available on automatic versions. It operates at up to 5mph and helps the CR-V descend difficult terrain safely and consistently.
Honda's development team undertook a test programme on European roads to improve the CR-V's ride quality without compromising its car-like handling or high-speed stability. The strut front and multi-link rear suspension has been upgraded with a 10 per cent increase in damper rates all round, while an increase in the body's rigidity allows the suspension to operate more effectively. Care has also been taken to achieve a significant reduction in the engine and road noise entering the cabin. Sound insulation material has been applied to the floorpan below the passenger compartment, while sound absorption material has been fitted to the rear door, rear wheel arches, door frames, front bulkhead and bonnet. The doors now also feature a double seal. The net result is a 3dB reduction in cabin noise compared to the outgoing car.
Design and Build
The first generation CR-V was handsome in a generic kind of way, with the second generation car being a better finished and bigger version of much the same styling theme. Generation three debuted a slicker look with a sweeping coupe-like window line while the fourth generation car makes a departure from that with a kinked side window and huge swept-back headlamp pods. It's undoubtedly a more assertive look. The front bumper is joined by a horizontal three-bar grille and deep-set headlights, while front LED daytime running lights and rear LED lights are further additions. The lower front bumper is designed to convey SUV capability and there's a generous approach angle should you really want to see what the CR-V can do off-road. The signature vertical rear brake lights, which debuted on the original model, remain but feature a more three-dimensional style. Rather refreshingly, the length and height of the car have been reduced by 5mm and 30mm respectively compared with the outgoing model, without reducing the interior space. With the rear seats folded flat, the boot capacity of the CR-V has grown by 148 litres to 1648 litres and with the seats folded up, the boot capacity is a capacious 589 litres. The load length has been increased by 140mm to 1570mm, while the height of the load lip has been reduced by 25mm to make it easier to load heavy or awkward items. The boot of the CR-V can now accommodate two mountain bikes or four sets of golf clubs.
Market and Model
The introduction of 2WD has allowed this fourth generation CR-V to come to market with a lower asking price starting from under £22,000. You only get this option on petrol variants and choosing it gives you a saving of about £1,100 over the equivalent 4WD model. I'd think hard about that if I were you. 4WD doesn't make much difference to this car's CO2 emissions and fuel consumption and you'll be glad of it come the snowy days of winter. In the diesel line-up, it's 4WD all the way, pricing starting from around £23,000 for the 120PS 1.6 i-DTEC and around £25,000 for the 150PS 2.0 i-DTEC.
Across the line-up, there are four trim levels S, SE, SR and EX. All are decently equipped, with even the entry-level S featuring a 5-inch Intelligent Multi Info Display, driver power lumbar support, Stop/Start for the engine, Dual Zone Climate Control, cruise control, 17-inch alloy wheels, fabric interior, Hill Start Assist, Steering wheel stereo controls, USB/iPod auxiliary input and one touch folding rear seats. You can also expect to find a CD tuner as part of a four-speaker stereo, Vehicle Stability Assist (VSA), Anti-lock braking system (ABD), Electronic Brakeforce Distribution (EBD), Brake Assist (BA), Trailer Stability Assist (TSA) and central locking.
Cost of Ownership
The CR-V has always commanded some of the very best residual values in the market and it's hard to see this latest version diverging from that script. It's also been voted the most reliable of all SUVs, which only underscores the fact that this is as bulletproof a buy as it's possible to make in this segment. It even betters Land Rover's Freelander in both retained value and overall cost per mile figures. If you want to go off road, choose the Land Rover, if not go for the Honda. Some choices are as easy as that.
Improvements in fuel economy and reduction of emissions in the CR-V were amongst some of the development team's key priorities. The power and torque outputs of the i-DTEC engine remain at 150PS and 350Nm respectively, but figures for CO2 emissions have improved, with the 2.2i diesel returning 149g/km of CO2 and 50.4mpg on the combined cycle, figures that fall to 174g/km and 42.8mpg if you opt for the automatic model. The 120PS 1.6 i-DTEC entry-level diesel of course does better, managing 62.8mpg on the combined cycle and 119g/km of CO2.
If you go for 2.0-litre petrol power, your figures will depend not only on the gearbox you choose but also on your selection between two and four-wheel drive. The entry level 2WD model manages 39.2mpg on the combined cycle and 168g/km of CO2. Go for the same car with 4WD and the figures are little different - 173g/km and 38.2mpg. As an auto, you'll get 175g/km and 37.7mpg.
It's hard to see how Honda can fail with this fourth generation CR-V. To be honest, not a lot really needed changing. The engines have been tweaked for better efficiency and, to this eye at least, it looks a good deal better both inside and out. Otherwise the recipe is very much the same and it's wise of Honda not to stray too far from the established and hugely successful theme.
It still only seats five, but moving to a genuinely useful seven-seat body would have meant upsizing this vehicle quite considerably: five million CR-V sales to date indicate that Honda's customers don't want that. Listening to them is what has made this model so successful. Yes, there are more dynamic and exciting SUVs for sale, but in a maturing market place that's increasingly defined by what the vehicle can do rather than what it says, the CR-V looks set to remain the boss.