honda cr-v lead
UPDATE: The new Honda CR-V has been officially launched in Malaysia, read our launch report here

With more than five million examples sold in the last 18 years, the Honda CR-V, that erstwhile comfortable runabout vehicle, has been every bit the success story, and in recent times very much the class-defining compact Japanese SUV act.

Not bad, considering that the first stab at it with the original RD1 from 1995 was a bit of a shot in the dark; rough around the edges, the company’s first own-designed sport utility wasn’t all that elegant, but it did provide an important stepping stone for the brand. The second one, also a RD but with a four suffix attached, was certainly a better fleshed-out offering, but the boxier design was still more utilitarian than pretty, lacking outright charm and grace.

The jigsaw finally fell into place with the RE, and it is with the outgoing third-gen machine that the CR-V name is defined in the eyes of the consumer. Here at last was the Honda compact SUV all grown up – more car-like in its driving feel and dynamics than its predecessors, with plenty of refinement and perceived value, the RE sold, and it sold well enough to see off the competition through the early days and into the facelift, which arrived in 2010.

With rivals’ offerings firming up, however, led by the likes of the Mazda CX-5, that hold has begun to wane, and the arrival of the fourth-generation RM is timely for the brand. The question is, does the fresh face have what it takes to remain the benchmark? Let’s find out.


IMG_8900a

The third-gen isn’t quite broken, but with tastes ever changing and the clamour for a fresh view always hovering about, reinvention has been necessary. As such, number four represents a change in outlook – the development concept has evolved from the ‘urban comfort driving’ of the outgoing CR-V to what the company tags as a ‘premium smart SUV’.

What this really translates to is a five-seater sport utility vehicle with MPV-esque/crossover leanings and even more car-like driving dynamics. Apparently, the pursuit of the perfect balance between a car and an SUV influenced every element of the development process, including the exterior styling.

Shape-wise, it’s not revolution, but the curvy rounded vessel has been replaced by a far tauter appearance, obviously inspired by the competition as well as demands of the day.

The rakish silhouette is winsome upon first glance, especially the rear, ignoring that rear lamp assembly and the suggestion of Volvo XC 60 in it. The lower cab profile offers a more squat stance, and that front end is beefy, to say the least. Taken on its own, it’s not that noticeable, but park it next to the third-gen and you’ll see a higher nose and a pretty bulky face, led by an imposing three-bar grille.

IMG_8854a

Elsewhere, the side fenders are bolder, and a shark fin antenna streamlines things further. The CR-V gets new design alloys too, still 17-inch five spoke units, but now wider at 17×7 than the 17×6.5 previously, wrapped with 225/65 tyres.

Aerodynamic improvements abound, from optimised angles for the front bumper and rear end as well as rear spoiler to the inclusion of expanded under covers on the bottom of the car and sculptured wheel-arches.

The new CR-V looks leaner and more athletic, and in terms of measurements stretches the tape at 4,545 mm long and 1,685 mm tall. The dimensions don’t veer off too much from the outgoing RE, but I’m a bit puzzled to the height measurements; the third-gen is listed at 1,680 mm tall, and the new one is supposed to be 30 mm lower, which should actually make it 1,650 mm. The side-by-side pix here of both current and new CR-Vs taken during the Thai drive does visibly show up a height difference.

No change to the width from the outgoing model, which remains at 1,820 mm, or to the wheelbase’s 2,620 mm, but front and rear overhangs have been reduced by 10 mm and 15 mm respectively. Interior width has also been increased, with 75 mm more space to be had, door-to-door.

IMG_9137a

Other numbers, since we’re at that particular game. Ground clearance is 170 mm, while kerb weight is 1,540 kg (for the 2.0 litre). The seating position is now lowered by 30 mm, but offers the same eye-height viewpoint as the third-gen.

The steering diameter has been reduced by 10 mm to 370 mm, and in terms of boot capacity, there’s 589 litres of cargo space, extending to 1,648 litres with the rear seats folded down, good enough to get a couple of mountain bikes in.

Five colours are available for the Malaysian market – retained are Taffeta White, Crystal Black, Alabaster Silver, and Polished Metal, with a new shade called Twilight Blue replacing Urban Titanium in the palette. The blue in particular works well on the SUV.

So far, so good. Move inside, and the new interior looks sharp upon first glance. The new instrument cluster is easy on the eye, and traditionalists will like that the fuel and temp gauges are now back to analogue, sitting in their own space to the right of the large speedometer.

IMG_4245a

The dashboard now displays more angular lines, and a five-inch colour LCD intelligent-Multi Info Display (i-MID) sits top centre, and offers readouts of audio display, fuel consumption or an ‘analogue’ clock, also doubling up as a viewing screen for the rear camera that comes standard with the vehicle.

New items include an Econ function button and rear air-con vents in the centre console, a welcome addition, and the headlamps now come with a 15-seconds auto-off function if you forget to switch the beam off. The steering wheel audio/cruise control switches have been retained, but have been updated in layout shape.

Elsewhere, the rear seat head rests can now be folded in addition to height adjustment, and the rear 60:40 split seats are fully foldable in tumble-down fashion, accomplished in a single-motion through the pull of a lever.

The new CR-V will be available here in two engine variants, the familiar 2.0 litre form that’s being launched later today as well as in 2.4 litre guise, which will be introduced closer to mid-year. Differences include seat material – the 2.0 litre wears a new suede fabric design, while the 2.4 comes dressed in leather. Both are finished in black.

IMG_8685a

The 2.0 litre gets a standard CD/six-speaker audio system with reverse camera, while the 2.4 will come with an integrated two-DIN 6.1-inch colour QVGA (480 x 234 resolution) touchscreen with Garmin navigation and RDS.

The 2.4 also features more kit, naturally. There’s rain sensing wipers, paddle shifters, 18-inch five twin-spoke alloys, eight-way power seats, Bluetooth telephone connectivity, HID headlamps and fully keyless entry/push-start ignition. Meanwhile, the 2.0 litre continues to make do with a keyed ignition, but the key has been updated to a jack-knife design.

Doesn’t sound too bad, does it? After a while though, it isn’t as rosy as painted. Given that the vehicle’s fundamentals are utility and functionality, some design cues raise the question of whether form has taken precedence over function, and elsewhere, some areas look lacking or haven’t really been advanced from the third-gen.

The third-gen model is very familiar, simply because we happen to have one at home, a 2010 facelift version, and this was the CR-V utilised in our five SUV shootout in 2011. The other half loves its interior and the practicality it offers, none more so than with the void space between the centre console and fascia; great space for a handbag, shoes, even the odd small umbrella. Also great for a driver changeover from the passenger seat without having to be too unladylike, as observed on many an occasion.

IMG_9054

Well, that unique layout is gone. The new CR-V goes the traditional route by joining up the console and fascia, and the redesign removes the space, as well as the two cupholders and flip panel/slide cover storage bins of the centre console. Replacing it is a single console offering three cupholders and a storage box/armrest.

You do get two 12V power receptacles (one tucked away in the storage box), and the USB connector has been relocated – from the flip-lid storage space on the dashboard on the passenger-side – to a more accessible location within the storage box, but the old system worked as well, if not better from a compartmentalisation point of view. Three cupholders seems like overkill, even for the thirsty, and that storage box isn’t all that big, really.

Most importantly, the sense of spaciousness and freedom around the knee area is gone with the arrival of the new centre console. I suppose if you’re attempting to introduce ‘more car-like driving’ as a selling point, then it makes sense to lay things out car-like as well, but I get the feeling many are going to miss that space.

Some other elements also don’t quite measure up under close scrutiny. The lack of Bluetooth telephony in this day and age is a noticeable omission, as are DRLs in the scheme of things, even if not having HIDs – for the 2.0 – is forgivable. Elsewhere, the new audio system panel looks less classy than before; where the old was elegant, especially lit up at night, the new one is much less so. Those big buttons don’t help any.

IMG_8664a

There’s also less of a sense of occasion than before. The new interior’s design and fresh layout masks it well enough, but vis-a-vis the third-gen the materials feel less premium to sight and touch. The door panel armrest shows it up best – where the old was clothed, the new has an expanse of bare plastic, and not the least textured at that. And that silver finish on the dash decorative strip and gear lever surround panel doesn’t look too hardy.

In defense of it all, the design of this CR-V came about during trying times, with the economic downturn of a few years back probably shaping prudence and conservative thought; witness the current ninth-gen Civic, with which the new CR-V shares common ground, as an example of this. The rest of the vehicle doesn’t cut back on things, but in terms of finish, the corner-cutting has become more noticeable in the face of toughened competition offering more in the way of kit and dress.

Still, aside from some questions asked about design cues and material choices, areas like safety and NVH haven’t been skimped on. Like the current CR-V, the fourth-gen comes with dual front and dual side airbags, making for four, as well as VSA, ABS and EBD, but the evolved VSA system now includes traction control and hill start assist.

The current vehicle didn’t come with Isofix points on the rear seats, but the new CR-V now has them, good news for those needing such mounts. In other areas, the centre rear passenger now gets a three-point seatbelt, and structural improvements include a stronger roof and supporting pillars.

A0261a

As for NVH, the new CR-V feels decidedly quieter and more refined than its predecessor, something that was evident very quickly during the drive from Pattaya to Bangkok. Improved sound insulation and sound absorption materials find their way on to the firewall, floor, inside door panels and tailgate lid as well as inside the rear fenders, and a sound isolating lower seal has been added as well.

Three dB less than the third-gen in the 500Hz-5kHz region – coupled to improved absorption values across the range – might not sound like much, but in actual conditions is noticeable, translating to a more comfortable and quieter experience.

Another area of improvement is with takeup from standstill, the 2.0 litre mill from the Civic injecting some welcome pace off the line. With 155 PS at 6,500 rpm and 190 Nm at 4,300 rpm, there’s only a marginal increase in output, but the perkier character of the R20A lends the new CR-V a brighter nature and makes it feel less cumbersome.

The 2.4 K24A, meanwhile, feels decidedly lazier than the 2.0 in stop-start and low-speed conditions, but shines when given space and enough throttle input. The 190 PS at 7,000 rpm and 222 Nm at 4,300 rpm lump’s midband has a silkiness to it missing from the smaller displacement unit, and it retains its composure far better when pushed.

A0436a

As for the five-speed automatic that both versions wear, nothing negative to report – it really doesn’t miss an extra cog, with clean operation and good transition aspects evident.

The McPherson strut front and multi-link rear suspension geometry remains unchanged, though it has been upgraded with a 10% increase in damper volume. The ride is perceptibly that bit firmer on the 2.0 litre over its predecessor, but is still supple, and aided by the improved NVH makes for an able long-hauler. I can’t visualise how the 2.4’s measures up against before, but it’s noticeably harder riding than the 2.0.

Given the strong emphasis on sedan-like driving characteristics and good driving performance, it’d have been interesting to put the CR-V to the test beyond the scope of highway running. A quick jaunt revealed the hint of a keen and agile nature, and you get the sense that its composure and thresholds improve on the third-gen’s by a fair bit. We’ll have more to report on this when the CR-V eventually comes in for review.

I’m undecided about the steering on this one, though. The switch to a motion adaptive EPS from the existing hydraulic power-assist system does offer a faster and lighter rack, which is great for town use.

A0079a

It is however devoid of sensation when it comes to on-centre feel and gets twitchy when off-centre, and this vagueness takes some shine off the improved dynamic capabilities elsewhere. The existing hydraulic rack is so much better in terms of feel and communication, but most drivers won’t miss it, and will think the new, lighter offering to be a boon.

On the whole, the new CR-V takes what the old one did well, and improves on the things that count. Specification-wise, it does however feel a bit bare-boned in its 2.0 litre form, amplified all the more by the equipment list rattled off by some of its keenest rivals, which have also become far sharper looking tools.

So, you would think that the skies don’t look as clear for it as it did for the third-gen when it arrived on the scene, and the ability to remain the benchmark will be severely challenged by the likes of the CX-5 and, in the coming future, the Ford Kuga, with mastery of them no guarantee.

A0205a

But that would be without taking into account the badge behind the vehicle and the legacy gained by the third-gen RE. Taken under such consideration, the fourth-gen should continue cementing the appeal with buyers quite nicely.

I have a perfect example of how this thought process is served, and it sits very close to home. Three years on, the other half is thinking of replacing her third-gen CR-V example, and I’ve been steering her to look at the possibility of exploring new avenues on the SUV path. Yet, when the time comes, I have more than a suspicion that its replacement will be its evolution, everything else be damned.

Such is the clout then, and so, prepare to welcome the once and future king.

Tags: