Honda CR-V

Despite what some say of an estate/wagon/shooting brake revival being on the horizon, we know that the very vehicle responsible for their decline is unlikely to be fazed. Demand for the SUV/crossover continues to rise in many parts of the world – even in traditionally estate-loving Europe. It is a hugely significant, not to mention profitable, market.

Whether you maintain the letters stand for ‘Compact Recreational Vehicle’ or ‘Comfortable Runabout Vehicle,’ the Honda CR-V is among the leaders, and the pioneers, of the high-rider brigade. With upwards of five million units sold worldwide since 1995, not only is it a success story; it’s a household name.

By now you know quite a bit about the fourth-gen car, including how well it’s been selling since its arrival on our shores in March. You’ve also read third-gen CR-V owner Anthony’s report on the 2.0 and 2.4 litre variants he sampled in Thailand.

And now here comes a dash of local flavour – Honda Malaysia recently organised a test drive of the smaller-engined SUV in Langkawi, which I had the pleasure of participating in. As Anthony has already covered the car in so much detail, my account will serve as an alternative view.

Honda CR-V

Since they say so much about first impressions, let’s start with the way it looks. The previous-gen’s split-level, double-grille face has made way for a neater single-piece, three-bar affair that eats into the slimmer headlamps on a slightly higher nose. An even cleaner alternative is a chrome-surround, honeycomb front grille from the Modulo accessories catalogue.

A big majority of the photos in the brochure are of the car’s rear-three quarters, and I can understand why. It is from this angle that you see clearly the pronounced body swage lines, the sharply-kinked C-pillar and how the tail lamps are carved to yield to that kink.

To appreciate all this kinky talk, consider the old car – its side windows simply descended into a soft curve at the base of the C-pillar, leaving an unresolved space at the roofline. The kink effectively balances it out by dividing this space evenly down the middle, while making the cab profile look longer. It’s altogether tauter, less bulbous and more athletic. Less soccer mom-ish, too – although only time can substantiate this claim.

The cockpit is more function than form – there’s no faulting the ergonomics (particularly the huge radio buttons) or the feel of the material and switchgear, but after the Cubist-futuristic dashboard designs we’ve come to associate with Hondas of late, this one looks a tad ordinary. Possibly the only unconventional element is the shape of the central vents, and even then it’s not what you’d call avant-garde, is it?

The five-inch i-MID screen, which is also the reverse camera display, is located in a deep, gaping recess in the middle of the dashboard. It looks a little lost in that cave. I suppose the recess goes some way towards eliminating screen glare; yet it can sometimes be tricky to read at a glance.

Where the CR-V really impresses is in the business of seat-folding; what Honda calls one motion-fold rear seats. Once you have the headrests retracted, simply yank a strap and stand back for a lesson in origami as the seat base lifts forward and the seat back bows flat – all in one graceful spring-loaded motion – giving you 1,146 litres of load space up to the window line.

Even better is the fact that you can fold the seats from the boot as well as from the rear doors – there’s a strap at the seat base and a handle in the boot. Add to this clever contraption an abundance of cubbyholes and useable interior space, and the practicality box gets a nice big tick, while rear air-con vents heighten passenger comfort.

Flick open the jack-knife key, twist it in the ignition and the 2.0 litre SOHC i-VTEC stirs into life. Just by the way it starts, you know it’s going to be a joyously free-revving unit – and it is. Thank goodness for that, because with peak figures of 155 PS and 190 Nm of torque arriving at 6,500 rpm and 4,300 rpm respectively, those revs are needed if some urgent progress is to be made.

Honda CR-V

Numbers tell the tale better for some, so here goes – the Honda CR-V 2.0 gets from 0-100 km/h in 12.7 seconds, en route towards a 183 km/h top speed. Just enough for the job, but don’t forget the 2.4 litre variant, with 190 PS at 7,000 rpm and 222 Nm at 4,300 rpm at its disposal, is due very soon.

The five-speeder’s gearchanges are not imperceptible but well damped, and the engine emits a clean, muted note that rises to a civilised crescendo as the revs pile up. Refinement at speed is above par as well, with 110 km/h corresponding to an inaudible 2,000 rpm and wind noise largely absent. Central to this are improved aerodynamics and a flat underfloor, cutting drag, Honda says, by eight percent over the previous car.

No complaints as far as ride comfort is concerned – although admittedly, Langkawi’s tarmac is absolute bliss when compared to the surface of Mars that is the Klang Valley’s, so it is very likely that the ‘best’ KL can throw at it could sway opinions one way or another. However, the suppleness of the suspension and its long travel should help its case a fair bit. Body roll is present, but well controlled.

Generally, it’s a very easy vehicle to drive, particularly about town, with all-round visibility being very good and the steering altering its weight adequately and seamlessly according to speed. Steering response is above average, and road surface feedback sufficiently isolated, but a little more feel would do no harm.

Other features include an ECON mode (influencing the throttle, gearbox and air-con), ‘Real Time 4WD’ that sends drive to the back wheels only when needed, cruise control, a foot-operated parking brake and a six-speaker audio system with USB. Safety-wise, there are four airbags, ABS, EBD, VSA, TCS and ISOFIX mounts.

Of course, the upcoming 2.4 litre variant should be more generously endowed – the Thai-market car gets leather seats, a two-DIN 6.1-inch colour touch-screen with Garmin navigation, shift paddles, 18-inch alloys, power seats, Bluetooth, HID headlamps and keyless entry and start, amongst others. We’re told it should cost around RM190k, but it remains to be seen how much of the Thai car’s equipment will carry over to our car. Not long to wait now!

All things considered, where the fourth-gen Honda CR-V is concerned, there really isn’t much to worry about. Whilst there are niggles in places, they are easily overlooked and do little to undermine an 18-year old tried-and-tested formula. Talk about practising what you preach; the Honda CR-V is a very comfortable runabout vehicle indeed.