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The recent Hari Raya holidays gave us a chance to catch up on cars that we might have missed. Instead of joining the exodus out of the Klang Valley, I decided to enjoy the rare occurrence of a deserted city by getting errands and home improvement work done, with some food hunting and catching up with old friends thrown in. What better way to criss-cross the city than with the Comfortable Runabout Vehicle?

The Honda CR-V is no spring chicken. The quintessential suburban family SUV is in its fourth generation now, with the current facelifted version appearing locally in January last year, two years after the RM made its Malaysian debut. That’s a long time in today’s fast-moving car world, and it does seem like rivals are younger, and perhaps fitter in the battle for SUV supremacy.

Is that true? Is this old hand’s tricks still magical after all these years? We revisit the CR-V.

The Honda CR-V has plenty of experience on its side. It had the original Nissan X-Trail as sparring partner back in the day when SUVs were square, but the rehashed second-gen Nissan failed to catch on in a changing segment. The CR-V evolved into the radical third-gen crossover, and continued to rake in the numbers largely unopposed, until the Mazda CX-5 came on the scene in 2012. More recently, Nissan re-entered the fray with the third-gen X-Trail, now full of curves and with no off-road pretensions.

The Korean tag team of Hyundai Tucson and Kia Sportage made quite a splash in 2010-2011 with design-led new models, but couldn’t sustain the momentum and are bit part players now. Ford – with the Escape and now the Kuga – had always been an outsider. Toyota overlooking this segment in this region is a mystery – only they would know why the RAV4 was never promoted in these parts.

That leaves three big players jostling for attention in the family SUV class – the old timer, its reinvented old rival and the young upstart.

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The third- and previous-generation CR-V truly established itself as the perfect family SUV with fantastic packaging and novel ideas that aren’t outdated to this day. The fourth-gen car rides on the same template.

The CR-V is 4,590 mm long, which puts it nearer to the visually smaller CX-5 (-35 mm) than the big-bodied X-Trail (+50 mm). The Honda’s wheelbase deficit is even more shocking – at 2,620 mm, it’s unchanged from the third-gen RE, a massive 80 mm shorter than the Mazda’s, and 85 mm shorter than the Nissan’s. But if you’re going to completely ignore exterior dimensions on the spec sheet for just one time, let this be it.

The space on offer inside is nothing like what its wheelbase length suggests. There’s plenty of legroom at the back for adults – significantly more than in the CX-5 – and there’s room under the front seats for feet to tuck into. We didn’t have an X-Trail on hand to compare, but the Honda’s rear living quarters should be at the very least a good match to the Nissan, which let’s not forget, has an 85 mm longer wheelbase. There’s also a bonus of a flat floor.

The packaging magic employed here isn’t new, and we’ve seen this sleight of hand before in the third-gen car. Like its predecessor, today’s CR-V does not just provide ample space for the family, but the many things they bring along too. There’s no lack of storage ideas for bottles, mobile phones and accessories and knick-knacks such as keys, cards and wallets.

The handbag-eating gap between the front seats are no more, but the tray is spacious and modular (there are two removable dividers), with separate compartments for the mobile phone and keys. It is in addition to the centre console box, a small cubby near the driver’s right knee, and door storage. Besides the usual bottle holder and door pull, there’s a little tray in the “middle level” of the front doors. We’re pretty sure that’s enough to satisfy everyone and their kids.

There are two power outlets in front – one on the centre console tray and one inside the bin – along with two USB ports. That’s a good total amount, but since both of the USB points are inside the centre bin, rear passengers might need extra-long cables for charging. Rear air con vents are present.

The cabin space and storage available is above and beyond what its rivals offer, and cargo volume is also class-leading. The CR-V’s hatch opens to a massive 589-litre space, which is 39 litres more than the X-Trail’s hold. It’s also big enough for two mountain bikes or four sets of golf clubs, Honda says. Fold the rear seats and maximum volume is expanded to 1,146 litres, measured up to the window line.

Equally as impressive as the sheer size of the cargo area is the ease of operation. One motion and the 60:40 rear seats tumble and fold away neatly, headrests included. The pyrotechnics can be triggered by levers on the boot wall (one on each side), and if you’re coming from the side, a pull jutting out from under the seat. The tonneau cover is easy to remove and install too, but there’s no underfloor compartment for it like in the X-Trail.

Another advantage that the Nissan has over the CR-V is a third-row of seats. The X-Trail’s “+2” seats are an asset to families that need the occasional carrying capacity, but for those who are content with a five-seater, the Honda is the most family-friendly SUV in its class by some distance. The CX-5? It’s a selfish sports car in comparison.

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Up front, with all your gear stowed away without fuss, it’s very easy to get comfortable. An eight-way power adjustable driver’s seat is standard across the range, and the chair itself is wide and comfortable. Our 2.4L 4WD tester came with a seven-inch touchscreen head unit with navigation (2.0L 4WD gets the same HU without navi), and the D-pad on the left steering spoke is easy to use.

Ease of use is a main goal of this “soccer mum” machine, and we’ve not seen a speedometer that’s as legible as the huge central dial of the CR-V. The fonts are simple and big and the 110 km/h mark is conveniently located at the 12 o’clock position. Also helpful is the multi-angle reverse camera and Honda LaneWatch, the latter exclusive to the 2.4L.

First sampled in the Honda Accord in 2013, LaneWatch provides the driver camera feed from the car’s left side on the central screen. The camera is housed on the left wing mirror and is effectively a “live” version of the BLIS blind spot assist lamp popularised by Volvo and common in European cars. It can be activated manually (tip of the lamp stalk) or set to come on automatically together with the left side signal.

I used to think of LaneWatch as gimmicky but after a few days of use, grew to appreciate the extra assistance it rendered. As the central screen is large and close to the driver, attention can still be directed forward when changing lanes. It’s useful, and adds another point to the “ease of use” column.

The design of the fourth-gen CR-V’s dashboard is traditional, and those who are into the sporty flavour of the CX-5 are likely to dismiss it as too old school. However, its cascading and wide layout adds to the impression of space, and the trim improvements/changes introduced for the facelift (leather-like panel with stitch facing the occupants, piano black trim with metallic accents, upgraded AC knobs, dark wood trim in the 2.4L) are successful in raising the ambience to a more upmarket, more Accord-like level.

The way the CR-V drives is familiar, but unique. Familiar because we would have known that it’s a Honda in a blind test. The K-series 2.4 litre makes 190 PS at 7,000 rpm and 222 Nm of torque at 4,400 rpm in this application, and the DOHC i-VTEC motor loves revs like I love Thai food. Low down torque is not its forte, but once you’re into the meaty mid-range, there’s only one way to go – a mad rush towards the 7,000 rpm redline and a similar jolt in speed.

As recently enjoyed in the previous-gen Accord-based Proton Perdana, the K24’s fine mechanical grind is typical of Honda. It’s nice if you, like me, like revvy naturally-aspirated engines; but if we’re being honest, such a character is probably not the best fit for a big SUV or sedan. It almost feels too racy in the CR-V.

A motor with inverse characteristics (strong off the blocks before tapering off) may be less pleasurable to wring out, but it would be more practical in the daily urban grind. When the time comes for it to finally retire, I’ll be very sad to see Honda’s K engine go.

The five-speed automatic is the perfect Robin to the motor’s Batman. The torque converter unit is quick, perceptive enough and does what’s required of it without hesitance. The 2.4L comes with steering paddles, but they’re not really needed – like a good football centre-back partnership, the drivetrain duo cover each other nicely.

That’s the familiar bit. Unique because the CR-V feels peppy where the Mazda’s efficiency-foucsed drivetrain feels occasionally lazy. The X-Trail, with its CVT gearbox, is all about getting to speed effortlessly with minimum noise and fuss. Speaking of noise, while today’s CR-V has better NVH levels than the previous generation of Hondas, it’s still not the most isolated SUV in town. That livewire engine ensures that.

Away from the attention-grabbing drivetrain, the CR-V’s steering is light and easy – a big contrast from the chatty helm of the CX-5 – making it a cinch to navigate in the city. It’s agile enough for what it is, but the tyres sound their warning pretty early on when pushed hard, which CR-V drivers rarely do. The ride is a little more knobbly over poor surfaces than I remember, which could be due to the 2.4L’s 18-inch wheels. Nowhere near uncomfortable, though.

It may be in the final third of its life cycle now, but the CR-V doesn’t look out of place in Honda showrooms, thanks to the Solid Wing Face look last year’s facelift brought. The new mask is a more assertive one, and the C-shaped LED DRLs (standard across the board along with HID headlamps) are distinctive. Equally striking are the shuriken-style dual-tone alloys of the 2.4L, although the 17-inch items on the base model look rather unique, too.

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The CR-V is one of those cars that can blend into your motoring life seamlessly. Despite its age, the Honda’s roominess and versatility are still highlights in the class. It has unusual verve too, this 2.4L 4WD, although experience tells us that the 2.0L will have adequate go and possibly a more cushioned ride from the smaller wheels/thicker rubber.

The big Honda’s ease of use as a family chariot stands out for me, and my wishlist for the next-gen car is: slimmer A pillars for better visibility into corners, and auto brake hold. The latter, which is good help at traffic lights and in jams, should be a given as the function is standard in the HR-V and new Civic.

A true Comfortable Runabout Vehicle, but there’s one more question to answer. The RM138,754 2.0L 2WD is nearly RM30k cheaper than this RM167,620 range-topper – and with the CR-V’s unique selling points not dependent on spec, the entry-level variant could be the pick of the range.