The latest Honda CR-V nicely reflects the current changes in the automotive world – not only is there no diesel engine offered, but it’s also the first time Honda has introduced a hybrid SUV in Europe.
Now in its fifth generation, the CR-V has come a long way since it was launched in 1995 as a ‘Comfortable Runabout Vehicle’. To date, 280,000 have been sold in the UK alone.
Today’s car is the best-looking, most practical and advanced ever and is available either with a 1.5-litre VTEC turbo or an Intelligent Multi-Mode Drive (i-MMD) hybrid which comprises of a 2.0-litre i-VTEC engine, two electric motors and a lithium-ion battery.
We’ve been testing the conventionally-powered and hybrid versions of the CR-V to find out whether it’s a match for its rivals which include everything from the Mazda CX-5 and Volkswagen Tiguan at one end to the Toyota RAV4 and Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV at the other.
First impressions are good. Some of the pictures of the CR-V don’t do it justice. In the metal it’s modern and muscular with real road presence.
The front end and bonnet share DNA with its hatchback sibling, the Civic, while its profile echoes the outgoing CR-V, but it’s much better proportioned. If you like chrome, there’s a good deal of that too – especially on the grille, which is ‘active’ for aerodynamic efficiency, opening when necessary for engine cooling.
Inside, it’s spacious with ample room for adults front and back, while there’s a huge 561 litres (reduced by 64 litres on the hybrid because there’s a battery behind the seats), or 1,756 litres (1,697) with the rear seats flipped.
If you like lots of smaller storage spaces, there are plenty dotted around the cabin, while a seven-seater option is also available.
The cabin is well equipped with more of a durable than luxurious finish and there are plenty of soft-touch surfaces. The seats are comfortable, while the dashboard layout is straight-forward and functional.
The centre console is dominated by a 7.0-inch infotainment touchscreen and there are switches and dials dotted around. Ahead of the driver, there’s a digital display where most of the car’s essential info can be accessed. The system as a whole is by no means the most sophisticated in its class, but it does the job, plus it’s Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatible.
A head-up display can also be specified, but strangely Honda has opted for a system which includes pop-up piece of perspex, rather than the more usual unit which reflects info onto the windscreen. It may seem slightly lo-tech, but it works well enough and helps to keep your eyes on the road ahead.
You sit high in the cabin and visibility is good, while the seats are supportive and comfortable.
The CR-V is well- equipped with autonomous emergency braking (AEB), rear parking sensors, adaptive cruise control, LED headlights, automatic lights, driver’s side electric lumbar adjustment and safety aids including lane assist all standard from the entry model upwards.
Petrol or Hybrid?
If you prefer to stay with a conventional 1.5 VTEC petrol turbo, this option is priced from £25,995 to £30,995 and there are four trim grades – S, SE, SR and EX.
It’s available with either a CVT automatic gearbox or six-speed manual and with front or all-wheel drive (CVT is AWD only).
Power varies depending on which gearbox you choose, with the manual getting 171bhp and the CVT version 190bhp and slightly more torque. The latter takes 9.3 seconds to get from 0-62mph and has a top speed of 131mph.
Fuel economy ranges from 31.7mpg for the AWD seven-seater with CVT to 38.7mpg for the two-wheel drive manual. CO2 emissions are 143-162g/km.
If you want the greener option which is more economical and has tax advantages, especially for company car drivers, then the hybrid option might be worth considering.
This 181bhp hybrid system combines a 2.0-litre petrol engine and two electric motors. There is no manual option, just the eCVT automatic, though you can choose between front and all-wheel drive.
The two-wheel drive is a fraction faster (0-62mph in 8.8 seconds), while fuel economy ranges from 38.7mpg for the AWD to 40.9mpg for the two-wheel drive manual. CO2 emissions are 120-126g/km.
These fuel consumption figures do not sound outstanding, but they were obtained using the new stricter Worldwide Harmonised Light Vehicle Test Procedure (WLTP) which is meant to better reflect real world driving. Using the old testing system, claimed MPG would have been closer to 50mpg.
Priced from £29,105 to £37,255, it too is available in well-specified S, SE, SR and EX trim levels.
The CR-V Hybrid is driven by Honda’s unique i-MMD technology, which seamlessly switches between three driving modes – EV Drive, Hybrid Drive and Engine Drive.
At low speeds the battery powers the electric motors that drive the front wheels, and the engine is kept out of the equation (the pure EV range is about 1.2 miles).
When switching to Hybrid mode the engine supplies power to the electric motors, which then drive the wheels – plus it can charge the battery.
Finally, there’s Engine Drive, which comes into play at higher speeds. This allows the engine to directly drive the wheels, bypassing both the battery and the electric motors.
As you’d expect from Honda, the system is clever and works well, but is most efficient at lower speeds. Being able to switch to silent EV mode in town is rewarding, but at motorway speeds the economy advantage slips, in which case there’s probably little to choose between the petrol or hybrid versions.
That said, if you’re running a CR-V as a company car, then the hybrid has tax benefits.
There’s no gear selector like a traditional automatic car in the hybrid. Instead, Drive, Park, Neutral and Reverse are chosen by buttons on the centre console – just like Honda’s NSX supercar.
There are paddle-shifts behind the steering wheel, but these are not for changing gear – they adjust the car’s rate of deceleration and, in turn, the amount of power regenerated through braking.
One word of caution, the CVT transmission/engine combo is prone to being unpleasantly noisy, even under moderate acceleration, so unless you drive like a saint, the hybrid might not be for you.
How does the CR-V drive?
It would be wrong to call the new Honda CR-V exciting, but for a big SUV it’s surprisingly agile – and it’s certainly comfortable, refined and spacious.
Naturally, there’s a commanding driving position, it feels secure and cruises along nicely – and if you’re in a hurry, body roll is pretty well controlled. The steering is light and precise, while the turning circle is tight.
The regular petrol version feels slightly more nimble than the hybrid, no doubt due to the fact that it is not carrying around batteries and electric motors, and the manual version feels especially perky.
Opt for an AWD version and traction is impressive, even in the wet, but the front-wheel drive will do just fine for many owners living in urban areas, for instance.
The 1.5-litre petrol turbo works well, but can get a little vocal if pushed.
The hybrid is similar to the conventional petrol, with a slightly heavier all-round feel. Nevertheless, it rides well and soaks up the road nicely.
Yes, there’s that engine noise issue (mentioned earlier) with the hybrid – particularly if you’re a spirited driver – but then driving a hybrid and most electric cars is more about economy than performance.
For instance, switching to pure electric mode in traffic will save on fuel, as will driving smoothly and charging up the batteries when possible.
Oh, and worth trying the AWD and FWD versions. Unless you specifically need a 4×4, the front-wheel drive is slightly lighter and more agile.
Finally, one point to remember if you tow a caravan or horse box. The hybrid can only manage a braked trailer of 750kg, while the conventional manual can pull up to 2,000kg.
Verdict: Well-equipped, solidly built, comfortable, practical and refined, the new Honda CR-V is an accomplished big SUV offering the option of cutting edge hybrid technology. Factor in Honda’s superb reputation for reliability and the CR-V may well be a smart move.