When the CR-V nameplate started in the mid-90's, there were only really four (if memory serves) crossovers: the Toyota RAV4, Kia Sportage, Subaru Forester and the Honda CR-V. What a difference nearly 2 decades has made, as now the class has burst out of its shell with numerous models from carmakers around the world, including the premium categories.
How -in this crossover-saturated sea of models- could this new, 4th generation CR-V stand out then?
As the acronym goes, CR-V started out as the 'Compact Recreational Vehicle', though it soon changed to 'Comfortable Runabout Vehicle'. Honda wanted to highlight its use of a more pliant unibody/monocoque platform used in cars as opposed to the body-on-frame construction of classic SUVs.
Design-wise, I think the jury's still out on the new CR-V. I do like the front end that has a sleek sense of dignity about it, tapering up to convey a more prominent SUV presence. The rear, however, seems a little bit too flat, a bit too vertical (something that will come into play later on). The vertical taillamps look nice though, but overall I think the CR-V started out nice with the front fascia, but had a slight hiccup for the rest of the body.
The interior, however, is a different story. I like the interior design of the new CR-V; an opinion I never had of the previous version. The cabin feels quite premium, with a use of materials that really gave a high quality feel overall. The leather and fabrics feels great on the steering wheel and the seats. The buttons reach near european levels of quality. The plastics on the dash -like the Civic- are quite hard, but overall, that's the only problem I found.
This being the top of the line 2.4 EX model, it gets some pretty nice features. Standard is the new multi-media system as found in the Civic, giving the driver full control of the audio system via the multi-directional switch and buttons on the left side of the wheel. iPod connectivity is standard (no special cables needed), cruise control is standard for the EX, and of course, the usual array of power features. Honda have added a sunroof, while for safety, you get the stability control program along with the usual ABS and airbags.
What's remarkable about the new CR-V is the abundance of interior space. It's still a 5-seater compact crossover, but the roominess they generated felt akin to the larger and wider (but now discontinued) Mazda CX-7. 2nd row leg, hip and headroom is good for the class, however, it's really the cargo space in the back that is of note. Remember that rather flat, vertical tailgate? Having it that way, along with a boxy rear does provide plenty or room for stuff in the back, even with the rear seats up.
If memory serves, our drives with the previous generations of the Honda CR-V weren't exactly what you would call 'memorable'. Could the new model change that?
Judging by the spec sheet when the CR-V was launched earlier this year, it didn't seem like it. This EX model gets a 2.4 liter K24 i-VTEC motor, good for 185 PS and 220 Newton meters of torque. Honda didn't change much, as the previous model had the same engine choices (2.4L or 2.0L). Even the transmission for the 2.4 model is still a 5-speed auto with all-wheel drive, but the 2.0 gets a CVT with front wheel drive
What Honda went to work on was improving efficiency all around. They've fitted an ECON mode (activated by a button) on the dashboard, changing the transmission's shift program for better efficiency and adjusts the drive by wire throttle's response. With ECON mode off in the city (moderate traffic) fuel economy hovered around the 6.9-7.2 kilometers per liter range. With ECON on, the CR-V EX returns an extra 0.4-0.8 km/l under similar driving conditions. Not bad, considering the size of the engine and the size of the vehicle. On the expressway with ECON off, the CR-V gives 9.9-10.2 km/l. With ECON on, I was getting a 10.5-11.2 km/l under the same (light traffic) driving conditions, making for an extra 0.6-1.0 km/l. ECON works.
As a drive, straightline performance and handling is still not the CR-V's strong suit, though the 185 PS 2.4 engine is pretty decent. Where it does excel is in driving and riding comfort, as the suspension (especially the rear double wishbone suspension) does very well to soak up the worst of the Metro's streets and rough concrete. The seats are very comfortable too, and excels in minimizing fatigue over long drives.
The CR-V 2.4L EX AWD is a bit pricey at PhP 1,655,000, but I reckon the 2.0L LX FWD is the better buy of the two at PhP 1,425,000.
I've been very critical of the Civic in terms of design and lack of overall 'flavor', but the CR-V is different. Granted, the new CR-V isn't a revelation in the class especially in terms of driving performance, but there are plenty of other choices in the category if that's what you're looking for.
This new CR-V is where and what it should be: a very well rounded compact crossover that delivers what Honda's customers want: comfort, efficient, space and practical.
Makes sense, doesn't it?