When the Honda CR-V first came out in the country in 1997, the Philippine market met it with good reception thanks to the added practicality of a large cargo area and a high driving position. From college students to junior executives, the CR-V fulfilled the needs of many. I even drove one in my early years of driving and, rather heavy fuel consumption aside, it was a headache-free ownership experience.

Honda CR-V rear

The CR-V is now in its fourth generation which arrived in the country in 2012. To keep it fresh and competitive in the crossover market, it got a minor model change last year. With new models cropping up left and right, does the CR-V still have what it takes to lure buyers in the ever popular segment? I took one for a spin to find out.

First, the exterior. Body-wise, it's the same car we've been seeing on the roads since 2012 but subtle revisions were made to keep it looking fresh. A new grill and the addition of LED daytime running lights sums up all the changes made to its exterior. It does have new color options, namely Sporty Blue, which is what you see here. Overall, the fourth generation CR-V is a slightly more angular evolution of the third generation model. Of course, it wouldn't be a CR-V without those distinct vertical tail lights.

Honda CR-V d

As with the exterior, interior changes are minor. It even has the same steering wheel as the 2012 model. Stepping inside, the biggest and most obvious change is the new touchscreen infotainment system, ditching the old button-laden head unit. You now get two screens in the CR-V, one for vehicle information and the aforementioned touchscreen. The rest of the interior carries over from the pre-facelift model. Still, it's a high quality interior that will last a long time. One minor gripe though, the top of the dash is made of rather hard plastic whereas the first generation model had a soft touch dashboard all throughout. The seats are nice and comfortable though, providing pretty good levels of side bolstering and thigh support. As for space, interior accommodation is generous with a lot of head, leg and knee room for all five occupants.

Back in the day, 4x2 CR-Vs usually got a lot less equipment and felt rather bare but not in this model update. With the mid-level 2.0 S model, it gets cruise control, an abundance of USB and 12V sockets, a provision for HDMI cables, stability control, traction control and a lot of airbags. Even when you step down to the base 2.0 V, it still gets a lot of standard kit sans the touchscreen, stability control and HID headlights. Speaking of the touchscreen, it is the only part of the CR-V that draws flack from me. Small buttons and sub-menus buried deep in the system won't be friendly to first time users and people with wide fingers. There is a bit of a learning curve figuring out the touchscreen but thankfully, the steering wheel controls are there to help with basic functions.

Honda CR-V R20 engine

The familiar R20 carries over from the pre-update model and it produces 153 PS and 190 Nm of torque. Another carryover is the 5-speed automatic gearbox which sounds a little dated in this day and age of 6-speed automatics and CVTs. At least there's paddle shifters as a form of manual override when taking on steep inclines and overtaking.

Despite the early-2000's-like powertrain specs, the CR-V pulls itself well around the city. It feels peppy and responsive off the line with the smooth transmission that can be mistaken for a CVT. No shift shock, no lag, it just changes gears with no fuss. It's a quiet and relaxing drive too with the engine just giving out a quiet hum when cruising. The light steering also makes easy work of tight u-turn slots and parking garages. It rides well too, easily taking on road imperfections although I did notice the odd lateral movement when I drove through speed bumps.

Out on the highway, the CR-V made for a quiet and comfortable cruiser. Older CR-V's had rather loud engines but this new one is noticeably hushed, with road and wind noise levels toned down. Crosswind stability was good too, keeping the car planted even with strong gusts of wind on the highway. On a long trip, the CR-V didn't give me a sore back, providing ample amounts of lumbar support. All in all, it's a painless and effortless car to drive everywhere you go. Efficiency is highly competitive too. I managed to get 7.8 kilometers per liter in the city in heavy traffic with Eco mode shut off from time to time. Out on the highway, I managed to get as high as 16 kilometers per liter with three passengers and a full load of camera equipment and luggage. On a more congested highway, I got 13.1 kilometers per liter.

Honda CR-V front

At this point, you can probably figure out that there is a lot to like about the CR-V. It's easy to drive, light on gas, practical and well-equipped. One thing the CR-V doesn't do however is stir your soul. It's the sort of car you run to the ground once you go past its warranty. From an enthusiast standpoint, the CR-V is a competent car and some alternatives offer more driving pleasure such as the Mazda CX-5 and the Subaru Forester. On the flipside, when you think about it logically, the CR-V offers a wide range of talents and caters to people's needs with aplomb.

At Php 1,498,000, Honda's evergreen crossover is treading on bigger, 7-seat SUV territory but then again, most of the offerings in this segment are at that price point, But think of the CR-V not as an SUV but as a station wagon and the car presses all the right buttons if you're being sensible. Perhaps you can even say that the Honda CR-V is the thinking man's crossover. No wonder it's still on a lot of people's shortlist when shopping for a crossover.