The CR-V is one of the pioneers of the compact crossover class. Together with the Toyota RAV4 and even the Subaru Forester, these three ignited in the mid-1990's something that can be described as a revolution: you no longer had to choose between the comfort and driving characteristics of a car with the space, versatility and height of an SUV. The vehicle, as the CR-V and its peers would prove, can perform as both.
Through the last two decades, the CR-V sold well. Extremely well, actually. Nearly everywhere you looked, there was a CR-V. Whether you're at parking lot of the mall, in line to enter your kid's school, at the driveway of your church on Sunday, the groundbreaking Honda crossover was there.
Today, the landscape has changed significantly. Many new players are in the game, and they went all in to get a good piece of the crossover pie. Some had better designs. Others had advanced turbo diesel engines. Some even found a way to engineer seven seats right from the drawing board. The rules of the game were changed by the players along the way, yet somehow -after driving this new CR-V- I have a feeling that will all change again.
22 years is a quite an achievement for a model line; locally, the CR-V was first launched in 1998. Over the years the CR-V underwent five generations; by contrast, the Toyota RAV4 is still on its fourth, despite pre-dating the Honda by about a year. This new one is the fifth.
Just by looking at the new CR-V, you know it's come a long, long way. If there's one thing every generation of the CR-V has represented since the 90's, it's progress. This is a crossover intended to show the great strides with automobile design, engineering, and technology.
Now there's this little test that I like to conduct every time there's a new model up for review, and involves a trip to the friendly neighborhood carwash. This is actually my personal little litmus test for any car's design; I take it to get cleaned and observe how many fellow customers walk up to check it out.
Just by observing the CR-V get cleaned up at the friendly neighborhood carwash, I can already sense that Honda got it right, judging by the response of the other customers in the other bays. They examined it closely, poring over the striking details, from the LED headlights, the grille, the creases on the flanks and the tailgate.
Personally, I liked the overall impression it gives, particularly that hue of red; they call it Passion Red. It looks great getting cleaned up, but even better when the sunlight strikes it. Some even came up to me just to say how they love the look and to ask which dealer I got the car from; apparently all the sales departments have run quite a queue for the model. The reception is not surprising; in a market addicted to anything with good ground clearance, the CR-V drew a far more interested crowd than the Ferrari 488.
When the CR-V was being dried off, they checked the interior as well. The dashboard elicited a few oohhs and aahhs, with many remarking how high quality the materials felt and the use of the same advanced features like the central touch screen infotainment system and the digital gauge cluster. But perhaps what drew the most mixed comments was the control panel for the automatic gearbox. Yes, there's is no gate-type or column shifter, just a control panel of buttons for P, R, N, D/S.
But there are three things that really sets the 2017 Honda CR-V -particularly this top-spec SX AWD variant- apart from its predecessors, and the first is its seating layout. Unlike the previous generation, this one seats two in front, three in the middle, and two more in the back.
Yes, Honda did come up with a detachable third row for the fifth generation CR-V, as well as a “10-seater” version for the second generation model (in 3-4-3 format) to fall under the AUV category, but this one is a true seven seater from the start. Mind you, the third row seats are not particularly comfortable for adults and definitely not for taller individuals. For kids, they're perfect.
The second is its powertrain: this is the first CR-V (and the first Honda) to be offered in the country with an i-DTEC engine. No, that's not a typo: powering the CR-V SX is a 1.6-liter common rail turbo diesel with 120 PS and 300 Nm of torque. To put that in perspective, the 2.0-liter i-VTEC variants have 154 PS of power and just 189 Nm of torque. Also, it has a 9-speed automatic gearbox driving all four wheels intelligently, depending on the need.
The third key innovation is a set of convenience and safety features called Sensing. Now I won't bore you with how it has features that would warn a driver if the CR-V deems that the driver wasn't alert (i.e. on long, exhausting drives) or how the gauge screen would flash when it detects a potential collision with the car ahead; you can find those in other cars. What's impressive about the Sensing package in the CR-V is the presence of a smart cruise control system that can follow another vehicle safely in traffic. When active, the car will assume control of acceleration and braking duties (including coming to a full stop) in traffic and maintain a safe distance to the car in front. Think of it like partial autonomy; it can't steer itself yet, but you'll be able to rest your right foot.
Now that the customary spec briefing is done, we can get to the driving. Truth be told, I've already been enjoying the CR-V's manners for a few days at this point. How it behaves in the city's (third) world class roads -potholes, botched tarmac patch jobs, and rough concrete- is stellar.
The CR-V SX also proved to be one of the easiest seven seaters to commute with in the city's narrow roads and even narrower parking slots. Like most of the other high-end Hondas, if you signal right, the camera under the right-side wing mirror will activate, easily showing vehicles that could be in the blind spot. Parking is a breeze; no guesswork needed with the rear camera and sensors. And of course there's the Low Speed Follow feature if you're in really bad, rush hour traffic or heading to the mall during one of the many sales that will undoubtedly happen in the next two 'ber months.
Fuel economy, as expected, is a high point of the CR-V. In city conditions with our debilitating pre-holiday traffic, the CR-V's 1.6 i-DTEC is easily able to clock in 9.7 kilometers to a liter (16 km/h average, driver only). And that's without even trying to be economical except for having the ECON mode on. During highway cruising at 86 km/h (average speed), the fuel economy was even better: 18.2 km/l. I had to verify that at the pump, and what the actual full tank to full tank reading resulted in 18.52 km/l. The i-DTEC hype is real.
Up to this point, I've really been only enjoying the Honda CR-V in town (which wasn't particularly enjoyable). Now I can take it up to the mountain and see what it can do.
Honda is known for small cars that can handle well, and clearly, that DNA shows with even the bigger CR-V. No, it's not a sports car or even a lightweight saloon, but there's a certain degree of confidence in the way it manages corners, particularly its weight.
When you corner, the CR-V rolls a bit and then holds it; no dramatic body roll, just excellent weight management and roll mitgation. And the CR-V's drivetrain is very impressive; it's still a big seven seater, but the surefootedness afforded by the all-wheel drive system and the torque transfer system (you can see it by manipulating the multi-info computer). Even heavy braking or high speed lane changes, the kind you'd have to do when you encounter someone who isn't looking around before trying to make a sudden U-turn without signals, is accomplished easily and with minimal drama.
After spending a lot of time driving the CR-V, it's clear that Honda has moved on from the original formula. Still, there are three things that I think could be improved. The suspension, while absorbent like a sponge, does generate enough noise to permeate into the cabin when it's taking some punishment. Some more sound insulation could fix that. The second -and this is just a preference thing- is the shifter control panel. The push button transmission controls are interesting but -quite frankly- there wasn't really anything wrong with the T-bar shifter.
Lastly, there's the engine: the 1.6-liter i-DTEC's performance is just right for the vehicle, but in this detuned state, it could be a lot better. There's another version of the same 1.6-liter i-DTEC with less conservative tuning that generates 160 PS and 350 Nm; figures that are more apt for a CR-V that's designated as top-of-the-line.
Overall though, it's hard to argue with Honda's logic. The CR-V is perfect for what they intended it to be: a truly comfortable runabout vehicle that's adapted so well to thrive in our conditions. This version is quite pricey at just a shade over PhP 2 million, but there are other variants to choose from, especially since the advanced features are really more of novelties rather than necessities.