It was the early 90's and the SUV market was well on its way to the success it is now. Back then, most SUVs were based on pickups and not exactly car-like to drive. By the mid-90's however, the term crossover would skyrocket to popularity and become one of the hotly contested segments in the world.
In the Philippines, the car that brought the crossover to the mainstream is perhaps the Honda CR-V. First introduced in our country in late 1996, it has become one of Honda's strongest sellers in the local market since. As the fifth generation CR-V roll off the dealership lots, let's take a look at the models that came before it.
Before the CR-V
In the 80's, Honda had toyed with the idea of a light off-road vehicle. Called the Honda Civic Shuttle 4WD, it was essentially a Civic with slightly raised ride height, larger mudflaps and, more importantly, a four-wheel drive system. Its four-wheel drive mechanism was a particular novelty. At the time, most 4WD mechanisms were mechanical which needed a lever to engage the said mode. In the Civic Shuttle 4WD, a simple flick of the switch engages the rear wheels and, later in its life, even gained a low-range transmission.
By the late 80's, Honda introduced the second-generation Civic Shuttle 4WD. Also known as the Beagle, it followed the formula of its predecessor. Higher ground clearance, all-wheel drive and even underchassis skid plates were part of the package. Honda probably knew they were on to something at the time and set the precedent for one of Honda's most successful models of all time.
First Generation (1995-2001, RD1-RD3)
With the experience gained from building the Civic Shuttle 4WD, Honda went on to develop their first, built from the ground-up SUV. With its design finalized in 1993, the production model made its debut in Japan in 1995, a few months ahead of the car it was based on, the sixth-generation Civic (EK). From its looks alone, this was no raised Civic wagon.
For starters, it came with a more advanced Realtime All-wheel drive system which meant there was no longer the need for a switch to send power to the rear wheels. Being based on the Civic, the CR-V got the suspension goodies from it as well. It had double wishbone suspension on all four corners, giving the first-generation CR-V a bit of dynamic flair. With a 2.0-liter engine under the hood, it initially had 126 PS but later gained 21 more horsepower for a total of 147 PS.
This generation of CR-V was built in Santa Rosa, Laguna and was launched in the country by late 1996. It practically opened the floodgates for 'Mini-SUVs' and further broadened the appeal of the Honda brand in the Philippines. Also, who could forget the built-in table which also served as the cargo area's floor?
Second Generation (2001-2006, RD4-RD9)
The new millennium saw an all-new Civic and, with that, an all-new CR-V. The second-generation model saw several significant updates and upgrades to the CR-V range. For its second iteration, the CR-V received an all-new engine in the form of the K20 series. The new engine packed i-VTEC, bringing variable valve timing to the CR-V for the first time. Also, the second-generation CR-V lost the impressive (but expensive to produce) double wishbone front suspension and in its place were a pair of struts.
The body also grew significantly from the first generation, giving it more room inside. Honda even kept the novel picnic table from the previous model. Still built in Santa Rosa, Laguna, it was initially available as a 2WD, nine-seater model. A few years down the line however, there would be more technical innovations to come.
When the facelift model was launched, it saw the return of the all-wheel drive variant but this time, it had more power to boot. All-wheel drive CR-Vs now came with a larger 2.4-liter i-VTEC engine with 160 PS and 220 Nm of torque. Over in Europe however, the CR-V received Honda's first-ever in-house diesel engine: the i-CDTi. The 2.2-liter mill produced 150 PS and 350 Nm of torque, making it the most potent CR-V at the time
Third Generation (2006-2012, RE3-RE7)
By its third generation, Honda gave the CR-V a revolutionary redesign. Gone was the mini-SUV look of the past two models and in its place was a much larger, longer and rounder body. The side-opening rear door had been replaced by a more conventional upwards raising tailgate and the spare tire was moved to inside the car. Of course, the changes go beyond there.
The interior was comparably more upscale than before, bringing the CR-V upmarket. At the same time, this era of CR-V brought in more safety tech and equipment. It became the first CR-V to offer stability control, as well as a host of airbags from front to rear. With portable MP3 players becoming more popular, the third-generation CR-V also came with handy auxiliary ports. This was the CR-V for the iPod generation.
Aside from more tech, the engine range got significant upgrades. The 2.0-liter engine now uses the R20 block, making it run cleaner than the model it replaced. As for the 2.4-liter engine, it got a healthy boost and made 170 PS and 218 Nm of torque. While it's sad that this model was no longer being built in Santa Rosa, the third-generation model set the template for the next two CR-Vs.
Fourth Generation (2012-2017, RM1-RM4)
The global economic crisis hit a lot of automakers hard and Honda was not spared. Despite that, the Japanese automaker persevered and came up with the fourth-generation CR-V. Whereas the the third-generation was a radical step, this particular model was more conservative. Still, it didn't stop Honda from trying to keep the CR-V bang up to date.
It had an upgraded infotainment system and, along with that, a more informative driver information display to keep track of vehicle status. It also carried over the comprehensive safety suite from the previous model, making the CR-V one of the safest cars on the road. With the crossover segment becoming even more competitive, Honda made the rear quarters even bigger, giving it more room than its already spacious predecessor.
As for the engines, they were carried over from the old model meaning it was the 2.0-liter and 2.4-liter with the same power outputs. Over in other markets, they got a new turbodiesel in the form of the new i-DTEC engine. However, it won't be long until we get this long-awaited engine.
Fifth Generation (2017-present,)
With the critical acclaim of the tenth-generation Civic, it's safe to say that Honda pulled out all the stops with the fifth-generation CR-V. While the exterior is evolutionary, it's quite the revolution under the hood. Over a decade since the first diesel CR-V set foot in Europe, the Philippines finally gets the i-DTEC engine.
Along with that engine, the all-new CR-V presents a series of firsts for the local market. The diesel-powered fifth-generation CR-V benefits from a nine-speed automatic transmission, replacing the old five-speed units which have served local-spec variants for ten years. That said, Honda did not ignore those who still prefer gas engines. The 2.0-liter engine now benefits from Earth Dreams tech and it's now mated to a continuously variable transmission, a first for Philippine-spec CR-Vs.
It's also packed with a lot of safety tech too with Electronic Parking Brake with Auto Brake Hold, Agile Handling Assist, Driver Attention Monitor, Vehicle Stability Assist, Hill Start Assist, Anti-Lock Braking System with Electronic Brake Distribution, Emergency Stop Signal, Multi-View Reverse Camera with Dynamic Guidelines, and a Low Tire Pressure Warning. A stark contrast to the first-generation model which didn't even have Anti-lock brakes.
It's been 22 years since Honda first showed the CR-V to the world and it's quite a big lead since then. Who would have though that a CR-V would be packing features unimaginable from when it was first launched. The CR-V has also done a lot for the brand in those years, namely being the the car that would expand Honda's crossover lineup both here and abroad.
The BR-V, HR-V, and even the Pilot can credit their existence to the original CR-V. Without it, Honda would have likely been left behind in the crossover market. As a former CR-V owner myself, I could say that Honda's original crossover has become a car for all classes. It's become a solid second-hand buy for first time drivers and, at the same time, has brought people from all walks of life to their destinations.
Even as Honda's crossover range keeps growing, the CR-V is still the name that first comes to mind when someone says 'Honda SUV'. Needless to say, it has become part of the local motoring landscape.