In fifth generation form, Honda's CR-V is a quality family-sized SUV that really benefits from a quarter of a century of continuous improvement. Jonathan Crouch reports
Honda's fifth generation CR-V has evolved into something cleverer, classier and more efficient. Changes to the body structure and the optional 4WD system mean that handling's significantly more involving than it was before and the mainstream 1.5-litre VTEC TURBO petrol engine that features this time round is much more efficient. Hybrid technology also makes an appearance and customers can specify a seven-seat variant for the first time too.
How do you right a best seller? This is Honda's answer, the fifth generation version of a mid-sized SUV soft-roading CR-V model that has frequently been the strongest selling car of its kind in the world. In the past, this hasn't been a model that's jumped out at you from the spec sheet. No. You have to drive it. Use it. Fill it with family. Many of those experienced in doing just that probably won't even look at the alternatives before replacing their second, third or fourth generation CR-Vs with this MK5 model. It does, after all, offer a depth of engineering that many other rivals just don't have. Honda hopes that this will stand the CR-V in good stead - and not only against the volume brand mid-sized Qashqai-class SUVs it's traditionally competed against. The brand intends that this CR-V should also feature on the wish lists of buyers looking at premium brand models in this segment. Is that a realistic goal? That's what we're here to find out.
To begin with the range is mainly based around a 1.5-litre, VTEC TURBO four-cylinder petrol unit available in two states of tune, with either 170 or 190bhp. Alternatively, you can talk to your dealer about an alternative petrol electric hybrid version. Most though, will want the standard 1.5 VTEC TURBO powerplant, which with 170hp comes in manual form with two or four-wheel drive. The more potent 190hp derivative comes only with a CVT auto transmission and 4WD. The 4x4 set-up - Honda calls it 'Real Time AWD with Intelligent Control System' - is much improved, with an ability to send up to 60% of torque to the rear wheels when required, particularly during a hill climb. Through revisions to the calibration, the system also offers more dynamic cornering performance though feedback from the yaw rate and steering sensors. Honda also says that the electric power steering set-up has been re-tuned for extra feel. The much more rigid body this time round helps enormously here. A solid rear stabiliser bar sharpens turn-in and reduces body roll, while a new floating, rubber-mounted sub-frame structure improves noise isolation over the previous CR-V. Honda's Agile Handling Assist set-up, as seen on the Civic hatch, is fitted to the CR-V for the first time. The electronic stability system has been specially tuned for Europe to reflect typical road surface conditions and driving styles. It responds to steering inputs with subtle, discreet assistance for added safety and smoother, more predictable vehicle behaviour including stable cornering and lane change at roundabouts, both at low and high speeds.
Smarter, more sophisticated looks mark out this fifth generation CR-V, but as usual what's important is what lies beneath the panel work. Thanks to a comprehensive, ground-up design and engineering programme, this fifth generation CR-V features the strongest and most sophisticated chassis in the nameplate's history. A low-inertia and highly rigid platform is enabled through new body construction that uses advanced lightweight and high-tensile materials. Inside, as usual, the cabin is ergonomically spot-on - though not everyone will like the faux-wood panelling used on plusher variants. Honda has tried to improve the centre-dash infotainment screen, but it's still not as effective as rival set-ups. You're unlikely to complain about interior space though: second row passengers get lots of legroom and headroom is excellent, even if you specify the optional panoramic glass roof. The boot space is 561-litres with the second row in place, and 1756-litres with the rear seats folded flat - although if you choose that optional panoramic sunroof, you'll reduce this to 1638-litres. A key change this time round is the addition of a seven-seat variant, which offers a third seating row intended for small children. When it's erect, there's just 150-litres of luggage space behind, though that increases to 472-litres when you fold the bench into the floor. All of this is very similar to what you'd get from rival models in this segment.
Expect pricing to be much as before in the £26,000 to £35,500 bracket. That's a touch above the Qashqai-class crowd but a touch below what you'd pay for the premium-branded contenders in this category. Which could be tempting, given that a CR-V offers you more space than you'd get from models like Volvo's XC40 and Audi's Q3. Plus there's now a seven-seat version to compete with models like the Peugeot 5008 and the Volkswagen Tiguan Allspace. With the CR-V, 4WD is optional (costing £1,100 more) with the 170bhp engine and mandatory if you choose the 190bhp unit. There are four trim levels - 'S', 'SE', 'SR' and 'EX'. The CVT auto transmission comes only with 4WD and costs £2,310 more than the manual. Safety has been a key design consideration and, as with all Honda vehicles, the CR-V platform incorporates the brand's sophisticated 'ACE' ('Advanced Compatibility Engineering') body structure, which employs an interconnected network of front frames to absorb and deflect energy from a frontal collision. Honda's system is not only designed with 'self-protection' in mind, but also to minimise damage to other vehicles in the event of a head-on collision though its 'compatibility' engineering which absorbs crash energy and deflects it through multiple load paths around the passenger cell. In addition, as on a Civic hatch, there's the 'Honda Sensing' suite of active safety and driver assist technologies, which includes Lane Keeping Assist, Adaptive Cruise Control, Forward Collision Warning and a Collision Mitigation Braking System.
The 190bhp petrol engine mated to CVT auto transmission manages 39.8mpg on the combined cycle and 158g/km of CO2, which is pretty class-competitive. The best emissions come from the 2WD 170bhp manual model, which puts out 143g/km. The returns of all engines are aided by the standard fitment of a stop&start system - Honda calls it 'Idle Stop' - to cut the engine when you don't need it, sitting in heavy traffic or stopped at crossings and traffic lights for example. There's also the usual gearshift indicator light on the dash and various fuel-related trip computer read-outs that'll demonstrate how successful your recent efforts at frugality have been. Insurance groups range between 24E and 25E. Residual values look set to stack up very well if the last CR-V was anything to go by. On to the warranty, a three year/90,000 mile deal, which is a bit better than most rivals who tend to offer guarantees limited to 60,000 miles. There's also a fixed-price comprehensive aftercare package called 'Five' which includes five years' servicing, five years' warranty and five years' roadside assist.
It's easy to imagine yourself as target market for a car like this CR-V. You've a couple of kids, an active lifestyle, a need to haul things around and an aversion to rather dull large estate cars. This fifth generation model is likely to be an extremely easy thing to live with, the kind of car you'll own, then wonder how you managed without. That may not be a recipe for media headlines but it's an approach that other brands could certainly learn from, explaining why so many CR-Vs are bought by folk who previously owned one. These are people who'll heartily approve of the changes that Honda has made to this MK5 model - the smarter looks, the improved engine efficiency, the classier feel and the seven-seat option for those needing it. All of these things ought to allow the CR-V to reach out beyond its traditional customer base. And probably will.
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