‘It’s better to burn out than to fade away’, or so reckoned the Kurgan from the 1986 cult movie Highlander. I say it’s preferable to just burn on, as I’m sure you’ll agree. But the truth is it’s never easy to maintain a winning position for an extended period of time. It’s what separates the greats from the mere shooting stars. As every performer knows, you have to keep reinventing yourself or risk the chance of becoming as appetising as yesterday’s McFries. The same applies to cars. Take the all-new CR-V for example. Has Honda managed to capitalise on the much-admired strengths of the outgoing segment leader while remixing the soft-roader formula to eliminate its weaknesses? Or is the CR-V star on the wane?
One of the weakest aspects of the old car was its aesthetics. That arcing side window graphic came across all hump-back, while the grille area looked like a grinning, toothless wonder with its dentures out. Well, the curved window graphic remains but it has lost the old car’s soft awkwardness thanks to an uptick in the window sill line aft of the C-pillar and generally sharper, edgier more contemporary Japanese lines. The radically reworked frontal styling is better resolved, yet also a tad wedgy like a locomotive cow catcher. A squarer rear end blends LED-fired vertical tail-lamps – a CR-V trademark – with grown-up Jazz elements and Volvo-like bumper creases at the rear. Larger, 18-inch two-tone wheels are a better fit within the wheelarches, which now feature black cladding that flows along the door sills and around both ends – useful battle armour for the parking lot melee.
Without question, the new CR-V wears a less awkwardly fitting and more stylish suit yet is one that surprisingly failed to turn many heads during its time with us. We’re obliged to concede the uglier predecessor was more distinctive.
The need for reinvention stretches to the interior as well, although most of the changes are driven by technological trends, additional equipment and a desire to improve perceived quality. In top-line petrol auto guise (as tested here), this translates to the inclusion of items such as two-position memory buttons for the driver’s seat, a five-inch colour display screen, gearshift paddles and ’phone controls on the steering wheel, a soft-touch facia covering supposedly patterned after marbled Kobe beef, and a reversing camera to supplement the park distance control.
Also immediately apparent is a change in architecture: up front where the old car had an open plan floor with separate centre console and armrest/storage area, the new facia console sweeps down to the carpet and extends towards the rear, fully dividing the front occupants. Alas, all this has achieved is to add a third drink holder, reduce the storage volume and subjectively cramp the cockpit. The switch to a darker trim hue also plays a role here, as does the otherwise welcome return of a conventional handbrake in place of the previous aircraft-style lever. Also overhauled are the main instruments, featuring a very dominant speedometer surrounding a tiny information screen, flanked by a rev counter and proper fuel and temperature gauges – the old car used light bars.
Considering overall length is down by five millimetres, Honda’s packaging crew have managed useful increases in luggage volume and internal dimensions. Boot capacity, to the window line, now measures 589 litres, growing to 1146 litres with the rear seats folded. And while the boot may have lost its split level load floor, the new release handle that drops the seatbacks and head restraints while flipping over the seat cushion in one easy action is very clever. A 140mm longer load length and a lower load height offset a tailgate that doesn’t lift as high as before, though only loftier foreheads will notice. Handily, there’s a full-size spare alloy beneath the boot section. Helping people keep their heads in hot weather is darkened side glass for rear occupants and a beefed up air-con system for all.
Sadly, an 18kW power boost – now 140kW – for the 2.4-litre petrol four is not enough to bring on ‘The Quickening’ – an electric sensation of great power experienced by Conner MacLeod in Highlander. Around town, pulling away from traffic lights it’s quite responsive and quiet, but get up to freeway speeds in higher gears and the CR-V feels positively languid. Several factors are to blame here, starting with the torque converter auto ’box. By electronically eliminating the dreaded hunting, Honda has delivered a five-speed transmission that, while it shifts cogs as smoothly as any, is thoroughly reluctant to kick down, even in Sport mode. (For those who do not wish for a meaningful, passionate relationship with the accelerator pedal, there’s a green button-activated ECON mode as well.) Regardless of mode, it takes an authoritative and lengthy stamp on the throttle pedal to cause a reaction.
Which would be fine if the engine wasn’t tuned to develop peak power at its 7000rpm redline. And with only 220Nm on hand from a highish 4300rpm, there’s not exactly a torrent of torque to encourage acceleration. Our recorded 0-100kph sprint times averaged out at 10.38 seconds, or about as fast as an electric milk truck. Attempting to overtake on an incline requires forward planning, several tugs on the left paddle shifter and patience. If your CR-V is more than just an urban commuter to you, we recommend the torquier, more efficient, very refined 2.2-litre turbodiesel.
But back to the 2.4, which consumed an average 8.8ℓ/100km over our mixed-cycle test route. Honda’s EU combined claim is 8.7ℓ/100km. An anomaly was the pessimistic fuel gauge that shouted for replenishment far too early. We’d often find that an indicated ‘empty’ tank would only require 45 litres to refill. Strange, considering its 58-litre capacity. Range-anxious folk take note.
CR-Vs have always enjoyed respectable cornering manners and decent rolling comfort. Larger tyres, a 9% stiffer body and recalibrated suspension settings have firmed-up the new car’s ride, and they’ve also taken dynamics up a notch. As before, double-wishbone rear suspension and newly-developed electronically-controlled all-wheel drive – aimed at quicker traction transfer to the rear when required – ensure sufficient grip when pushing on through corners, aided by effortless, well-geared electric-assisted steering. Balanced, composed and quiet, the CR-V underlines our understanding that Honda doesn’t often take engineering short cuts. Relatively speaking, it’s an impressive achievement that keeps the CR-V in line for the best-in-class handling award.
A bit of a mixed bag really. There is a great vehicle in here – better-looking than before with more kit and stellar dynamics – disguised by an engine/transmission combo that fails to convince when pushed. Does it move the game on? In some areas yes, in others not much. Despite this, you will buy the CR-V for its comfort and practicality, its badge and its (expected) hassle-free reliability, provided you’re willing to absorb the increasingly premium price tag of course. It’s tough to follow up on a winner, but Honda’s done a decent job. In the end though, there can be only one, so buy the diesel CR-V instead.