THE HONDA CR-V HAS BEEN AROUND FOR TWO DECADES, BUT AGE HASN’T WEARIED IT. IT STILL COMMANDS RESPECT IN THE MEDIUM SUV (FORMERLY COMPACT SUV) SEGMENT.
Now in its fourth generation, a Series II update arrived last year, giving it a little more ammunition against the top-selling Mazda CX-5 and Toyota RAV4.
Although the 2.0-litre two-wheel drive CR-V range starts from $27,490 (plus on-road costs), the 2.5-litre four-wheel drive range kicks off from $32,790 (plus orc) and ascends beyond $40k.
The model we’re testing is the 1.6-litre four-wheel-drive CR-V DTi-L. A limited edition (we get just 90 units), it costs $44,290 (plus orc), is exclusively made in the UK rather than Thailand, and boasts a new twin-turbo diesel and nine-speed automatic.
Vehicle Style: Medium SUV
Price: $44,250 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 118kW/350Nm 1.6 4cyl twin-turbo diesel 4cyl | 9sp automatic
Fuel Economy claimed: 5.9 l/100km | tested: 6.1 l/100km
Until recently, Honda’s CR-V came with just four-cylinder petrol engines. Then it added – briefly – a 2.2-litre turbo-diesel to the range. And now that engine has been replaced by a 1.6-litre twin-turbo diesel.
It’s brand new, and, for such a tiny engine, it makes stellar figures – 110kW of power and 350Nm of torque.
The nine-speed automatic, sourced from transmission manufacturer ZF, also represents a massive technical leap from the outmoded five-speed automatic still used in the 2.4-litre petrol CR-V.
On paper, it appears that Honda is finally getting its engineering mojo back (after years of post-GFC stagnation) – but how well does the new engine work on-road?
- Standard equipment: cruise control, power windows and mirrors with heating, keyless auto-entry, multi-function trip computer, dual-zone climate control air conditioning, leather seat trim with front heating, electrically adjustable driver’s (8-way) and passenger (lumbar) seat, electric tail-gate, illuminated vanity mirrors, automatic headlights and wipers
- Infotainment: 7.0in touchscreen with USB/AUX/HDMI inputs, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming and satellite navigation with traffic updates
- Options fitted: none
- Cargo volume: 556 litres (1648L back seat folded)
The Honda CR-V boasts one of the more ‘homely’ cabins in its segment. By that, we don’t mean that it lacks style, but rather it is perfectly suited to domestic life.
Up front, there’s storage everywhere, including a massive console-bin and three large cupholders.
One row behind there is a flat floor and air-vents that are missing from rivals CX-5 and RAV4. Legroom is plentiful and the backrest reclines, just in case the plentiful headroom isn’t quite enough.
The 556-litre boot is among the largest in the category. The rear seat folding mechanism is inspired, dropping the backrest and bench into the floor at the simple touch of a lever to almost triple the volume available.
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There’s also an electrically operated tailgate that won many fans over this writer’s Christmas break (many presents, not enough hands).
In fact, the diesel’s single luxury specification best shows off this Honda’s other star attraction: quality.
All Series II versions boast soft-touch plastics, and, for detailed fit-and-finish, there is no other medium SUV that can match the CR-V. Each shutline is tight and every bin-lid (plus even the USB port-lid) has the same damping and ‘click’ on closure.
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High-grade leather also teams with an electrically adjustable driver’s seat to create a very comfortable driving position.
The omission of both an electrically adjustable passenger’s seat (only powered lumbar) and sunroof are slight dips on the scorecard, but the standard infotainment system proves the biggest disappointment.
The CR-V lacks a digital radio (standard on RAV4 Cruiser), while the satellite navigation system is one of the least intuitive we’ve used. Low-resolution graphics aren’t ideal, either, while the buttons are the only ones in the cabin that feel cheap.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine output and configuration: 118kW/350Nm 1.6 4cyl twin-turbo-diesel
- Transmission type and driveline configuration: AWD
- Suspension type, front and rear: MacPherson strut front, independent rear
- Brake type, front and rear: ventilated front and solid rear discs
- Steering type, turning circle: electrically assisted mechanical steering, 11.0m
- Towing capacity: 600kg (unbraked), 1200kg (braked)
The 1.6-litre in the CR-V DTi-L uses two turbochargers, one small for low revs, one large for higher revs, to produce outputs the equivalent of a modern 2.0-litre engine.
The diesel rattles at idle, but smooths out when accelerating to deliver more punch than its 118kW power output (at a high 4000rpm) indicates. It is superbly distant when throttled.
Peak torque, a worthy 350Nm, comes in at 2000rpm. Below that, however, the diesel feels a bit lifeless and hollow (it is pushing 1754kg around, after all).
Keep it on the boil, though, and the diesel jewel under the bonnet will not disappoint when you need to rely on a burst of acceleration. It can feel quite lively if driven with a bit of enthusiasm.
The automatic however won’t drop into ninth gear until 115km/h, which spins the engine at just 1500rpm. In fact, the slightest throttle input or gradient causes the transmission to return to eighth (at 1900rpm).
By comparison, the 2.2-litre twin-turbo diesel in the CX-5 makes 420Nm at 2000rpm, and is more ‘settled’ as a result.
So, although having nine gears is terrific, a small engine in a big car arguably can’t maximise all those cogs. Around town is where this automatic is best utilised, flicking through the ratio range seamlessly and effectively.
On-test urban economy of 8.5 litres per 100 kilometres is perhaps more impressive than the 5.9 l/100km achieved on a two-up, 800km freeway drive from Sydney to a coastal town and back. That latter figure, incidentally, is bang on the ‘combined cycle’ claimed average.
The fitment of 60-aspect 18-inch tyres on this DTi-L limited edition does wonders for the ride of the CR-V. The suspension can be overly firm for a medium SUV, however the chubby rubber nicely rounds off imperfections and big hits from the tarmac.
They also likely help with road noise, which is quite muted (and improved on the 19-inch rims).
The steering errs on the heavy side for urban usage, but is otherwise direct and pleasant.
Overall, the handling is safe, well-connected to the road and enjoyable without being as dynamic as the CX-5.
ANCAP rating: 5-stars. This model scored 35.91 out of 37 possible points (tested 2012).
Safety features: Six airbags including dual-front, front-side and full-length curtain, ABS, ESC, front and rear parking sensors, multi-angle reverse-view camera and hill-descent control
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
The Tucson is brilliant in top-spec diesel trim, as is the CX-5 GT – the former is cushy and classy, the latter grunty and sharp. The Forester boasts the best value equation, while the RAV4 runs the CR-V closest for cabin space.
- Hyundai Tucson Highlander
- Mazda CX-5 GT
- Subaru Forester 2.0D-S
- Toyota RAV4 Cruiser
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
More than just the solid new drivetrain, it’s the way the totality of the package gels in this CR-V DTi-L that is most impressive.
Engine and on-road refinement sit harmoniously with the spacious and impeccably-built cabin. There are layers of sophistication with this car that the CR-V has been lacking; it’s a shame the DTi-L is only a 90-unit limited edition.
It is getting pricey, but, mostly, so are its diesel AWD competitors in this medium SUV segment. Among the CR-V stable, we think this one is better buying than its petrol-engined stablemates, but the operation of the navigation needs to be improved and the infotainment is not what it should be at this price.
Honda however seems to be finally getting its technical mojo back, this is a compelling drivetrain combo, and we hope that’s not ‘limited’ to this model.