Honda CR-V review
New Honda CR-V is massively practical – and comfortable, too – but lacks sparkle compared to crossover rivals
The Honda CR-V is known for its practicality. When it was launched back in 1990 it was one of the original compact SUVs to hit the market, and now in its fourth generation with this facelifted car, the CR-V is more premium than ever without sacrificing anything in the way of usability.
This latest car now comes with the option of a high-output 158bhp 1.6-litre i-DTEC turbodiesel engine replacing the older 2.2-litre unit, as well as Honda’s new nine-speed automatic gearbox, which improves efficiency over the old six-speed auto unit.
On-paper economy is impressive, as is its refinement on the move, but it’s the Honda’s big boot that is the most appealing thing. The crossover sector is crowded and the CR-V has many rivals, but the likes of the Mazda CX-5, Hyundai ix35, Ford Kuga and Kia Sportage can’t hold a candle to the Honda’s spacious load bay, versatile rear seats and roomy interior.
Many of its competitors are more fun to drive, however, but the CR-V is a relaxed motorway cruiser – although we’d suggest sticking to the diesel engines on offer for the best balance of performance and efficiency.
The engine line-up is compact, with just three options to choose from, including 118bhp and 158bhp versions of Honda’s 1.6-litre turbodiesel, as well as a 153bhp 2.0-litre petrol engine. All are nicely refined, but it’s the diesels that make more sense, with lower CO2 emissions and greater efficiency helping keep a lid on running costs.
Alongside the three engine choices, depending on the power unit you can either have a six-speed manual or a nine-speed automatic, as well as two- or four-wheel drive.
The range is made up of S, SE, SR and EX models. All feature alloy wheels, climate control, cruise control and electrically adjustable and heated door mirrors, while you can add things like sat-nav and Bluetooth as part of Honda’s options packages – with only SR and top-spec EX models boasting integrated nav as standard.
Our choice: CR-V 1.6 i-DTEC 120 SE Manual
The previous generation Honda CR-V looked a little awkward from some angles, but the latest version has a cohesive, no-nonsense look about it. Compared to rivals such as the Nissan Qashqai and Mazda CX-5, though, the CR-V can look a little slab-sided and bland.
Wraparound headlights and a grille featuring three prominent chrome bars contribute to a more aggressive front end compared to its predecessor, too. Slight changes were made in early 2015, when the car received a light update to the front and rear – as well as tweaked suspension, steering and gearbox components. The overall design alterations add up to make a more attractive car, even if we wouldn’t exactly call it striking.
Inside, the dash in the CR-V is less button-heavy than other models in the Honda range, and the quality of plastics used is robust, even if they feel solid to the touch. However, the trade-off of this button-free design is that you get a cheap-looking touchscreen infotainment system slotted into the dash.
While it isn't the most exciting interior to be in, you get a sense that it will cope easily with the demands of family life. The only other major niggle is that the computer displays – housed above the sat-nav and in the speedometer – look a tad blocky compared to more recent rivals.
Honda has a strong history in building great engines, and the latest 1.6 i-DTEC diesel is one of its most impressive recent additions. The latest technology has been used to maximise efficiency in the CR-V, while it also delivers strong pace for such a small capacity in a car of this size. This engine is now also available with a new nine-speed automatic gearbox, although unfortunately this isn’t as good. It’s sluggish to respond and although gear changes are smooth, it dulls the engine’s performance.
The 1.6 i-DTEC is relatively quiet on start-up, with only a hint of diesel rattle. It remains a smooth and refined performer up to its 5,000rpm limiter. Opt for the six-speed manual instead of the new automatic unit and you’ll find it a pleasure to use thanks to precise gear changes. However, even despite its impact on acceleration, the auto suits the car's laid back, relaxed nature even better.
The rest of the CR-V's driving experience can't quite match the engine, though. This compact SUV has been designed with practicality and comfort in mind, so there's not much fun to be had. The plus side of this setup is that bumps and potholes are soaked up well.
Grip is also decent, especially on four-wheel drive models, but the slow steering means you have to turn the wheel more than you might expect to navigate a corner, which doesn't inspire confidence. If you want a more engaging Honda to drive with similar carrying capacity, it might be worth looking at the Volkswagen Golf rival, the Honda Civic.
As with most Japanese manufacturers, Honda has a strong reputation for building solid, reliable cars. It finished in 18th place in the manufacturer rankings in our Driver Power satisfaction survey, with the car itself placing in a strong 21st position. Owners praised its reliability, practicality, build quality and comfort, and Honda's dealers are well regarded, too.
The CR-V is one of the safest compact SUVs you can buy thanks to its five-star Euro NCAP rating. Honda also provides six airbags, tyre pressure monitors, stability control with trailer assist, and three Isofix points as standard equipment.
Kit like xenon headlights and front and rear parking sensors is reserved for higher spec models, though, while the firm’s autonomous braking and collision warning systems are also on offer to further improve safety.
The Honda CR-V is one of the most practical cars in the compact SUV class, and offers 589 litres of boot space with the rear seats in place. With these folded down, load space grows to a cavernous 1,669 litres. It’s helped by Honda’s Magic Seats – this means the back seat bases fold upwards and the backs down to create a flat load bay and masses of practicality. Handles in the boot allow you to complete this manoeuvre in one easy motion. The wide tailgate opens lower than the previous generation, making loading larger items an easy process, too.
Storage space inside the CR-V is impressive and the interior is well designed to cater for the demands of family life. A large armrest cubby-hole and big glovebox feature to help maximise interior space, while big door bins help for stowing items like mobile phones.
The CR-V is relatively well-equipped, with entry-level models coming with dual-zone climate control, 17-inch alloys wheels, multifunction steering wheel, heated electric mirrors and cruise control as standard. You can upgrade the specification to improve equipment levels, but be careful, as prices can rise steeply towards the top of the range.
What the CR-V lacks in driver involvement and excitement, the 1.6 i-DTEC engine more than makes up for with impressive fuel economy and CO2 figures. On the combined cycle, the lower-powered 118bhp CR-V returns a best of 64.1mpg (two-wheel drive manual model) and CO2 emissions of 115g/km.
The more powerful 158bhp i-DTEC diesel is still impressive, offering 57.7mpg and CO2 emissions of 125g/km according to Honda – replacing the 2.2-litre i-DTEC at the top of the CR-V tree. It’s only available with four-wheel drive.
The petrol versions are less frugal, though. The 2.0-litre VTEC engine has a strong thirst with combined cycle figures of 39.2mpg and CO2 emissions of 168g/km for manual, front-wheel drive models. These figures become even less impressive for cars specced with automatic gearboxes and all-wheel drive, at a worst of 36.7mpg and 179g/km CO2.