Honda CR-V review
New Honda CR-V is impressively practical, and comfortable, too, but it lacks the driving sparkle of some class-leading crossovers
The Honda CR-V is known for its practicality. This was one of the original compact SUVs when it was launched back in 1995, and the recent facelift of the latest fourth-generation model has given the CR-V more of a premium feel than ever, without sacrificing anything in the way of usability.
On-paper economy is impressive, as is the car’s refinement on the move, but the most appealing thing remains the Honda’s big boot. The crossover sector is crowded and the CR-V has many rivals, but the likes of the Mazda CX-5, Hyundai Tucson, Ford Kuga and Kia Sportage can’t hold a candle to the spacious load bay, versatile rear seats and roomy interior.
Many of its competitors are more fun to drive, but the Honda is a relaxed motorway cruiser – although we’d suggest sticking to one of the diesel engines for the best balance of performance and efficiency. The bigger issue is going to be price, as a decent-specification Honda CR-V costs at least £25,000 – and there are some seriously talented alternatives that are considerably cheaper than that.
The Honda CR-V is sold only as a five-door, five-seat SUV. At more than 4.5 metres long, it’s probably too big to be considered a crossover, hence the SUV tag.
Not all CR-Vs are equipped with four-wheel drive, though, as front-wheel-drive models make up nearly half the 11-strong range. There are two engines in three power trims: a 1.6-litre turbodiesel with either 118bhp or 158bhp, and a 2.0-litre normally aspirated petrol unit with 153bhp.
The i-DTEC 120 diesel (the number relates to the CR-V’s output in PS) can only be had with two-wheel drive and a six-speed manual gearbox, while the i-DTEC 160 is four-wheel drive only, with a choice of the manual transmission or a new nine-speed automatic; indeed, the auto can only be selected on 4WD CR-Vs. The petrol version, badged i-VTEC, can be specified with two or four-wheel drive, and hooked up to either a manual or automatic.
Honda also applies the ‘Earth Dreams Technology’ tag to its latest powerplants, which aim to serve up a blend of driving pleasure and strong economy. Trim lines are simple and run S, SE, SR and EX.
The CR-V sits above the HR-V in the UK line-up, and is the largest model Honda offers here. It competes in a hugely congested and competitive marketplace, covering vehicles as diverse as the Nissan Qashqai, Skoda Yeti, Kia Sportage, Ford Kuga, Volkswagen Tiguan, Mazda CX-5 and Toyota RAV4.
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The first-generation model was made from 1995 to 2001 and was petrol-powered only. A 2.2-litre diesel was introduced for the Mk2 car, made from 2001 to 2006, while Honda gave the third-generation CR-V (2006-2011) a curvier look as part of a radical makeover. The latest Mk4 CR-V debuted in late 2011 and was revised in 2015, incorporating the company’s ‘wing grille’ corporate face in the process.
By the time the fourth-generation car arrived in the UK in 2012, Honda had already sold more than five million CR-Vs around the globe in less than 20 years in production, proving what an important model it is for the company.
Engines, performance and drive
Honda has a strong history in building great engines, and the newest 1.6 i-DTEC diesel is one of its most impressive recent additions. The latest technology has been used to ensure this engine maximises efficiency in the CR-V, and considering its small capacity, it also serves up strong pace in a car of this size. This engine is available with six-speed manual or nine-speed automatic transmissions, although the auto doesn’t deliver on its promise. While gearchanges are smooth, it’s sluggish to respond and dulls the engine’s performance.
The 1.6 i-DTEC engine 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 box, and you’ll find it a pleasure to use thanks to precise changes. However, despite its impact on acceleration, the auto suits the car’s laid back, relaxed nature.
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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 set-up is that bumps and potholes are soaked up well.
Grip and traction are 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.
Just two engines are offered, although the 1.6-litre i-DTEC diesel comes in two states of tune. The lower-powered version, with 118bhp and 300Nm of torque, has been available since 2013, but cannot be specified with four-wheel drive or an automatic gearbox. The plus side to this is that the 118bhp 1.6 is 116kg lighter than the old 2.2 CR-V, which meant Honda had to specially recalibrate the suspension to compensate.
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A more powerful version of the 1.6 i-DTEC engine superseded the previous range-topping 148bhp 2.2-litre diesel. This delivers the same 350Nm of torque as the old 2.2, but adds another 10bhp to the mix – and is 40bhp more powerful than the entry-level 1.6 – with 158bhp. Both 1.6s make their peak power at 4,000rpm and deliver maximum torque from 2,000rpm.
Honda also offers the CR-V with a 2.0-litre i-VTEC petrol engine. This offers 153bhp at 6,500rpm, but when compared to the diesels it looks short on torque; it musters just 192Nm at a peaky 4,300rpm. The petrol engine isn’t really worth considering over either of the excellent 1.6 i-DTEC motors. While all the engines provide decent refinement, the diesels make more sense, with lower CO2 emissions and greater efficiency to help keep a lid on running costs.
MPG, CO2 and running costs
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. The lower-powered 118bhp CR-V claims 64.2mpg, as well as 115g/km emissions.
The more powerful 158bhp i-DTEC diesel is still impressive, with 57.7mpg and 125g/km in SE manual guise, according to Honda. Fit the automatic gearbox, and the official economy figures will plummet by around 2mpg, while emissions will rise by 5-6g/km. Plus, higher trim levels with bigger alloy wheels mildly dent efficiency.
Not surprisingly, the 2.0-litre i-VTEC petrol CR-V is less frugal. Manual front-wheel-drive versions claim 39.2mpg economy and 168g/km emissions, while cars specified with an automatic gearbox and all-wheel drive have official figures as low as 36.7mpg and as high as 179g/km. So while the diesels sit in road tax bands C to E, which means a year’s VED will set you back £30 to £130, the petrol CR-Vs fall into band H or I, and will cost you at least £225 a year in road tax.
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Lower Benefit in Kind ratings will make the diesels more tempting as company cars; they range from 21 to 25 per cent, whereas the petrol models range from 28 to 30 per cent. That means the cheapest diesel will have an annual tax liability of £82 for 20 per cent rate taxpayers and £164 for those earning at the 40 per cent rate; the most expensive diesel has comparable Benefit in Kind bills of £148 and £296. For the petrol versions, the respective figures are £103 and £206, or £166 and £331.
The petrol models are cheaper to insure than the diesels, with the S and SE-spec CR-Vs sitting in group 22, and the SR and EX range-toppers in group 23. For the diesels, opting for four-wheel drive has a negative impact on the cost of insurance. All the two-wheel-drive variants are in groups 22 and 23, like the petrols, but specifying 4WD sees the CR-V placed in groups 26 and 27.
Strong residual values should help to offset the Honda’s high purchase price. Diesel CR-Vs are predicted to hold on to as much as 40 per cent of their original purchase price over three years and 60,000 miles, which is an impressive second-hand performance.
Interior, design and technology
The previous-generation Honda CR-V looked a little awkward from some angles, but the latest version has a cohesive, no-nonsense shape. Even so, compared to rivals such as the Nissan Qashqai and Mazda CX-5, the car can appear a little slab-sided and bland.
Wraparound headlights and a grille featuring three prominent chrome bars contribute to a more aggressive front end than before. 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 a more attractive car, even if we wouldn’t exactly call it striking.
The colour palette for the CR-V is heavy on the monochrome, with nine shades offered. Of those, four are ‘colours’, with two blues, a deep brown and red all available for the more daring buyer. Customers also have one 17-inch, one 18-inch and four 19-inch alloy wheel designs to choose from, while a cost option Aero Pack is available to beef up the car’s appearance.
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Inside, the dash in the CR-V is less button-heavy than in other models in the Honda range, and the plastics used feel solid and robust. However, the trade-off for 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 layout, 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 bit blocky compared to more recent rivals.
Basic S cars get climate control, alloy wheels, cruise control and electrically adjustable and heated door mirrors. The drivetrain choice is limited to just the two-wheel-drive transmission, with either the 118bhp i-DTEC or 153bhp i-VTEC engines.
Stepping up to SE will cost you more than £2,000, but it does bring a reversing camera and a leather-wrapped steering wheel, among other items, as well as Honda Connect. All engines and drivetrains are available here. SR is nearly £3,000 on top of SE, bringing half-leather/half-Alcantara trim with heated seats, HID headlights with cornering function and larger, 18-inch alloys.
EX tops the range and commands another premium of around £2,000 over SR. That buys a panoramic roof, powered tailgate and seats, full leather trim and keyless entry and go. At this level, only the 158bhp i-DTEC and 2.0 i-VTEC engines, both with four-wheel drive, can be specified.
Where it’s an option, four-wheel drive will add over £1,000 to the bill, while the automatic gearbox will set you back around £1,800 over the standard six-speed manual.
Sat-nav, stereo and infotainment
While Honda Connect, with its seven-inch touchscreen, features on the SE trim level, you have to step up to an SR to get the Garmin sat-nav included as standard. Adding navigation to an SE model will cost over £1,100.
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All cars come with DAB, a CD player, USB ports with MP3 connectivity and Bluetooth as standard, but there are varying levels of sound system. The S makes do with four speakers, while the SE is uprated to six speakers. Fitted as standard to the SR is an eight-speaker, 320-watt high-power audio system, and this is also carried over to the EX model.
Practicality, comfort and boot space
The Honda CR-V is one of the most practical cars in the compact SUV class, with a versatile cabin and plenty of luggage capacity. Storage space inside the car is impressive and the interior is well designed to cater for the demands of family life. A large armrest cubbyhole and big glovebox feature to help maximise space, while there are also big door bins for stowing items like mobile phones.
Be aware that the CR-V’s braked trailer towing limits change according to the drivetrain and engine you specify. All the two-wheel drive models can manage 1,700kg, but this increases to 2,000kg when you go for the four-wheel-drive 158bhp i-DTEC – as long as it’s a manual version. Opt for an automatic i-DTEC and the towing limit drops to 1,500kg. The petrol CR-V, by the way, has a towing capacity of only 1,700kg in two or four-wheel-drive guise, and the automatic version is similarly limited to 1,500kg.
The CR-V has quite large dimensions: it’s more than two metres wide with the door mirrors folded out and easily over 4.5 metres long. However, it’s 30mm lower than the third-generation car and 5mm shorter overall. From behind the wheel, it also feels compact and agile, and is easy to place on the road.
Leg room, head room & passenger space
There’s loads of space in the CR-V, with enough room on board to comfortably take five average-sized adults. Legroom in the back is particularly good, although there are still cars in the class that can offer more rear passenger space.
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Headroom is excellent throughout, thanks to the CR-V measuring nearly 1.7 metres in height, and generally there’s a lot of elbow room to play with as well. The main issue with the Honda is that there’s no seven-seat option; unlike many of its class rivals, it’s only available as a five-seat car throughout the range.
The CR-V offers a massive 589 litres of boot space with the rear seats in place. Once they’re folded down, luggage capacity grows to a cavernous 1,669 litres, if you load to the roof; it’s still a useful 1,146 litres when measured to the window line.
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Honda’s Magic Seats help here – the rear seatbases fold upwards and the seatbacks drop 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 on the previous generation, making loading larger items an easy process, too.
Reliability and Safety
As with most Japanese manufacturers, Honda has a strong reputation for building solid, reliable cars. The CR-V finished in a strong 21st position out of 200 cars in the Auto Express Driver Power 2015 satisfaction survey, with an overall ranking of 91.06 per cent. 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 child seat mounting points as standard.
Equipment like Xenon headlights and front and rear parking sensors is reserved for higher-spec models, though, while the company’s autonomous braking and collision warning systems are also on offer to further improve safety.
The standard manufacturer’s warranty is three years or 90,000 miles, whichever comes sooner. On top of this, Honda provides five years’ worth of exhaust corrosion cover, 10 years for chassis corrosion and 12 years for structural corrosion. An extended warranty for years four and five can be purchased, costing £460 and £850 respectively.
Like many car companies, Honda offers fixed-price maintenance packages. For cars up to three years old, the service interval is every 12,500 miles or 12 months. Prices vary across the country, but you can expect to pay between £200 and £300 for each of the first three check-ups on petrol and diesel models.
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The first annual service is an 18-point check, in year two a 22-point inspection is carried out and year three sees 21 items serviced. Be aware that replacing a diesel fuel filter adds £100 to the price of any service.
For cars over three years old, buyers can choose from the Honda 12 or Honda 12+ packages. Honda 12 involves a 35-point inspection, and costs between £150 and £200, depending on the model. For around another £100, Honda 12+ also sees the air and pollen filters replaced, as well as the brake fluids.