We tried to like the Honda CRV but over the week the initial niggles grew into active annoyances: the car did not grow better with familiarity. In part that’s because while the competition has improved, the new CRV is – apart from much enhanced safety – in many ways more of the same, only five years on.
A bigger and heavier vehicle than the previous car, the CRV is powered by a tweaked version of the same 2.4 litre four cylinder engine. A typically refined and Honda-sophisticated design, complete with dual balance shafts and i-VTEC variable cam timing and lift, the engine develops 125kW at 5800 rpm and 218Nm of torque at 4200 rpm. The engine has a silky smooth idle and a progressive power curve. But with a car mass of 1620kg, performance is never more than adequate. Loading the CRV with a family going on holiday would result in overtaking and hill-climbing performance becoming marginal.
The CRV is rated to tow a braked trailer of 1500kg and an unbraked 600kg, both with a maximum tongue downforce of 150kg. However, the powertrain of the CRV would really struggle with any trailer approaching maximum mass.
The 5-speed auto transmission doesn’t allow the driver to easily make the most of the available performance. No manual sequential select mode is provided – only a 3rd gear button that locks out 4th and 5th. That might have been OK five years ago but these days, especially when a car is not overly endowed with performance, drivers need and expect to easily access the gears – even in an automatic. But why not just put your foot down and let the gearbox think for you? That approach works well when encountering small grades or needing only a little more performance – in fact, in those situations, the transmission is very nicely calibrated to drop down a gear or two. However, when the hills get really steep, the transmission hunts between gears and can be reluctant to kick down. The trans also makes a slightly jerky down-change when slowing, for example when approaching a red light.
However, the saving grace of the engine/trans combination – and it’s a big one – is that fuel economy is quite good. The official test is 10 litres/100km and in a mix of urban and many rural kilometres, we achieved very close to that. The fuel tank is 58 litres.
Inside the cabin again it’s a mix of good and bad. The instruments directly in front of the driver are superb. They comprise clear analog dials for speed and revs, and digital bar-graph displays for coolant temp and fuel level. The other displays can be switched but we found the most effective mode was average and instantaneous fuel consumptions. However, the centre dash displays – those for the sound system and climate control – are difficult to read in sunshine when wearing sunglasses. Any dust on these shiny plastic surfaces makes visibility even worse.
The controls, including an extensive number of buttons on the steering wheel for cruise and sound system, work well and are clearly labelled in function.
The leather seats are rather hard and uncomfortable; the front passenger especially complaining. The driver gets electric controls but the passenger makes do with a manual seat that doesn’t allow the base to be tilted – the front seat feels flat and lacking in under-thigh support. Lumbar adjustment – these days a basic – is not available on either seat. Both front seats feature inner fold-down armrests that are not height or angle adjustable.
Rear seat room is excellent in all directions. The rear doors open very wide so entry and egress are easy. The rear seat design is practical and effective. The seat can be folded on a 40/20/40 basis - the ‘20’ being the centre section which can be separately folded, ski-port style. In addition, the folded components can then be tumbled forward, giving an excellent floor space (although slightly stepped in height). The rear seat backs are also variable in backrest angle. Rear tie-down hooks are provided and under the floor, the spare wheel is a full-size alloy wearing a proper tyre.
Although the twin glove-boxes are small, there are plenty of other large and practical storage spaces. A foot-operated parking brake is fitted and the gearlever sprouts from the dashboard – these design features allow the centre console bins to be especially large.
On the road the height and reach-adjustable steering is light and lacks feedback. The tyres – 225/65 Bridgestone Dueller HT on 17 inch alloys – have adequate grip but the CRV is certainly no sporty handler. Stability control is standard and with the automatic on-demand all-wheel drive system, slippery conditions should be fine (we didn’t encounter rain or snow or mud in our drive). The handling would lead you to expect a cushy ride but the ride is in fact rather firm, especially over short, sharp bumps.
The air conditioning is absolutely hopeless – the worst of any car we’ve ever tested in summer. On 28 degree, sunny days, we had it continuously running at maximum. That’s with the fan speed fully up and the temps set at their lowest – for hour after hour. It made no difference if the system was set to auto or manually switched. Leave the car parked in the sunshine while going shopping and on return, the air con is simply awesomely inadequate. No rear vents are provided and while the air con is struggling, rear passengers are cooking. Perhaps the air con in the test car was defective – the mind boggles at how the CRV would cope in 40-degree Outback conditions.
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The build quality of this Thailand-manufactured car was poor. The bonnet panel margins (gaps between adjoining panels) were uneven down one side and the rear bumper margin varied from zero to being noticeable – but the most astounding quality aspect was the tailgate. If you open it and grasp each corner, you can literally twist it like it’s made of cardboard. Click on the video to see the door flexing like you wouldn’t believe.
We have never seen such a weak door: even pulling down on the side handle causes the door to visibly deflect as it’s being closed.
To put these points in context, Honda says the tailgate uses a “reinforced perimeter (box type)” frame, and that: Hondas have always been synonymous with outstanding fit and finish. This attention to detail is evident in the minute sizes of gaps between body panels and interior components. The CR-V features what is known as a “zero” gap for the front and rear bumpers, or less than a single millimetre.
We suggest potential buyers have a good look at the body quality for themselves – and don’t forget to twist that rear door when it’s open...
On this Luxury model you’ll find leather seats, a sunroof and electric seat warmers. A 6-stack in-dash CD radio is fitted – the design is MP3 compatible and sounds excellent, especially on CD.
Importantly, the CRV has scored a 5-star rating (that’s the highest) in independent crash testing. In Luxury configuration it has six airbags, front-seat active head restraints and a body design said to be optimised to absorb crash energy while protecting the occupants.
On the road the CRV Luxury feels like a $37,000 car, tops. But Honda will ask from you $41,990 (plus on-road costs) – and that’s simply way too much. Perhaps the base model auto at $33,990 would be more justifiable – you miss out on the sunroof, leather, electric driver’s seat, 6-stacker and, much more significantly, side curtain airbags. But even then we’d look at the flexing tailgate, lack of sequential manual control of the auto and hope for much better air conditioning...