There has never been such an intense battle in the compact soft-roader market.
If you want a relatively tall-body wagon with the capability to venture off the bitumen, you can chose between the Subaru Forester, Mitsubishi Outlander, Hyundai Tucson, Nissan X-Trail, Toyota RAV4 and a long-standing benchmark – the Honda CR-V.
The current CR-V series was released 2002 and, with some updates for 2005, it shapes up as a very accomplished machine – we have no major criticisms. But against a barrage of competition it isn’t a definitive class leader – it aces its rivals in some areas and is aced in others.
Interior space, practicality and quality are areas where the Honda excels.
Rear head, foot and knee room are excellent and there’s no trade-off in rear cargo space. To accommodate larger loads, the 60/40 split rear seat can be separately slide fore-aft by 170mm. Rear passenger space is adequate even with the seat slid fully forward to provide maximum load space.
In addition, the split backrests can be folded forward or the whole assembly can be tumbled forward against the front seats. This creates a mammoth flat load area – and an incredible 952 litres of cargo volume.
Access to the rear load area is via a flip-up rear window (which is controlled from the driver’s seat and remote) or by swinging the gas-charged rear door to the side. The rear door – like every other door – closes with an reassuring thunk.
Note that a full-size alloy spare wheel is mounted on the rear cargo door, which helps free up some cargo space. A large plastic-lined storage area is hidden beneath the removable cargo floor. And look closely and you’ll discover that cargo floor is a pretty trick bit of gear. There are metal legs that fold down to transform it into a sturdy picnic table - the perfect addition to a ‘lifestyle’ vehicle.
Rear passengers enjoy adjustable angle backrests, 3 point retractable seatbelts and a low sill line for a very airy feel. Compact rear head restraints are newly fitted in 2005 for a significant improvement in visibility. Note that the rear backrest is very low, so these head restraints must be extended when accommodating rear passengers.
There’s a useable bag of features up front. The base ’05 CR-V is equipped with dual airbags, cruise control, an alarm, ambient temp display and an effective instantaneous fuel consumption graph. Unfortunately, there’s no trip computer to reveal average fuel consumption or other distance information. All switchgear is logical with a quality feel and the new back-lit instruments are clear and attractive. There’s also a nice table between the front seats, which folds down for walk-through access to the rear. But only if you’re small...
The Sport version (as tested) adds an easy-to-use tilt/slide glass sunroof (with trim blind), side airbags and a 6 CD/MP3 in-dash stacker with steering wheel controls. A leather interior is available in the CR-V Sport Luxury.
The only letdowns are the double-DIN audio head unit which is difficult to read in direct sunlight and the awkward to use handbrake and gear selector levers. The handbrake lever sprouts from the dashboard and, as noted in our early 2003 CR-V test (New Car Test - Honda CR-V Sport), it’s difficult to firmly engage the handbrake lever – and when it is firmly engaged, it’s difficult to release.
Engine performance is nothing more than average.
With 118kW and 220Nm (at 6000 and 3600 rpm respectively), the Honda 2.4 litre i-VTEC four (with variable inlet cam timing and 12/16 valve operation) provides only adequate all-out performance. Consider the Nissan X-Trail pumps out 132kW/245Nm and you’ll see that the Honda falls behind.
But the situation is aided by the new 5 speed automatic transmission, which is a AUD$2000 option over a manual ‘box. The new auto is very well calibrated and always picks the right gear for the job. However, the lock-up torque converter engages at low cruising speeds which causes very low engine rpm and a slight in-cabin drone. A sequential shift is also missing from the equation, but a ‘D3’ button locks out fourth and fifth gears to provide excellent engine braking down hills and in-gear response.
Still, the 1520kg CR-V Sport auto is quite slow.
We recorded about 12 seconds for the 0 – 100 km/h sprint (which is around 2 seconds slower than the X-Trail). However, the real-world driving feel is nowhere near as bad as this figure suggests – with a new electronic throttle control system, the CR-V has no problems leaping off the line and keeping up with urban traffic. It’s only when climbing hills or on the open road that you notice the modest power output.
Honda claims its ‘on demand’ 2WD/4WD driveline helps maximise fuel consumption. We averaged 11.2 litres of unleaded per 100 km, which is slightly more than the claimed average. Fuel tank capacity is 58 litres for a typical range of around 500km.
Like the Nissan X-Trail, the CR-V drives through only its front wheels in the majority of conditions. However, when the RealTime 4WD control system detects a difference in the rotational speed of the front and rear wheels, it automatically apportions some drive to the rear wheels (via a multi-plate clutch). There is no electronic G-sensor control, but the system has been modified for the 2005 model to provide a claimed improvement in acceleration, hill climb performance on slippery surfaces and swifter response accelerating out of corners.
This AWD system gives the CR-V a distinctive front-wheel-drive feel. It lacks the ever-present assurance of constant AWD and the rear wheels get into the act only after the vehicle has understeered by a considerable margin. The front inside wheel can also spin under power during tight manoeuvres. In our brief exploration on dirt the same characteristics apply. Note there is no 4WD diff lock or dual-range gearing.
The 2005 CR-V rides on the same MacPherson front struts and double wishbone rear suspension introduced in 2002. Larger swaybars are added to slightly reduce body roll compared to the previous model. The ride is excellent – very supple and with car-like unsprung mass.
The CR-V’s steering is also improved to provide a more direct feel. Weighting is spot-on and there’s no steering kickback or tramlining. The brakes (upsized to 300mm ventilated at the front and 305mm solid at the rear) offer good stopping power but the pedal in our test car lacked feel.
Visually, the ’05 CR-V Sport receives 16 inch alloys with 215/65 Bridgestone Dueler H/Ts, fog lights, full colour-coding and a hard cover for the spare wheel. The updated body shows a new grille, bonnet, taillights and bumpers. Only CR-V aficionados will spot the changes.
So how does the Honda CR-V Sport stack up in terms of value for money?
At AUD$38,790 in automatic form, the Honda is very competitively priced against most of its rivals - only the Hyundai Tucson undercuts it by a considerable margin. If you want a spacious, practical, comfortable and well built soft-roader (with probably a strong resale value) the ’05 CR-V Sport is a good option.
The CR-V Sport was provided for this test by Honda Australia.