2017 Honda CR-V
– Decent looks
– Cabin space and practicality
– Ride and handling
– No low-range gearing
– Slightly pricier than rivals
– Some hard cabin plastics
The Toyota RAV4 may have taken the credit for creating the mainstream crossover segment back in the mid-90s. But Honda had their own entry by the late 90s in the form of the CR-V. Back then, these crossovers were still trying to ape proper SUVs with their tailgate-mounted spare tyres and upright styling. Crossovers have increasingly become as refined as cars nowadays though, which is no bad thing. And the CR-V is leading the charge in many ways, duking it out against an onslaught of capable rivals, while the RAV4 itself has become a bit-player.
The new-for-2017 CR-V has grown in size yet again, specifically in wheelbase. Looking better than ever, Honda took some risks in terms of design, yet it is recognisably a CR-V, retaining the tail-lights that extend up the rear pillars. There are four trim levels, with the DX and LX only coming in front-wheel-drive form, while the EX and Touring come only in all-wheel-drive form. All of them look largely the same visually, with fancy LED running lights up front and in the rear, although the AWD models gain 18-inch alloys instead of the standard 17-inchers, and the Touring gets its own unique wheel design.
Our test car was used as a demo for all the optional accessories available for the CR-V, so it has the clip-on body-colour front-bumper lip, side-steps and window rain-deflectors. And being the top Touring model, it also came with some stick-on chrome along the lower black-plastic cladding, looking a bit cluttered alongside all the accessories.
Stepping inside doesn’t really require the side-steps. Once inside, you are greeted with a contemporary cabin with a big screen panel placed in the middle as well as an LCD gauge cluster in our top-spec car. Cabin materials have have improved, with more use of soft-touch padded trim (except on the rear-door window sills which have hard plastic panels with fake “stitches” moulded in). Faux wood trim is standard on the Touring, but our tester had optional colourful trim panels instead, from the accessories list. And the seat design is very attractive, with nicely-textured leather upholstery.
That outer growth has opened up more cabin space, with very good legroom and lots of headroom both front and back, and the boot is quite possibly the biggest in its class, as we compared it to a Nissan X-Trail, a Hyundai Tucson and a Toyota RAV4 at the launch event. The rear seats split-fold at the single tug of a lever. There are all sorts of storage spaces — aside from the usual door pockets, seatback pouches, dash cubbies and open cup-holders, the centre console has a sliding removable shelf with a very deep space under it. The boot in our tester had an optional box-organiser system for smaller luggage which can be folded away when not needed.
There are also tons of features standard and optional, such as smart keyless entry and start, cruise control, pinch-proof height-adjustable power tailgate, sunroof, halogen or LED headlights, fog lamps, power front seats, and a decent stereo with HDMI, Bluetooth and numerous USB connectivity points both front and back, as well as a dual-zone auto a/c with rear vents that’s fine for the most part, but takes a while to get going in hot June weather.
The new 7-inch capacitive touchscreen is reasonably responsive, with Android-based software, Apple CarPlay, Garmin navigation and a proper volume knob that’s missing in the current-gen Civic RS. The screen collects fingerprints, but does not wash out in the sun when seen from the driver’s seat. And yet again, our tester had optional rear headrest-mounted iPad/tablet holders from the accessories catalogue, so once you plug two iPads into the two rear USB ports, there is no need for an expensive rear-entertainment system any more (and the CR-V rightly doesn’t offer one).
Standard safety features include the usual front airbags (with side/curtain airbags reserved for the Touring), ABS, ESP, hill-start assist and a tyre-pressure monitor, while on higher-spec models, Honda also offers the LaneWatch right-lane camera, rear camera and a driver-drowsiness monitor that detects erratic driving after 30 minutes and gives you warning messages.
Unlike some other markets, the GCC-spec CR-V does not get the 1.5-litre turbo engine from the Civic RS, instead still making do with a 2.4-litre 4-cylinder with direct-injection, now good for 184 hp at 6400 rpm and 244 Nm of torque at 3900 rpm, so the figures aren’t too different from the turbo motor. The motor is mated to a retuned CVT automatic that has the option to simulate 7 ratios using optional paddle shifters. The “rubber band” effect typical of CVTs is very mild when accelerating from low speeds, but the transmission is otherwise very responsive once the car is up to speed. And it is definitely more satisfying to drive in “sport” mode that adds fake gear-shifts.
Power is just about adequate as we managed a 0-100 kph time of 10 seconds flat with the all-wheel-drive system actually sending some power to the rear wheels on hard acceleration, and the responsive CVT is admirable in that it isn’t always obvious it’s a CVT. The paddle-shifters even do a convincing act of shifting and holding gears. Fuel economy is nowhere near the claimed 6.8 litres/100 km GSO figure, as we got 12.3 litres/100 km, which is still within class standards.
The ride is pretty smooth on most road surfaces, better than past iterations of the CR-V. There’s moderate road and wind noise, no worse than others in this class, while noise-cancellation tech keeps engine noise to acceptable levels on acceleration. And with its fairly compact dimensions, rear camera and sensors, it is easy to park around town, especially since it has variable-ratio electric-power steering now that requires less turns of the wheel at low speeds.
The handling is good, and very predictable at the limits of grip from the 235/60 tyres. The suspension tuning has a slight bias towards the softer side noticeable when going over speed bumps, but it’s still a good compromise. Body roll is limited, with well-controlled body motions. The steering offers some semblance of feedback and is well-weighted, firm when needed yet soft enough when parking. And the brakes are progressive and offer decent stopping power, helped by a new electric brake booster that keeps the well-weighted pedal feel consistent in all conditions.
The CR-V Touring isn’t designed for serious offroading, but it has enough ground clearance and a responsive-enough all-wheel-drive system to manage flatter sand areas and mild gravel inclines, provided you know what you’re doing. There is no low-range gearing to help you if the car sinks in the softer stuff.
The all-new Honda CR-V therefore does everything is is designed to do, and it does them very well. While there is nothing ground-breaking in terms of powertrains, its target customers actually prefer the simplicity of a “normal” engine that will serve them dependably over the next 10 years. With the added space and tech, as well as a more comfortable driving demeanour while still handling well enough to be mildly entertaining, the CR-V remains one of the slightly more expensive choices in this segment, specifically in AWD form. But buyers will need to recognise that there is more well-engineered value in the Honda than in most other segment players, which may be hard to convey among the clutter of cheaper rivals. It’s oh so close to being on our recommended list.
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