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FRANSCHHOEK, Western Cape – When the first-generation Honda CR-V hit the global market back in 1995, it didn't have much in the way of direct competition. Indeed, while this compact SUV was perhaps not the very first on the scene, it was indisputably one of the pioneers of the segment.

Fast-forward some 22 years and that once unpopulated, dusty SUV landscape has transformed into a slice of tarmac-covered terrain positively cluttered with capable contenders, with the likes of the Toyota RAV4, Hyundai Tucson, Mazda CX-5 and Volkswagen Tiguan leading the charge in local monthly sales.

Where did that leave Honda's fourth-generation CR-V? Well, the local arm of the Tokyo-based automaker sold an average of just 78 units a month across South Africa in 2016, with that figure plummeting to a mere 23 units per month in the first half of 2017 (admittedly compounded by the brand quietly running its stock dry in the second quarter).

Now, Honda Motor Southern Africa has seen fit to introduce the all-new, fifth-generation CR-V. Revealed in late 2016 in Detroit, the newcomer rides on Honda's latest modular platform – shared with the new Civic – and is available with a turbocharged engine for the very first time.

Streamlined range...

This 1,5-litre, forced induction four-pot is also common to the Civic, but in this latest application its peak figures have been boosted to a healthier 140 kW and 240 N.m (from 127 kW/220 N.m in the sedan), and mated exclusively to all-wheel drive. While the naturally aspirated 2,4-litre petrol mill that topped the outgoing range has been culled, replaced by this new turbo-petrol VTEC unit, the entry-level, free-breathing 2,0-litre has been carried over virtually unchanged, available in front-wheel-drive form only (with 10 mm less ground clearance than the AWD model, at 192 mm), as before. No diesel derivatives are on the cards.

Manual and conventional automatic gearboxes are no longer offered locally, with each of the four derivatives in the rationalised range now employing a continuously variable transmission (CVT) as standard. It's a strategy that Honda has adopted in South Africa over the past few years, with all self-shifters (bar a pair of automatic Brio variants) in its local line-up favouring the CVT over a traditional torque converter or dual-clutch transmission.

Still, there are worse examples of the much-maligned CVT around, and it’s only under heavy throttle applications that the infamous "droning" rears its aurally ugly head. Drive as calmly as you would (or should) in everyday situations and the stepless transmission goes about its business with little fuss, making the most of the turbocharged mill’s pleasingly flat torque curve (peak twisting force is on offer from 2 000 r/min through to 5 000 r/min). Interestingly, Honda has stipulated surprisingly short, 10 000 km service intervals for the new turbo-petrol, while the familiar 2,0-litre sticks with 15 000 km gaps.

Comfort over dynamics

While rivals such as the CX-5 and Tiguan are more dynamically adept than one might expect of typical SUVs, the CR-V places its emphasis unashamedly on comfort. But the general lack of a sporting bent is by no means a bad thing, as it allows the CR-V to take an increasingly rare, traditional approach to family motoring.

Indeed, the big Honda's ride has clearly been tuned with comfort chief in mind, and the MacPherson front and redesigned multilink rear suspension setup absorbs road imperfections with aplomb, while the high-profile rubber adds yet more cushion. Sure, there's some body roll round fast corners, but this is a proper family focused SUV, after all, and the plush ride – as well as impressive noise insulation – is entirely in line with the vehicle's character.

This penchant for comfort and practicality continues inside, where Honda has included all manner of handy hidey-holes. In fact, with the gear lever sited on the lower section of the facia, there's even space for a roomy, configurable storage compartment in the centre console, capable of swallowing anything from a tablet device to a moderately sized handbag.

Although the fifth-generation CR-V is actually a mite shorter than its predecessor at 4 591 mm, its axles have been pushed some 40 mm further apart, with the occupants of the second row enjoying the bulk of this extra space (as well as dedicated air-vents and a pair of USB charging points, to complement the two up front). In fact, knee room back there could be described as borderline excessive, even for lanky passengers. The luggage compartment, too, is generous (a claimed 522 litres), despite the welcome presence of a full-size spare. Drop the split-folding rear bench flat and this expands to a claim of well over 1 000 litres.

Four trim levels on offer

While the base Comfort model with the 2,0-litre engine seems moderately equipped (with its highlights being dual-zone climate control, a reversing camera and 17-inch alloys), the sweet-spot Elegance specification adds items such as leather trim, electrically adjustable (and heated) front seats, a seven-inch touchscreen display (with Apple CarPlay functionality), parking sensors fore and aft, column-mounted paddles and rain-sensing wipers. This variant seems likely to be the volume seller.

Move up to the turbocharged derivatives and the Executive model featured here furthermore adds 18-inch alloys, a full-length sunroof, keyless entry/start, LED headlamps and active cornering lights, while the flagship Exclusive boasts a powered tailgate, tyre pressure monitoring, satellite navigation, LED foglamps up front and a suite of driver assistance systems (from road departure mitigation and adaptive cruise control to lane keep assist and an automatic high-beam function). All models, though, feature six airbags as standard.

Pricing starts at R422 900 and runs through to R626 900, with the model featured here coming in at a fairly dear R584 900. That means it's positioned right at the top of its group of direct rivals, where it faces exceedingly tough competition from the likes of the cheaper Tiguan 2,0 TSI 4Motion Highline (R550 900) and Tucson 1,6 Turbo AWD Elite (R534 900). Peugeot's charming new 3008 could also offer stiff opposition, although the French crossover is available locally with drive sent to the front wheels only.

Will Honda's decision to offer its new CR-V exclusively in CVT guise impact local sales? While it seems likely to put off some potential buyers, the brand's South African arm will argue that a similar approach with the smaller HR-V hasn't hampered uptake in the slightest, with local customers still facing lengthy waiting lists (although Honda SA does import the HR-V in fairly limited numbers).


Ultimately, buyers searching for a well-engineered, exceedingly spacious family vehicle that majors on comfort and functionality will be left largely impressed with the CR-V as a package. Indeed, once it builds up some momentum, Honda seems likely to hit its fairly modest local sales target of 150 units a month – despite the somewhat steep asking price and lack of transmission choice – with the brand's five-year/200 000 km warranty and reputation for reliability certainly sweetening the deal.

In what has become rather a crowded local segment, the new CR-V finds itself fighting for a far smaller slice of the pie than it was back in the mid-1990s. But don't let its diminished market share fool you: this is one of the best family haulers around…

Look out for a full road test of the new CR-V in the September issue of CAR magazine...


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