OWING to buyer preference shifting away from “stodgy” traditional saloons and supposedly eco-unfriendly large SUVs, global car markets have seen an explosion in the popularity of compact SUVs. Our market is no different. In 1995, when the boxy first-generation Honda CR-V debuted, the main competition came from only two vehicles: Toyota’s RAV4 and the Land Rover Freelander. Both offered a modicum of off-road ability, but firmly emphasised on-
With the launch of the fourth-generation CR-V, the segment is burgeoning. According to CAR Guide at the back of this magazine, a total of 25 manufacturers offer a compact SUV in some form or another. Rapid expansion has led to segmentation, with a soft-roader for every taste and application, and most budgets.
Three generations later, Honda’s soft-roader is still a highly competitive model. Launched at the very end of last year, the line-up comprises eight models, including two- and four-wheel-drive versions, with auto and manual transmissions coupled with petrol or turbodiesel powerplants. We’re testing the entry-level 2,0 Comfort, though “entry-level” is a bit
of a misnomer.
Stylistically, the façade definitely marks the car out as a new offering. A large upper air intake, with pronounced H motif, integrates with the complex headlamp design, which features LED running lights as standard. In profile, the arching window line of its predecessor has been retained, and even though the roofline is 30 mm lower than before, the new car appears tall. The dumpy rear-end is the most awkward part of the design, with flat expanses of metal aft of the rear wheels and boomerang-shaped D-pillars.
If the styling is a tad controversial, the cabin is the complete opposite. It’s a dour affair, from the black plastics on the facia and doors to the black cloth seats and carpets; there is very little to lift the interior ambience. Oddly, for a car with no sporting pretence, a strip of faux carbon-fibre runs across the entire facia.
What the Honda CR-V lacks in colour, it makes up for in space. There is plenty of room in the cabin, front and rear. In fact, rear legroom trumps that of larger SUVs such as the Toyota Fortuner. Conveniently, the rear doors open to nearly 90 degrees, making ingress and access to the seats very easy.
Courtesy of that enlarged rump, there is also a huge luggage compartment of over 400 dm3. This figure rises to a cavernous 1 392 dm3 with the rear seats folded. Incidentally, Honda’s engineers have designed a very clever stowage system for the second row. By pulling a lever, the cushion tumbles forward, followed by the backrest (which folds down but not totally flat).
As the driver’s seat and steering column are adjustable in all planes, our testers managed to find an ideal driving position (even the resident beanpoles had plenty of headroom). Initially, the layout and function of the steering-wheel controls seem complicated, with more than a dozen buttons. However, the buttons are clearly marked and most are large, so familiarity soon sets in.
As the name denotes, power is provided by a 2,0-litre petrol engine. The motor pulls surprisingly strongly and revs smoothly through the entire engine-speed range. Honda’s V-TEC variable-cam technology ensures a flat spread of torque. This model is the only two-wheel-drive derivative in the range and it features a manual gearbox. The six-speed unit features long-ish gearing, which probably accounts for the commendable fuel consumption figures. Honda claims 7,2 litres/100 km, and we achieved a not-dissimilar 7,9 litres/100 km on our fuel route. These figures are deeply impressive for a near-1,5-tonne petrol-fed vehicle.
The clutch action is light and easily modulated, and the gearbox has a typically positive shift action through the lever. The electrically assisted steering action is effortless, which is a boon in about-town driving, and lifeless, which probably won’t bother too many Honda CR-V buyers.
Soft springing and high-profile tyres create a ride quality that is up there with the best in the class and ideal for a family car. At the very edge of the handling limit, gentle understeer is loudly announced by squealing tyres.
The Honda CR-V was one of the first compact SUVs and subsequent generations have built up an enviable reputation for reliability, comfort and quality. The new CR-V should continue this legacy; it feels like a quality product that will run faultlessly for decades.
The sombre cabin aside, of which the colour scheme is a matter of taste, there isn’t a single area in which we can seriously fault the CR-V. It has class-leading space, a frugal engine and a cushioning ride quality. Coupled with the 2,0 Comfort’s price tag of just under R300 000, the CR-V is a great family car.