From £21,860
At sixes, not sevens

Our Verdict

Honda CR-V

One of the first 'soft-roaders' returns for a new generation, but while upstarts like the Mazda CX-5 and BMW X3 have moved the segment on, does the Honda bring anything new?

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21 September 2004

If any company was to take a fresh approach to the midi-MPV you’d expect it to be Honda. And when you first set eyes on the new FR-V, that appears to be the case.

It’s an unusual-looking car. From the front there are shades of the new Accord, which is a good thing. Aft of there, things get a bit more unusual, although it’s at least distinctive. The FR-V follows the Fiat Multipla by opting for two rows of three seats to make it a six-seater – halfway house between the excepted trend of either five or seven seats. 

Both seats in the middle of each row slide back and forth; the rear seat slides into the boot space to free up extra legroom if required and the front moves back to gain extra shoulder room – it can also be folded flat to form a table-top. If load carrying is more important than passenger capacity the rear seats fold flat. The great advantage of a six-seater is that even if the car is fully laden with passengers, the boot space remains clear for their luggage, a capacity that is greatly reduced if you use all seven seats in a traditional MPV.

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Honda has aimed at the premium end of the sector occupied by cars such as the VW Touran. To achieve this, it’s worked hard on the quality of the FR-V and in the most part succeeded. The dash is a lot more exciting than the VW’s, with a complex-looking central pod that houses most of the switchgear. Some of the materials used don’t quite feel up to the standard you’d expect, and the high vehicle sides – although imparting a feeling of security – coupled with the dark fabric will make the interior a bit claustrophobic for some.

It feels strange at first, sliding behind the wheel of the FR-V. You sit far over on the right-hand side of the car, and a glance to your left reveals not only the unbroken run of two further seats, but that the left-hand door seems an awfully long way away. Once underway, however, the FR-V is as easy to drive as you’d expect from a Honda.

Yet anyone expecting a slice of Type-R madness to have crept into their sensible MPV will not find the FR-V a sporting drive. The 148bhp 2.0-litre four-pot (entry-level is the 1.8-litre 123bhp engine and Honda’s excellent 2.2-litre 138bhp diesel will arrive later) is typically Honda, from the eerily quiet idle to the aerobic way it climbs the rev range. Certainly the FR-V feels rapid for this type of car, although with only 140lb ft at a relatively high 4000rpm you won’t be surprised to learn that it requires enthusiastic use of the throttle and gearlever to make spirited progress.

With a platform based on the CR-V’s, a wide track and a wheel-at-each-corner stance, Honda has been able to make the FR-V stable yet sufficiently soft-riding, even if there is some choppiness over poor surfaces. There is some initial body roll, but it soon settles on its springs and remains more composed than a Renault Scénic. The steering is ideally light for manoeuvring, although the absence of feel removes the fun from driving at speed.

Although it doesn’t have quite the van-style practicality of a traditional MPV, the FR-V offers an appealingly different take on this busy market sector. With prices starting from £14,750 – this 2.0-litre Sport is £16,400 – it’s comparable for price and equipment with its premium MPV rivals. Sounds like a group test is on the cards.

Adam Towler

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