7

For its fourth-generation, Honda moves its long-established CR-V into full-size family SUV territory

Some 23 years have now passed since the first-generation Honda CR-V emerged into the world. It was a pioneer among modern, good-mannered, family-friendly urban SUVs – not because it looked particularly radical or featured any groundbreaking technology, but because it changed people’s perceptions and expectations of, and attitudes to, vehicles of its ilk.

The CR-V’s Honda Civic-derived platform allowed it to handle in a far more car-like manner than contemporary 4x4s, while its high-riding stature conveyed a sense of onboard safety and security that family-minded buyers found hugely appealing. The CR-V has flourished in spite of all of the competition it has inspired; by Honda’s own claim, it has become the world’s best-selling compact SUV.

Our top-flight EX-grade test car is the only CR-V to be fitted with 19in wheels as standard. All others make do with smaller 18s, aside from the entry-level model, which has 17s

The landscape into which this much larger fifth-generation version of the Comfortable Runabout Vehicle emerges demands more of it than any of its forebears, of course.

Competition is now far stiffer than it was even as recently as for the fourth-generation version, while the market is saturated with rivals – many of which have been cast with more sporting personalities and dashing good looks than could be justified for the ever-functional CR-V, and many of which come from premium brands.

So how does the Honda fight back? Well, for the first time, the CR-V is being offered with the option of seven seats, while a petrol-electric hybrid version is set to appear in 2019. The car’s cabin is claimed to be more spacious than ever, while class-leading fuel efficiency is promised to boost its rational appeal still further.

Advertisement
Back to top

But are the changes wrought on our five-seat, petrol-engined test car enough to make the CR-V stand out against big-name rivals such as the Volkswagen Tiguan, Skoda Kodiaq and Peugeot 5008? Or will it struggle to keep its head above water?

Honda CR-V FAQs

Is the Honda CR-V available as a plug-in or electric?

Honda has recently launched its quirky all-electric Honda E city car, but for now this model remains the only EV in the range. There are no plug-in hybrid models either, with the brand favouring ‘self-charging’ petrol-electric powertrains for its latest machines, including the Honda CR-V. Using a 2.0-litre motor and a pair of electric motors powered by a 1kWh lithium ion battery, the big SUV can manage about a mile of gentle driving in pure electric mode.

What are the main rivals for the Honda CR-V?

You don’t have to look hard for alternatives to the Honda CR-V, which plys its trade in the hotly contested midsize SUV class. Other hybrid options include the sharp-handling Ford Kuga and the distinctive new Kia Sportage (and its equally eye-catching close relative the Hyundai Tucson). The Toyota RAV4 serves up a similar blend of space and solidity to the Honda, while the Mazda CX-5 lacks hybrid power, but is roomy and good to drive.

How much power does the Honda CR-V have?

There’s not a lot of choice when it comes to engines for the Honda CR-V, with the 2.0-litre hybrid the only option. However, getting to the bottom of how much power the Honda has is tricky, because the company won’t, or can’t, tell. The four-cylinder petrol unit delivers 143bhp, while the main electric drive motor musters 181bhp (there’s also another, smaller motor that doesn’t have a quoted output). While the true overall figure is unknown, it’s enough to accelerate the CR-V from standstill to 62mph in 8.6 seconds.

What choices of gearboxes are there for the Honda CR-V?

As with the engine, the Honda CR-V is only available with a single gearbox option - a single-speed automatic transmission. There’s no need for multiple ratios because the biggest of the two electric motors drives the wheels most of the time, and its instant 232lb ft means there’s no need for multiple ratios. It also allows the Honda to accelerate smoothly and seamlessly without any jerky gearchanges to upset the car’s serene and relaxing progress.

Back to top

Where is the Honda CR-V built?

The easier question to ask here would be, ‘where isn’t the Honda CR-V built?’. The Japanese SUV’s popularity around the world means it’s built at numerous factories that are scattered across the Globe. Much of the production is handled by the brand’s home plant at Sayam in Japan, but also at facilities in Canada, China (where it’s known as the Honda Breeze), India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mexico, Taiwan, Thailand, the USA and Vietnam.

How many generations of the Honda CR-V have there been?

As a pioneer of the current compact crossover class, the Honda CR-V has been around long enough to now be in its fifth generation. Initially referred to as a ‘soft roader’, the first generation CR-V made its debut in 1997 and featured novel extras such as an outdoor shower attachment and a boot floor that could be removed and turned into a picnic table. Subsequent generations became more grown-up and were aimed at more expensive premium rivals.

DESIGN & STYLING

Honda CR-V 2018 road test review - hero side

Japanese manufacturers seem to have a knack for designing cars that are more interesting to behold than their European counterparts. Interesting-looking cars aren’t necessarily attractive ones, of course. Mitsubishi has its quirky-looking Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross, Lexus a family of unapologetically edgy SUVs and Honda – in addition to its 10th-generation Honda Civic – now has the latest Honda CR-V.

While the car’s boxy silhouette hasn’t changed radically from Mk4 to Mk5, the CR-V is now a far busier thing to look at. Sharp creases and bold contours are used fairly liberally – just look at that bonnet – while abundant brightwork draws the eye.

Fifth generation hasn’t lost the vertically arranged tail-light design of previous CR-Vs. That said, they’re now much more compact-looking, while they swoop in beneath the rear window too

Wider arches and larger wheels that are now positioned further towards the car’s extremities lend the CR-V a more muscular and athletic stature. The car has grown, too. Compared with that of its predecessor, its wheelbase has been stretched by 30mm to 2663mm (AWD), liberating additional interior space. All up, the CR-V is now 4600mm long, 1855mm wide and 1689mm tall – gains of 70mm, 104mm and 14mm over the dimensions of the 1995 original.

The fifth-generation CR-V is based on an adaptation of Honda’s ‘compact global’ platform that underpins the current Civic. This new chassis is not only lighter than the previous model’s, it also benefits from a 25% increase in torsional stiffness. Suspension, meanwhile, is comprised of a MacPherson strut-type arrangement at the front and a multi-link set-up at the rear.

The CR-V is powered by a new version of the 1.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine that’s available in the Civic – albeit one fitted with a smaller, more responsive turbocharger. Two states of tune are available: the first with 170bhp and 163lb ft when mated to a six-speed manual gearbox, the second with 190bhp with 179lb ft when paired with the car’s all-new continuously variable transmission (CVT). Our test car had the latter tune and transmission. Diesel engines have been dropped from the line-up.

Where manual models are available with front or four-wheel drive, CVT-equipped CR-Vs are exclusively four-wheel drive. Not that power is sent to all four wheels all of the time in the latter. A multi-plate clutch system is used to send up to 60% of the engine’s torque to the rear differential when needed – when accelerating from a standstill, driving on low-grip surfaces or, at times, when cornering. At cruising speeds, the rear axle drive disconnects in an attempt to improve fuel efficiency.

INTERIOR

Honda CR-V 2018 road test review - front seats

With its new seven-seat layout option and after the growth spurt we’ve already described, this latest Honda CR-V ought to be well placed to build on its strengths of convenience, practicality and functionality – and so it does.

Having grown to become a 4.6-metre car, of course, the CR-V now contends with greater expectations of roominess than it used to – although it still manages to surpass them. And, before we move on, we should note that (at least if you go for it in seven-seat form) you might still think of this car as usefully compact; it’s nearly 100mm shorter than the Skoda Kodiaq and almost 200mm shorter than the Kia Sorento.

BMWs all have a certain scent to them, as do Volkswagens. And it seems Hondas do too; this CR-V smells exactly like my grandparents’ old 2003 Accord Euro

The car offers its driver’s seat at a very convenient hip point height as you board, so the average UK driver won’t need to either bend down or climb up to get in. What you find once you’re inside is a pleasant and very spacious cabin whose layout and appearance are both more conventional than those of the more quirky Honda Civic hatchback, but whose apparent standard on material quality is both higher and more consistent – and which isn’t short on useful storage features.

The CR-V’s driving position is comfortable, straight and well-supported. Instrumentation is presented on a digital flatscreen with an analogue-style rev counter at useful scale and a digital speedo. Below both is some digital display space that can be configured to show anything from four-wheel-drive torque distribution to audio track information – although for flexibility it’s some way off the segment’s better digital instrument binnacles.

The Honda Connect 7.0in infotainment system, included on SE trim and up, partners a nine-speaker audio set-up whose quality we found to be respectable if not outstanding. Integrated in a larger, free-standing black surround, it looks like it ought to be larger still – but, in use, you won’t complain that the size of the display seems mean or makes usability harder.

The system is slow to boot up and often to respond to fingertip inputs, although being able to hop directly to the menu using the shortcut keys mitigates the latency problem somewhat. The fitted Garmin navigation system isn’t particularly becoming of a £35,000 car, being troublesome to use and short of mapping detail and graphical appeal. Here, the CR-V’s bacon is saved by smartphone mirroring compatibility for both Apple and Android handsets.

Honda has arranged the car’s transmission controls quite high on the centre stack, freeing up a lot of storage space where the tunnel might otherwise be – most notably a deep cubby with a sliding lid that would easily accommodate a small laptop and keep it out of sight. The car’s gear selector could hardly be chunkier or easier to use. There are shifter paddles on the car’s steering column but once you’re used to the character of the car, you’re unlikely to reach for them much. There are no four-wheel-drive system overrides at all.

The assumption is that, come what may, CR-V drivers will be happy to let the car’s driveline manage itself – which tells you as much as about the drivers courted as the driveline itself. Second-row passenger space is outstanding: there’s 800mm of typical second-row leg room here, where the Skoda Kodiaq offers 750mm and the Mazda CX-5 only 730mm (although, if you want sliding second-row seats, you’ll have to opt for the seven-seat version). In the boot, the CR-V offers broadly similar amounts of seats-up loading length and width as its key rivals but beats almost all on loading height.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

Honda’s decision to drop diesel from the Honda CR-V engine line-up might yet prove to be a sound one if the incoming hybrid is good. But, until that car arrives at least, you might well wonder if a 1.5-litre turbocharged petrol engine, hooked up to a CVT, will be the right fit for this near-1700kg car.

The answer to that question seems questionable out on the road. Backing turbo petrol power delivers the CR-V some desirable qualities: it’s a mechanically refined car when cruising at low engine speeds, and it revs more smoothly and freely than a like-for-like diesel might.

I’ve never warmed to the CVT gearbox. Audi’s and Subaru’s have worked well enough over the years when mated to torquey diesel engines, but this Honda’s reminds me of some of the worst

But it revs – a lot. Despite its efforts to make the CR-V’s transmission behave more like a torque converter automatic or even a dual-clutch auto at times, Honda has failed to engineer out the slushy, ‘elastic band’ feel out of this car’s power delivery entirely.

If you’re happy to adopt an unhurried stride, the powertrain is very respectable; it’s smooth and fairly easy to manage. But when you either want or need the car to accelerate hard, it resorts to spinning the engine crankshaft up to 5000rpm and letting the transmission dole out the torque to the car’s four wheels as best it can.

Moreover, 179lb ft of peak pulling power isn’t a great deal to motivate a car of this size – and there are plenty of times on a typical UK journey when you’ll need all of it. Revs are the powertrain’s go-to solution.

While CVTs can behave more like conventional torque-converter autos when working with torquier engines, the CR-Vs certainly doesn’t. There is also the inherent unresponsiveness of a CVT to account for when driving on motorways and A-roads, and you have to judge how long it’s likely to be between pedal input and increased rate of acceleration. A 30-70mph time of 8.4sec isn’t a disgrace, but out in the real world it’s the transmission’s tendency to slip and the hesitancy to knuckle down that makes the car feel lazy and a little slow.

Strong real-world fuel economy would be some compensation for all that, if only the CR-V produced it. But, partly as a result of how hard you’re obliged to work the engine at times to get reasonable performance out of it, our test car averaged less than 32mpg on test – and its 37.9mpg touring economy test result isn’t likely to win it many fans, either.

RIDE & HANDLING

Honda CR-V 2018 road test review - cornering front

Honda has gone to a great deal of trouble to make the new Honda CR-V a match for the compact SUV class’s better-driving cars, and give it the air of sophistication that you would expect of a car that’s been established for so long. Although there is greater ground clearance than before, that hasn’t come at the expense of a raised centre of gravity, its maker points out.

Most of the details you might read about in the brochure, however (such as a longer wheelbase, hydraulic suspension bushings and new noise and vibration insulation techniques), seem to have been intended to boost the car’s refinement credentials.

CVT transmission doesn’t allow revs to just drop away under heavy braking, giving you some useful engine braking into tighter bends

They succeed, to a point: the CR-V becomes one of the compact SUV class’s quieter and comfier customers, without setting a really exceptional standard on either score.

The CR-V is certainly not one of the more engaging or poised compact SUVs on the market from a handling perspective. Grip levels are adequate and handling is secure, but body control is only average, and there is nothing you would characterise as particularly agile about the way the car changes direction. In this respect, just as with its powertrain, the Honda makes it clear that it doesn’t much cater for the interested driver.

And it needn’t, of course, partly because handling dynamism is an entirely discretionary quality for an SUV to possess anyway, especially since the CR-V’s mission would seem to be to provide comfortable, smooth, easy-going family transport. The CR-V succeeds moderately well at most of those things. On the 19in wheels of upper-level EX trim, our test car’s ride might have been a touch quieter over coarse asphalt, but it dealt with broken surfaces well.

The suspension works equally well around town and at relaxed cross-country speeds, although bigger lumps and bumps taken at greater pace do upset the cabin’s softly sprung calm.

Likewise, the CR-V isn’t always the most composed car at higher motorway speeds. But adopt the laid-back, everyday-use, traffic-defined stride that the car encourages and you’ll find it capable of soothing away your stresses effectively enough.

The CR-V pitches, rolls and jounces more than the more driver-focused cars in its class when driven to extremes, but manages to maintain reasonable stability and grip anyway. It’s the sort of SUV whose initial rate of body lean is a touch discouraging but that keeps gripping as you wind on lock – and so will tolerate a quicker rate of progress, however apparently unwillingly.

The car also has well-tuned electronic stability controls that prevent you from disturbing its adhesion with excessive power. Honda’s latest stability aid is called Agile Handling Assist, and has been tuned for European tastes – so that it’s not easily set off with sudden steering inputs, and doesn’t intrude on the driving experience too much.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

Honda CR-V 2018 road test review - hero front

A touch under £9500 is what separates the basic five-door Honda CR-V from our top-flight EX model, and at £36,455, this particular CR-V finds itself in pricey territory. The Honda’s fully loaded trim level explains the situation, however. Standard equipment on an EX includes 19in wheels, a head-up display, a heated steering wheel, heated front and rear seats and an electric tailgate.

However, the lower-grade SE is still fairly handsomely equipped, offering sat-nav, 18in alloys, rear-view camera and parking sensors – all coming for much better value. With front-wheel drive and a manual gearbox, the CR-V SE will cost you just £27,855.

Honda’s CR-V has a fine reputation for retained value, and shading both Skoda and Peugeot rivals won’t do it any harm

As far as depreciation is concerned, our sources inform us that a CR-V in the same spec as our test car will retain 47% of its value after three years of ownership and 36,000 miles. That, compared with the Volvo XC40 and with CAP’s forecast for the BMW BMW X3, looks competitive. Where the Volvo will maintain 53% over the same period, the BMW will hold only 46%.

 

VERDICT

Honda CR-V 2018 road test review - hero static

Given its new proportions, its spaciousness and the addition of a third row of seats to the options list, it’s probably time to stop thinking of the Honda CR-V as one of the world’s founding compact SUVs.

We must instead recognise it for what it has become: a full-sized, fully fledged, super-functional SUV that could easily play the ‘big car’ role and wants for little in terms of comfort, equipment, versatility or ease of use.

Functional CR-V might find it tough at value end of family SUV market

That said, the CR-V does want for a few other things. It doesn’t offer a great deal of design appeal; it seldom even threatens to engage you much in the process of driving; it can frustrate with its sometimes unresponsive and unwilling-feeling two-pedal powertrain; and it fails to really approach the class-leading fuel economy that Honda promised.

With a different powertrain, the CR-V might surmount some of those shortcomings. That it’s unlikely ever to emerge from the shadows as a family car to really desire, however, probably says more about the CR-V’s servile, unpretentious character than any specific failing of its performance. And for that, you might quite like it.

 

Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

Honda CR-V (2018-2023) First drives