What is it?
Few manufacturers can claim the sort of SUV sales Honda has enjoyed with its CR-V. Since its launch back in 1997, more than 750,000 have found a home in Europe; during 2014 alone, 50,000 dotted lines were signed.
To ensure more of the same, the CR-V is being revised for 2015, going on sale in April. But this is no mild facelift; Honda’s engineers have been busy.
To keep the CR-V looking fresh, there’s a new grille and redesigned headlights and tail-lights, while wider tracks, increased tyre camber, a quicker steering rack and new front suspension bushes, knuckles and arms are intended to improve ride quality, handling and refinement.
Inside, thicker door seals aim to improve refinement, and there's a brand new infotainment system. City braking also becomes standard across the range.
Most notable, however, is the new 158bhp 1.6-litre diesel engine, available with an equally shiny new nine-speed automatic gearbox. Together, they replace the outgoing 2.2 diesel/five-speed auto combo, improving fuel economy and emissions, yet still offering a respectable slug of low-down muscle.
What's it like?
Two-wheel-drive versions of the CR-V 1.6 i-DTEC 160 are restricted to a six-speed manual ’box, but the nine-speed auto we’re driving is worth the extra should you be tempted. It doesn’t dither too much in lower gears and never changes down too many should you ask it for a sudden burst of acceleration.
It helps the 1.6 diesel to show off its strengths, chief of which is its decent pull from around 2000rpm. It also stays reasonably hushed, only getting raucous in the sort of high revs you're unlikely to want to explore very often in a diesel SUV anyway, although there’s a light buzz at the pedals even at more moderate engine speeds.
The changes to the chassis haven’t transformed the CR-V into a handling superstar, but turn-in is now slightly more urgent on the four-wheel-drive model and the steering feels less vague than before. There’s still noticeable body lean in tight corners, although the soft set-up means large bumps and broken asphalt are no trouble for the CR-V’s dampers, which take the sting out initially. Unfortunately, it also means that a lot of the imperfections in the road cause the body to bob about, especially at speed and over mid-corner bumps.
At least there’s little road and wind noise on the motorway to disturb things further, and although there’s some vertical movement from the body on the motorway, the CR-V’s steering requires little input to maintain a straight line.
For all the changes, Honda has kept one of the CR-V’s strongest suits: space. Four adults sit very comfortably inside, thanks to impressive legroom, while the long, square boot is a huge 589 litres with the rear seats in place.
The practical touches CR-V owners love remain, too - particularly the spring-loaded rear seats, which split 60/40 and fold themselves down flat via levers on the boot walls to open up the cabin.