But channelling such considerable torque through the drivetrain is, you sense, something of a shock for the CR-V. The rear squats down and the whole car squirms slightly as it springs forward under full throttle in the lower of the six forward gears. The CR-V now has a surprising turn of pace. It feels quicker than the 0-62mph time of 10.6sec would suggest. Even at motorway speeds, the Honda can to some extent defeat the limitations of its aerodynamics and accelerate keenly in fifth and sixth gears. Alternatively, it will cruise at 70mph in sixth with only 2340rpm showing on the rev counter. And with all that torque and four-wheel drive, the CR-V diesel should make an able towing vehicle.
The level of refinement is slightly disappointing, though. We’re not talking about the usual diesel complaints of a chuntering engine note and bone-shaking vibrations: as in the Accord, the i-CTDi engine is effortlessly smooth, revs cleanly and possesses a soft-edged note that only lapses into a mild diesel clatter around idle speed. But while the characteristic cambelt-like whine and zizz in the Accord is subdued, in the CR-V the whining rise and fall of this noise does get tiresome. At steady throttle openings – on a motorway, for example – it’s barely noticeable, but when accelerating or decelerating it makes its presence felt. You could live with it, however.
Cleanliness is still very much a virtue of the i-CTDi: it emits just 177g/km of CO2 (the RAV4 2.0-litre D4-D emits 190g/km) and it meets Euro4 emissions regulations, putting it in the 22 per cent tax bracket for company car drivers, while the Toyota is rated at 27 per cent. And with fuel consumption of 42.2mpg on the combined cycle, the CR-V is admirably frugal for a mid-sized 4x4.
The CR-V was facelifted last year, but the differences are hard to spot. They include a subtly reprofiled front and rear and a hard spare wheel cover.
On the road
It’s not a vehicle for the enthusiastic driver. The slow-witted steering requiring some mental readjustment the first time you drive it, but the car generally rides well, requires minimal effort to drive and is an undemanding way to travel.
The intelligent four-wheel-drive system only kicks in when it senses the need to and was also upgraded during the facelift last year to make it smoother. Honda doesn’t pointlessly hype up the CR-V’s off-road abilities, describing it as ideal for ‘grass and gravel terrain’. In reality, it has more than enough ability for most users.
The cabin is typically solid, although some of the materials feel a little cheap – notably the so-called leather steering wheel on this high-spec Executive model. At least some effort has been made to give the dashboard some rugged 4x4 design cues, with its grab handles and flamboyant upright handbrake. This Executive model also has plenty of standard equipment, including climate control, satellite navigation, heated leather seats and a sunroof.
Practicality is still the CR-V’s strongest suit: there’s loads of elbow room up front and a small table that can be raised between the front seats, while the rear seats slide fore and aft and recline by up to 45 degrees. With the rear seats up and forward there’s 628 litres of boot space, rising to an impressive 952 litres with the seats down.
At £22,800 this Executive SE i-CTDi is £1400 more than the same spec with a petrol engine. That, and the typical ownership profile of the CR-V, leads Honda to believe that the petrol model will still eventually outsell the diesel at a ratio of 57:43. But the diesel CR-V covers an emerging and important gap in the market, and should ensure Honda continues its massive success in this market. Quietly.