The Honda CR-V is one of those cars that manages to be an enormous success without being particularly noticeable. Honda dominated the mid-size ‘soft-roader’ market last year, and the CR-V easily outsold the Toyota RAV4, yet it barely registered on many people’s radar. The majority of CR-V owners couldn’t care less, because in the CR-V they find an ideal companion for their daily lives and outdoor pursuits. ‘Compact recreational vehicle’ might sound corny, but it’s pretty apt.
Until now, the lack of a torquey turbodiesel has been the only chink in the CR-V’s armour, but the fitment of Honda’s award-winning diesel engine must have the opposition very worried. This is traditionally a petrol-powered market sector, but the real growth in recent years – as is so often the case – has been in diesels. Honda wants to capitalise on this, so it’s bringing over the Japanese-built 2.2-litre i-CTDi unit to slot into some of the 105,000 CR-Vs it builds in Swindon every year. Towards the end of the year, the engine will be built in Honda’s Swindon factory, too.
Under the bonnet
Although it is said to be retuned for the CR-V, the all-aluminium 2.2-litre diesel powerplant produces the same 138bhp at 4000rpm and 251lb ft of torque at 2000rpm as it does in the Accord. We’ve already heaped praise on this engine for its cleanliness, refinement and heavyweight torque punch, and most of those attributes are present in the CR-V.
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.