There is no mystery behind the boom in sales in the compact SUV sector. Spend ten or so minutes behind the wheel of Honda’s all-wheel-drive CR-V wagon, and it all becomes clear.
Economical, easy to drive, spacious, and equally at home on city streets as on the farm, Honda’s CR-V has a lot of appeal. It is also smartly styled, well put-together and comfortable.
For a young family or couples looking for a versatile and roomy little wagon, the CR-V makes sense. We put the CR-V Luxury model through its paces for this review.
What’s the appeal?
The CR-V's footprint is not much bigger than a mid-sized hatch, and it’s just as easy to drive and to live with.
With an upright driving position, short overhangs, easy manoeuvrability, enough room for a growing family and with ample zest under the toe when called for, what is there not to like?
Also assisting its case is a beautifully balanced 2.4 litre engine and a well-matched five-speed auto. Throttle response is surprisingly sharp and it sacrifices little (or nothing) in driving dynamics over a conventional small wagon or hatch.
For 2010, Honda gave the CR-V a light makeover with a little extra equipment and some key feature upgrades. Importantly, thanks to a strong Aussie dollar, it also came in for a downward pricing revision.
New for the 2010 Luxury model we had on test are automatic lights and wipers and new alloy wheels. The range also gets revised exterior mirrors to cut wind noise and extra sound-deadening around the engine bay and into the cabin.
These improvements are evident when on the road; the 2010 CR-V leads the class for on-road refinement.
Other changes inside include upgraded trim fabrics and interior surfaces, and new interior colour tones (being mostly black).
Things below have not escaped the attention of Honda engineers with changes to the front castor angles and rear bushes. While subtle, the revised front-end geometry sharpens the feel at the wheel over the old model and improves ‘turn-in’ response when cormering.
What features does it have?
Whichever model CR-V you specify, there is a lot of car packed into the price-point.
The Luxury model we had on test comes loaded to the gunwales: sunroof, tilt and telescopic control multi-function leather-wrapped steering wheel, cruise control, multi-information display, eight way power adjustment front seat, heated front seats, driver’s footrest, front and rear air-con, dust and pollen filter, dual-zone climate control, Bluetooth connectivity, central locking, six cup holders and four bottle holders, 12V power outlet, cargo restraint hook, split-fold rear seats, double-deck cargo shelf, luggage cover, and the list goes on.
Feature upgrades to the range include two new accessory packs: the Active pack and Modulo Sports pack, both priced at $2699 including fitting.
The ‘Active’ pack includes Bluetooth, side steps, roof racks, deluxe mats, cargo protector tray, chrome exhaust tip, side-window visors, door sill garnish and dust and pollen filter.
The ‘Modulo Sports’ pack adds side steps, front and rear skid-plate, tailgate spoiler, sports grille, chrome exhaust tip and chrome mirror covers.
What's under the bonnet?
Honda's 2.4-litre DOHC i-VTEC engine, producing 125kW @ 5800rpm and with peak torque of 218Nm @ 4200rpm is a standout in the segment. It is a beaut engine and takes to the task enthusiastically.
Capable of hustling the CR-V to 100km/h in 10.2 seconds, it comes mated to a five-speed automatic. (A five-speed manual is also available in lower-spec models.)
How does it drive?
With Honda’s CR-V, we’re talking about a very competent and wholly user-friendly ‘upright mid-size wagon’. It is lively around town; acceleration in the traffic light derby is brisk and, on the move, the CR-V is easily poked into holes in the traffic.
With good all-round vision, light but direct steering and a compact turning circle, it is just as easily threaded in and out of tight shopping centre car parks.
Of course, a load up blunts things, but the CR-V provides a sensible balance between power and economy. Quite simply, it is powerful enough.
The suspension too is adept. Whether on smooth tarmac or being hustled along gravel roads, it provides a comfortable and well-sorted ride. Certainly better over a variety of surfaces than many in the sector.
Like the Mitsubishi ASX we tested recently, there is a ‘long-travel’ feel to the suspension that isolates things below and allows it to ride over bumps and hollows without jarring and juddering.
Pushing through corners, there is a little more body roll than you would notice in a small hatch or sedan, but the CR-V feels reassuringly secure and it is not easily 'bounced' off line by broken tarmac or mid-corner hollows.
While the highway tyres weren’t really up to the task on the slippery grass, the CR-V did a lot better than we expected in dragging itself across some muddy banks and hollows that would have stopped dead any 2WD wagon.
With good approach and departure angles, put some dual purpose tyres on the CR-V and you’d have an effective little light-duties wagon.
Sure, It's horses for courses. Leave fire trails to heavy duty 4WDs, but the CR-V is certainly capable of a family foray to a favourite secluded camping spot.
Interior quality and feel?
The CR-V's interior is not the best in the segment, neither in style nor feel, but it’s well-finished and appealing enough. We like the simple clear instrumentation, and the gear shift set high in the centre console.
Controls are easy-to-use and intuitive in layout. We also like the heat-absorbing windows and small touches like the sunglasses holder.
Not so appealing is the shaping of the seats, we expected a little better from the $42k-plus Luxury model on test. The leather is fine, it feels good, but the seats are a little flat and lack support.
The door trims, especially the heavy plastic grab handle, also look a bit naff; but, overall, the fit and finish is typically Honda – that means at the top of the pile.
" class="small img-responsive"/>What did our passengers think?
With a comfortable ride, quiet underfoot and good vision, the CR-V has a lot of appeal for a young family.
There is also ample room across the rear seats for the weekend excursion with the three juniors, (adults will find it a bit more of a squeeze).
The split rear cargo area, with a stowable ‘shelf’, is surprising large. It can easily accommodate the ‘weekly mega-shop’ on the top shelf, with the school bags, cricket gear and assorted teenage detritus below.
Economy and Green Credentials
Combined cycle fuel economy for both the five-speed automatic (as tested) and five-speed manual is 10 l/100km.
We did better than that, averaging 9.6 l/100km over the week (but with a fair dollop of highway kilometres).
For normal driving, the CR-V emits 237g of CO2 per km.
How does it compare?
Leading the compact SUV sector is the Forester at number one and RAV4 not far adrift. The CR-V can claim less than half the monthly sales of each of these.
At $42,790 plus, the CR-V Luxury competes with the premium V6-spec RAV which can currently be snagged for a discounted $50,537 drive-away, and the 2.4 litre RAV4 Cruiser L, currently at $44,453 drive-away.
While the RAV offers a lot for the asking, including strong trade-in values, we would lean to the CR-V for its more lively feel, better-balanced handling, and appealing lines.
Although blandly styled, it's a potent performer, but at $44,990 (plus on roads) for the manual and $47,490 (plus) for the four-speed auto, it carries a price premium over the CR-V Luxury. The Forester diesel is the better bet but it doesn’t come with auto.
For all in the compact SUV segment, the biggest challenge ahead is Mazda’s rampant CX-7. For the top spec-model it’s more expensive, topping out at $50,159 (drive-away) and its 2.4 litre petrol turbo has got a thirst on it.
Like the Forester, the CX-7 also comes in frugal diesel, but it too is hampered by the lack of an automatic (for now).
Of the rest, Suzuki’s Grand Vitara is the unsung hero with a nice interior, good on-road performance and genuine off-road capability. The top-spec, 'leather-everywhere' model can be had for $39,990 drive-away and is well worth a look if you’re shopping in this segment.
Nissan’s X-Trail – at $45,065 (drive-away) for the luxury Ti – is rugged and handy enough off-road but misses out on the style and finesse of the CR-V.
Also coming on strong in the segment is Mitsubishi’s Outlander and ASX – each well-thought-out and competent ‘crossover’ packages with smart interiors and drivetrain options. So too is Hyundai's ix35 and KIA’s new Sportage.
The latter in particular has both the style and performance to make a strong claim for the attention of young families with an eye to value.
How safe is it?
The CR-V Luxury comes with driver and passenger front and side airbags, and full-length curtain airbags protecting rear passengers.
It also comes with an energy absorbing steering column, anti-lock braking (ABS), stability control (VSA), traction contol (TCS) and, of course, real-time 4WD.
How much is it?
Available in three levels of specification, the CR-V begins at $30,990 for the entry-level model. The Sport variant is $38,790, and the Luxury is priced at $42,790 or $43,265 with metallic paint (plus on-roads for each).
" class="small img-responsive"/>TMR Verdict
For versatility, space efficiency and user-ease, Honda's CR-V has a lot going for it. Quieter and more refined on road than most in the segment, it is certainly one of the better performers.
Is it the best drive? No, we would give that to Mazda's CX-7. But, in petrol, the CR-V beats it hands down for fuel economy and holds a considerable price advantage.
If you’re looking for something that feels 'a cut above' without being too punishing on family finances, then we would highly recommend a close look at Honda’s CR-V.
You will enjoy driving it. You will also appreciate its versatility. It can easily cope with the daily graft as the family bus as well as the rough-and-tumble of the get-away holiday.