Improved exterior is more attractive
Honda claims that the CR-V is the best-selling car in its segment worldwide, which just goes to prove that the SUV market is in a rude state of health. Although only two years old, this fourth generation version has been given a substantial facelift by the Japanese firm both inside and out, with significant mechanical upgrades too.
The SUV segment has continued to expand over the last decade, particularly with crossovers or 'soft-roaders' as they have been called, which forego much in the way of off-road ability for improved on-road dynamic, reflecting the actual usage of most customers. Honda was at the forefront of this new direction with the original CR-V, but this forth generation model has a much broader range of competitors.
From the outside the CR-V looks much as before; the changes are tweaking of details rather than substantial bodywork alterations, though the effects are significant. Most notable is the new front end which incorporates a broad, sweeping chrome line running underneath the new headlights, with new taillights at the rear. It gives the CR-V a bit more personality and impact, and makes the most of the overall shape.
Perhaps more importantly there are significant mechanical changes beneath the skin. The 2.2-litre diesel has been replaced by a twin-turbocharged version of the existing 1.6-litre diesel. Despite being considerably down on capacity it offers more power and torque than the old engine yet with improved emissions and economy. In addition this can be driven through a new nine-speed automatic gearbox as well as a six-speed manual. The suspension has also been revised for sharper handling.
The other key area of development in the fourth generation CR-V is the interior. There's a sweep of metal effect across the dashboard, echoing that across the car's nose and the material quality has been improved too. There's a new infotainment system too, which offers a Mirror Link connection to your smartphone for added convenience.
There was very little wrong with the previous generation CR-V but the enhancements have increased its appeal still further. The new diesel engine is excellent and works very well with the new gearbox too, while the chassis refinements add a pleasing level of capability to a car that is unlikely to be driven in such a manner anyway. With a fine cabin and excellent practicality it remains a car that can be bought with confidence.
For a car of its size and performance the CR-V should be impressively inexpensive to run, at least where fuel consumption is concerned. The specification is also good even on the entry level model and insurance costs should be competitive for the class.
This is an area where the CR-V performs particularly well, making excellent use of its dimensions. All passengers have good head and legroom, even with the optional sunroof fitted, while the boot is tall rather than long but offers very impressive space with the seats up or down. Between the front seats there is a large storage box, although the glovebox and door bins are relatively slim.
A clear layout is a key Honda attribute and the CR-V is no different. The instruments are large and clearly marked, the screen is well placed and bright and all the controls are easy to understand from first glance. The new Honda Connect system works well and gives easy access to a wide number of features, and crucially is easy to set up too.
For a car designed to carry all manner of passengers the CR-V offers impressive comfort levels. The cabin is spacious with comfortable seats, noise levels are generally well managed and the ride quality remains sound. There is a little more wind noise a motorway speeds but for the most part this will not disturb passengers.
All CR-V models get the essential alarm, immobiliser and remote locking as standard, while further up the range keyless go and privacy glass are added. The boot area is well hidden thanks to the deep tailgate and sturdy load cover too.
Already a car with a strong reputation for safety, Honda has increased the number of safety systems available on the CR-V to a very high level. With all the boxes ticked the CR-V offers features such as collision mitigation, land keep assist and what Honda claims is the first intelligent active cruise control that can anticipate cars moving into your lane and adjust its speed accordingly.
Despite its modest capacity the twin-turbocharged 1.6-litre diesel engine performs very well, especially when combined with the desirable nine-speed automatic transmission. It is quite refined, only become vocal when revved hard, and the acceleration on offer is strong despite the impressive economy and emissions. The changes to the suspension have improved its road manners too, and the CR-V grips gamely when pressed and is unfazed by ham-fisted driving even if it is safe rather than exciting.
Aside from being a strict five-seater the CR-V is likely to be an ideal family vehicle. It has the generous cabin space and sturdy build, while the flexible seating configuration should be able to cope with all kinds of child seats and buggies.
While certainly undemanding to drive the CR-V is a little large and too expensive to suit the majority of new drivers.
Honda has built its reputation on producing quality cars and just a few minutes with the CR-V shows that it will continue in this mould. Although the materials are not necessarily as posh as premium rivals the standard of build is very high and promises longevity. Image-wise the CR-V is possibly one of Honda's more distinct cars and has an appeal that stretches beyond the usual senior demographic.
The slightly lower roof has not impacted on access to the CR-V: climbing in through any of the doors is simple with the floor at just the right height to allow an easy slide into the seat. The same goes for the boot which is at the perfect height and the electric operation makes life very easy indeed. Folding the seats requires a simple pull on a lever and the whole arrangement folds instantly.
Dubbed Honda Connect, the new infotainment system links easily to Android-based smartphones and allows for mirroring as well as a multitude of apps to download for increased functionality. In addition there is DAB, USB and auxiliary input and Bluetooth as standard.
The CR-V retains the grey trim around the sills but the increased quantity of chrome finish helps to lift the overall appearance. Brighter shades such as red suit it well, while blacks and greys result in a more discreet look. Inside the improvement in materials is welcome, and choosing the light cream trim option is preferable to the uniform grey.
Although a mid-sized vehicle the CR-V is straightforward to manoeuvre, with a generous glazed area and very light steering at low speed. Assistance is also given by parking sensors front and rear and the option of a reversing camera.
A space saver spare wheel is fitted beneath the boot floor.
Petrol engine options – 2.0-litre (153bhp) Diesel engine options – 1.6-litre (115bhp, 158bhp). Transmission options: six speed manual or nine-speed automatic. Trim levels: S, SE, SR and EX.