Drives Honda CR-V 1.6 i-DTEC

Published on February 4th, 2014 | by Seán Ward

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Honda CR-V 1.6 i-DTEC

Downsizing and turbocharging has been the mantra of car manufacturers in recent years. The four-cylinder is loosing out to the turbo-three, and screaming V10s are being replaced by turbo V8s.

But what happens when a big car is given a very small engine? Illogical, right? Surely you’ll just have to work the engine harder to get up to speed? Despite some scepticism, this is exactly what Honda has done with the CR-V.

Honda CR-V 1.6 i-DTEC Parked

We drove the Civic 1.6 i-DTEC last year and were pleasantly surprised; it wasn’t a fast car by any stretch of the imagination, but 78mpg from a family diesel hatch? It’s stupendous.

But has Honda pulled off the same trick with the CR-V? Let’s look at the CR-V as a concept, first of all. Tipping the scales at more than 1600kg, the CR-V is a considerable lump. While it might not be your first port of call when looking at SUVs (or 4x4s, if you opt for one of the four-wheel drive variants), it’s an attractive car and seems to be ageing rather well.

Ordinarily, though, big cars need big engines, so the idea of putting such a small engine into something like a CR-V seems laughable. But let’s find out.

I make no confessions when I say that the 1.6 i-DTEC engine, as engines go, is a very good one. It doesn’t set you alight, but any engine that can push you along for 300 miles and still let the fuel gauge say ‘Full’ should be applauded as an engineering masterpiece.

But pulling up in an SUV and telling people I had a 1.6 diesel didn’t exactly bring questions about fuel economy or the wonders of turbocharging. Instead, as I discovered, all you’re likely to find are frowns and the words “Is that it?”

Honda CR-V 1.6 i-DTEC Town

Let’s establish some facts. The CR-V 1.6 i-DTEC has 120 bhp and 221 lb/ft of torque, and with our SE trim costs £25,160 (the sparkly white paint adds in £500). With that you get everything you’d want from a mid-range trim, with the exception of satnav (no satnav in a car that costs £25k seems rather unfair). Comparing the stats to the larger 2.2 litre CR-V diesel, you can’t help but wonder if the 2.2 should have been worked on a little longer, as it manages just 30 bhp and 15 lb/ft more than the 1.6.

Another plus point for the 1.6 is that the engine weighs 47kg less than the larger 2.2, and overall the car weighs around 100 kg less. All good for driving dynamics, wouldn’t you say?

On the road, the CR-V is comfortable and quiet (usual Honda), but soft suspension means that pitching the CR-V into a corner results in a fair amount of roll.

Roll you can cope with, as it is after all an SUV, but as the weight pitches forward in tighter corners onto the outside front wheel, the nose dips to the ground, washing the front end out completely.

Honda CR-V 1.6 i-DTEC OversteerPushing hard onto the brakes feels remarkably similar to the Civic, but again the weight pitches forward onto the front wheels, dropping the nose. The only slight advantage is that the rear goes light, so pitch the car into a corner hard enough and you’ll likely see the back move around. Curing the understeer with mild oversteer – brilliant.

Everything else feels fairly similar to the Civic as well. The clutch is light and easy, the throttle light but a little hard to judge, and the brake pedal light with a lack of feel at the top of the pedal but better further down and under harder braking.

The gearbox is a case of déjà vu, too: the six speed manual box is smooth and it’s easy to get the gear you want, even when you rifle quickly up or down the box. (For reference, there is no automatic or four-wheel drive option for the 1.6.)

What to make of the CR-V, then. Should you buy one? As a car for going out for a drive on a Sunday afternoon, no you shouldn’t.

Unless you really need the extra space, the Civic (even with the same 1.6 litre diesel) is a better car to drive. It might cost roughly the same, but there’s less weight, less body movement, and while it doesn’t feel faster, on paper it is the quicker of the two. Perhaps more importantly with this engine, the Civic is more economical too, managing 78 mpg rather than 62 mpg.

That being said, while it isn’t a car to take for a fun drive, 62 mpg for a car of this size is staggering, and there’s a lot of space and comfort.

To conclude, if you want an economical Honda that’s good fun, the Civic 1.6 i-DTEC is the best buy. (We also tested both the CR-V 2.2 diesel and the 1.8 petrol on the Autobahn in 2012…). More to the point, buying the CR-V 2.2 diesel won’t really get you much more performance, so why waste the fuel and money? The CR-V 1.6 i-DTEC is really very good indeed and definitely the pick of the bunch.

+ Best engine for CR-V
+ Ridiculously economical
+ Decent interior
- Not very fast
- Civic better car for driving enthusiastically
- Front end too keen to understeer

Words, Sean Ward. Photos, Tom Shaxson.

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