Published on December 1st, 2012 | by Seán Ward0
It’s been difficult for me trying to come to a fair conclusion about the new Honda CR-V.
You see, in my mind SUVs are fundamentally wrong, unless you genuinely need to use them for moving lots of kit (or kids) around in a car that doesn’t resemble a decrepit old minibus; The majority are used by people with lots of money to move in and out of towns and cities, not with any intent to move people or things, but simply to look cool.
Modern SUVs are a symbol of status and wealth – fact.
But I decided to ignore my views on SUVs, because even if people use them ‘incorrectly’, it doesn’t make the CR-V any worse.
The first surprise was where Honda began the launch. Normally, you arrive at the airport and get on a bus or into a car to be taken to a hotel, in front of which all the pristine press cars are presented with sequential number plates and enough free food to feed you, should the need arise, for several decades, but with the CR-V they put the car not only seconds away from where Ford were launching one of their new models, but right in the centre of Munich airport. Quite literally outside the front door. (It made me chuckle thinking of all the distressed Audi, BMW and Mercedes reps who occupy stands at various points around the airport, twitching at the very sight of a Japanese car company launching an assault on the German car market from the inside – “nein, nein, das ist nicht gut!”. It was made especially worse by my playing ‘The Great Escape’ theme on the stereo at every opportunity…)
The second surprise was just how far the looks of this thing have moved on when compared with the three previous generations, examples of which had been parked alongside the latest creation. The first gen from 1995 was rather basic but none the less functional, and the cars following looked pretty much identical, albeit with chunkier pillars and slightly less “wash-off-functional” interiors. But the new car, with its arty front and much more pronounced curves looks much, much better. The only downside is the rear visibility, as the car’s pillars obstruct much of what is behind, but that is typical of most new cars, and not a downside exclusive to the CRV.
The interior is similarly undull; it’s not as premium as a German car (a similar tale with the whole car), but by buying one of these you can look at the man in the German car and laugh at the fact you have enough money left after your purchase to go on several holidays, and he does not (you pay a £3k premium on similarly specced German rivals). And everything is comfortable and well put together, so who cares if it isn’t made of the most exotic substances?
Anyway, what’s the new CR-V like on the road?
For starters, let’s talk engines and speed – that is, after all, what almost every car person wants to hear about first.
I managed to test three cars on the launch, the first was the 2.2 litre diesel automatic with 147 bhp and 258 lb/ft of torque, the second a dented (more on that in a moment) 2.0 litre petrol manual with 152 bhp and 141 lb/ft of torque, and then finally a 2.2 litre diesel manual, with the same power and torque as the automatic.
Normally, journalists say that diesel is the fuel of Satan, but truth be told the 2.2 litre diesel manual is by far and away the best of the bunch; the engine has plenty of torque, it’s plenty fast, and while it sounds like a tractor from the outside, on the inside you’d barely know what lurked under the bonnet. But there’s more. Car manufacturers normally lie about the speeds a car can achieve, vastly over exaggerating the figures so that you will buy their car over another’s, but with Honda, the top speed had been understated. The press booklet said that the car could achieve 190 kph (118 mph), but I managed 210 kph (130 mph). So not only is the CR-V more than fast enough for use in the UK, but I am now the youngest person in history to max the CR-V, a record that will probably stand for all time. After all, how many other 19 year olds will take a CR-V on the Autobahn?
As for the other engines and gearboxes, the five-speed diesel automatic is fine and really quite relaxing, but my beef with that gearbox-engine combination stems from the addition of flappy paddles behind the steering wheel. Ten years ago, paddle gearboxes were the stuff of dreams, and were found solely on cars from a little Italian town called Maranello, but now all cars have to aspire to sportiness, hence the paddles. Leave the gearbox in automatic, it’s brilliant, but select ‘S’ with the gearlever and things start to fall apart. Driving enthusiastically to the redline leads to you hit the limiter because the paddles are slow, and sometimes the ‘box would change for you and sometimes it wouldn’t. Very irritating. My advice: buy the automatic to relax, and if you want the thrill of changing gear yourself, avoid the paddles and go for a manual.
And the six-speed petrol manual? The gearbox was good (a tad notchy if I had to be picky, and first gear was far too long – the same with the diesel manual), but while the engine itself didn’t have very much power or torque, it managed the autobahn absolutely fine. And when we made it to Munich in the evening and a Porsche 911 and a BMW M3 pulled alongside at the lights, and a revving battle ensued, they were left for dead by my four wheel drive. I speak no word of a lie: the new Honda CRV is faster than a Porsche 911 and a BMW M car.
Oh, and not to mention more economical than an M3 – an ‘Econ’ button, usually reserved for Honda’s hybrids, sits proudly on the dash. Press it, and the dash is bathed in a soothing green light, and put your foot down, the green goes away. A rather nice little feature that really does encourage you to stay calm, and drive at a very relaxed pace.
Dynamically, I wasn’t expecting much, but, as I’ve said before, the car had surprisingly little roll and was a rather nice drive. Most unusual is that when you start pushing on, everything starts to come together more than you expect, too; the gearbox, the engine, the suspension, the steering, the brakes. It all just works. And sing praises from the rooftops: the steering is weighty. I love it – it’s so, so nice to feel like you have to manhandle a car rather than let the car do everything.
The only real problems I found with the car were with the SatNav, because it wouldn’t tell me the local speed limit, and that when the panoramic roof was shut, it didn’t half make the car feel bleak.
Should you buy one?