The original Indian soft-roader moves ahead a generation. So, how has Honda managed to improve an already brilliant formula?
Comfortable Runabout Vehicle’. That is the design philosophy that gave birth to the original CR-V, and it hasn’t changed since. Back in 2004, Honda launched the second-generation CR-V in Indian and it pioneered the soft-roader movement here by giving us an absolutely new kid of vehicle. The CR-V had the best of both car and SUV world as its core ingredients and Indian loved this blend. Hence, despite the steep price tag (it was a CBU), the CR-V sold a respectable number of units during its initial tenure. Over the years, the prices of petrol and the CR-V were locked together in an eager northward climb, causing sales of the Honda to take a steep dive. Now, Honda is introducing us to the brand new, fourth-generation CR-V that may create a fresh interest in the car. The main advantage working in the new CR-V’s favour is that it is assembled in india and, at a starting price of Rs 19.95 lakh for the 2.0-litre manual model we tested, is substantially cheaper. Plus, the price gap between petrol and diesel is diminishing by the month, which comes as some relief for the continued absence of a diesel engine in the Honda SUV. But the truth is that for the CR-V to win back its popularity without a diesel in its arsenal, it will have to be truly exceptional. So, is it?
DESIGN & ENGINEERING
Approach the CR-V and it is immediately evident that the new car is visually for more assertive in comparison to its predecessor. The distinctive three-bar grille makes it look a lot more serious and it’s a more cohesive design than that Darth Vader-ish front of the earlier car. The black cladding on the lower portion of the bumper and skid-plate treatment below the bumper gives it that SUV look. Honda has cleverly used sharp lines, cuts and creases to give the new CR-V an illusion of being larger than it actually is. In fact, the new CR-V is shorter by a good 30mm in height and 5mm in length than its predecessor but, the engineers have managed to do this without it affecting the wheelbase. Also, the windscreen has been pushed forward by a good 30mm to create more space for the occupants. Interestingly, the tapering rear-quarter section bears an uncanny resemblance to the Volvo XC60. Overall, though the design may not be very inspirational, it does not offend either and will undeniably have a broader visual appeal than the previous car. The large windscreen area and the sleek A-pillar work towards filling up the cabin with a fair amount of natural light while also enhancing visibility. Honda engineers have further reduced NVH (noise, vibration and harshness) levels by using improved sound absorption material, better carpets and under-bonnet material.
Powering the new CR-V are the same 2.0-and 2.4-litre petrol engines we are familiar with. But, Honda has reworked these by reducing friction in the engine internals and tuned them to produce a tad more power and torque. WE tested the 2.0-litre car with a six-speed manual transmission that drives the front wheels (there is no option of four-wheel-drive available with this engine size). While the smaller of the two engines gets an option of either manual or an automatic transmission, the 2.4-litre variant comes mated to only a five-speed automatic transmission. Safety has also been given its due importance with six airbags-dual-front, side and curtain – and an occupant – position detection system (OPDS) amongst features like ABS, EBD, VSA (vehicle stability assist), which are standard fitment across the range. The highly rigid unibody construction combined with lightweight suspension components makes the new CR-V lighter yet stronger. It tips the scales at 1480kg – about 50 kg lighter than the previous car.
This is one area, more than others, where the CR-V needs to live up to its positioning as a Rs 20-plus-lakh car. Enter the cabin and the typical buyer may be hard pressed to justify the price tag it carries. Compared to the older CR-V’s interiors, one can’t help but think Honda has taken a step backwards here. While the older car had a fine blend of textures and materials such as the finely dimpled dashboard coupled with the metal finished accents, the new CR-V’s dashboard has an unstinting dose of hard plastics in black hues. It just lacks the sense of sophistication one expects at this price-point and, although well engineered, consumers would have definitely liked Honda to exercise some more imagination. For instance, the multi-information screen, which doubles up as a screen for the reversing camera and audio player, looks like it was designed in the late eighties, mainly due to the choice of outdated looking fonts. However, in contrast, the console’s technical-looking dials, apart from looking modern and crisp, offer excellent readability. Flanking the large speedo is a ‘glow-green tree meter’ and the way it smoothly migrates from white to green to reward your light-footedness, is a great touch. The top-of-the-line 2.4-litre CR-V comes equipped with a larger centre console fitted with a 6.1-inch screen (with video and navigation), this is not an option in the 2.0-litre model.
Like most Hondas, the CR-V has excellent ergonomics with all the essential controls within perfect reach of the driver. All the buttons operate with a good positive click and the knobs that adjust the dual-zone air-conditioner have a nice viscous feel to them. At the end of it, interior styling is a subjective area but how does the new CR-V fare in the more tangible aspect of things such as space and practicality? Thanksfully, there is a substantial improvement here on most fronts. Whatever Honda lost in terms of form, it has definitely made up for in function. Up front, the seats offer better under-thigh support than the previous car and finding a good driving position is easy, thanks to the eight-way electrically powered seat and a steering wheel that is rake as well as telescopically adjustable. In tune with Honda’s ‘man maximum, machine minimum’ philosophy, the new CR-V, despite being physically smaller in dimensions, through some ingenious packaging, manages to liberate more all-round space for its occupants. And, it’s not just space that is impressive, the clever use of door pockets and armrests results in a lot of pockets; and the cubby holes are useful to keep items you’ d like to easily access such as your phone or mp3 player. However, the design is not as clever as before. Unlike the older car, the lack of open space between the seats and centre console restricts some storage options. However, you get three cup holders instead of the earlier two, but the storage box isn’t as deep as before. Similarly, unique bits like the use full twin glove box and ‘conversation mirror’ – to keep an eye on the kids-are missing. But, an additional 12-volt socket in the new CR-V’s storage box helps prevent your smartphone and tablet from running out of juice. Moreover, in terms of practicality, Honda has vastly improved its rear seats and boot design. The rear seats now have a lower hip point, which makes ingress and egress easier. The seats are more comfortable too, with much better under-thigh support than before. The CR-V maintains its flat rear floor, making it a genuine five-seater and even with a six-footer up front, legroom is adequate at the back. Further improving practicality, the cargo loading area is now at approximately knee height, which makes it more convenient to load heavy luggage.
The best party trick is how the seats flip and tumble forward with just the pull of a lever, to give way in which the headrests, seat squab and backrest fold to offer a flat loading floor is a cleaver piece of engineering.
ENGINE, GEARBOX & PERFORMANCE
The 2.0-litre engine in our test car is essentially the same four-cylinder, SOHC in-line motor as in the previous CR-V. However, Honda has extensively reworked it to make it an amazingly flexible engine, which is definitely a strong point of the CR-V.
Unlike the typical Honda engines that have a scrawny bottom end, this motor has a good deal of useable power that starts as low as 1200rpm, and from there on, it just pulls seamlessly to the 6800rpm redline. In fact, we found this 2.0-litre engine to be on par with the previous 2.4-litre in terms of performance , and it’s a lot smoother too. What makes this engine even more delightful is that, past 3500rpm, it has an aggressive and sporty soundtrack and even though it’s a tad loud, you don’t mind the volume. Further, in traditional Honda fashion, the slick six-speed ratios that, while being a joy to flick through, also extracts the best from this engine. Flat-out performance is quite strong for a car with these dimensions. 100kph comes up in just 10.72 seconds. Thanks to the motor’s broad powerband, the CR-V rarely feels bogged down and its in-gear times reflect this. For instance, 40-100kph in fourth gear comes up in 15.42 seconds which is about half a second quicker than the almost 250kg lighter Civic! Don’t just go by the times though; the real forte of this motor is the excellent drive ability it offers, which I what really matters in the real world. Honda, over the years, has really nailed the 2.0-litre petrol engine formula (the S2000 is a shining example), we reckon that, in India, this just might be one of the best naturally aspirated four-cylinder units around.
If we had to nit-pick, there are a couple of things. The clutch has a ‘snatchy’ nature that causes a mild jerk during up-shifts and can get a tad irritating in stop-and-go city traffic where you tend to change gears often. Also, the new CR-V has a bit of trouble with getting away from rest swiftly. It has enough power but, it doesn’t manage to put it down too well – there’s too much wheelspin and a fair bit of torque steer as well.
RIDE & HANDLING
We praised the previous generation CR-V for its almost saloon-like driving dynamics, but does that still hold true? Simply put, yes. However, there are a couple of areas that aren’t as accomplished as we would have liked. To begin with, the CR-V’s ride feels a little unsettled and denies it that ‘big car feel’. A stiffer chassis and re-tuned suspension means it does ride quite well for the most part but, sharp edges do filter through and the car has tendency to follow undulation on the road. It just doesn’t have the flat ride like say the Skoda Yeti, which is the real benchmark for SUV dynamics today.
That said, for a car this size, the steering and clutch are very light and the new CR-V feels a lot more nimble and agile on its feet compared to the older car. The old hydraulic steering wheel has been replaced by a new electric unit which is a delight to use in the city but is a bit too light for highway use. Though it’s precise and consistent, we would have preferred a weightier steering with more feel. Also, the 225/65-section Micheline tyres let in a fair bit of road noise in an otherwise silent cabin. Around the bends though , the CR-V perfectly exhibits its saloon-like traits and body roll is kept to a minimum. There is some tyre squeal but, you can safely approach corners at a full 20-25kph quicker in the CR-V than in any other SUV this size. As for the brakes, they are effective, but feel a bit grabby towards the end of their travel.
The new CR-V returned a decent 9kpl in the city, while on the highway it managed to cover 12.1 kilometres for every litre of petrol. That makes it more fuel efficient than the previous CR-V and result n a reasonable range of about 667km under mixed driving conditions. To improve economy, the new CR-V is equipped with an ECON button as part of the ‘Eco Assist’ system. This green button on the dash supposedly alters the mapping of the drive-by-wire throttle system, cruise control parameters and decreases the voltage of the fan in the air-conditioning system to reduce fuel consumption. We performed our tests with the ECON mode activated and quite frankly, couldn’t feel any perceptible change in throttle response.
Improved and better value, but not a huge leap forward.
The CR-V doesn’t digress from its original template (or name), it sticks to what it set out to do – be a ‘comfortable runabout vehicle and it does that rather well. In its latest guise, it has an improved engine that offers better drive ability and fuel efficiency. It also looks quite smart and although the cabin may be a tad uninspiring, practical touches, like the ultra-easy-to-fold rear seats, are something that is immensely useful in everyday scenarios. Similarly, although the car may not feel very solid, it makes up for it with good nimbleness and agility. And as far as soft-roaders go, the CR-V is the pioneer and is still as good as they get. The best bit is that, since it’s locally produced, that sheds a third of its price. The CR-V has never been better value. We just wish it was more of a leap forward.
Front seats are large but a tad firm; rear seats offer good thigh support.
Engine’s flexibility is fantastic and flat-outperformance is good too.
Vibration-free for the most part. Cabin lets in some road noise.
Lowered price makes it (especially the 2.0-litre) great value.
Six airbags, ABS, EBD, VSA offered as standard across the range.
Good for the most part but sharper bumps are easily felt.
A benchmark in the segment with very car-like dynamics.
BUILD & QUALITY 8/10
Decent quality but lacks an air of luxury and sophistication.