Road test: Honda CR-V 2.2 iDTEC SE
Can Honda’s new CR-V climb back to the top of the SUV mountain?
Price as tested: €37,785
It seems almost crazy to think of it now, but back when the original Honda CR-V was launched, the Japanese brand controlled one quarter of the Irish SUV market. Back in 1998, it seemed, we just couldn’t get enough of one of the original soft-roaders.
Spool forward to 2012 and things have changed rather a lot, not least of which, the CR-V itself. The outgoing generation was larger than before, and centered around a diesel engine rather than the petrol-focused original.
High in quality and comfort, it was a rival to the likes of the BMW X3 and Audi Q5, as much as its more obvious sparring partners, the Toyota RAV 4 and Ford Kuga. But good car though it was, the outgoing CR-V had to content itself with a much smaller slice of the market, not least because, instead of the mere handful of rivals the 1998 original had to contend with, now there is an army of them.
With this new generation model of CR-V, Honda will be trying to claw back some of that original sales dominance and it’s going about that in three distinct ways.
For a start, the new CR-V carries over the previous models’ two most successful features: its cabin space and its 2.2-litre 148bhp diesel engine. The spacious interior and cavernous boot mark the new CR-V out as one of the few SUVs that can actually boast proper utility; you can really cram it full of people and cargo, not something you can say for all of its rivals.
Meanwhile, the still-excellent 2.2-litre iDTEC engine, while it lacks outright power compared to such rivals, is still smooth, punchy and impressively economical. It has even managed to drop a tax band, from Band D to Band C, saving owners a significant amount in annual motor tax.
The second strand to the CR-V’s strategy is its styling, which looks much buffer and more striking than it did before. The old CR-V always looked a touch apologetic. This new one is much more assertive, and all the better for it.
Finally, Honda has realised that it must compete on price, and the most affordable version of the new CR-V clocks in with a €37,795 price tag – within €1,000 of its most significant new rival, the new Hyundai Santa Fe.
The CR-V can even trade equipment and specification blows with the Hyundai, for, while it lacks some toys as standard (such as Bluetooth phone connection, and Hyundai’s seven seat layout) the CR-V comes with four-wheel drive as standard.
And that all-wheel-drive is not just there for show. Honda was quite happy for us to take our test car off into the muddy outback, slipping and sliding over surprisingly tough terrain. Few owners, if any, will put it to the test, but the CR-V can certainly tackle the rough stuff.
On the smooth, it’s as good as ever, retaining the old CR-V’s combination of tidy handling, a comfortable ride quality and sharp, alert steering. Again, it’s very close to the Hyundai in dynamic terms, and that’s a good ballpark to be in.
There are two letdowns to the CR-V though, and both of them are inside. We’ve already mentioned the excellent space, and the seats, both front and rear, are comfy and supportive. But there’s a lack of flair to the cabin design and layout, a sense of plain-ness that disappoints, especially given Honda’s premium-status aspirations.
That’s not helped by a distinct, bassy boom that comes up from under the boot floor, and makes its presence known throughout the cabin from speeds as low as 70kmh. It’s a black mark against the CR-V’s refinement, which is a shame.
Those two issues apart, though, it’s hard not to like the CR-V. The new styling is pleasingly distinctive, the engine and chassis as good as ever and the cabin and boot as spacious as you could hope. We can’t think of a good reason why it wouldn’t be close to the top of your SUV shopping list.
Well, actually, there is one good reason. It’s that this 2.2-litre, 4WD CR-V might not be the best CR-V to buy. Later in 2013, there will be a front-wheel-drive CR-V, using Honda’s all-new 1.6-litre diesel engine, that will be more affordable again and will, apparently, boast astonishingly low 99g/km Co2 emissions, putting this large, spacious SUV on a tax band par with the likes of a Volkswagen Golf and Ford Focus.
So, while we like this new generation of CR-V, it might be worth holding off on buying one for a while yet.
Honda CR-V 2.2 iDTEC SE
Price as tested: €37,795
Price range: €37,795 to €50,095
Top speed: 190kmh
Economy: 5.6l-100km (51mpg)
CO2 emissions: 149g/km
Road Tax Band: C. €330
Euro NCAP rating: Not yet tested