Man Maximum – Honda CR-V 2.2 i-DTEC EX first drive

PetrolBlog’s New Car Editor, Robin Brown has been to Munich to review the new 2012 Honda CR-V. Here are his thoughts.

Sitting in a lengthy traffic jam is usually enough to leave even the most reasonable motorists shaking with rage and impotent fury at the Hell of it all – and it’s in situations such as this that the difference between certain cars can really become evident.

Sit in a 15-year-old Ford Puma, for example, and you don’t just have the traffic jam to worry about. The waxing and waning of fuel pressure as the car attempts to keep the engine ticking over; the oil temperature slowly inching up as you complete another first-gear 20-yard crawl; whether to risk the aircon; pondering the age and condition of the clutch; shouting at Drivetime on 5 Live…

Sitting in high-performance cars in traffic jams always seems a cruel irony and the insistent, impatient growl of a big engine, often heavy steering and light pedals do not make for a relaxed driving experience.

New 2012 Honda CR-V from the rear

But the Honda CR-V could almost have been created for the purpose. At tickover the 2.2-litre turbodiesel DTEC engine was a bit grumbly but soothingly rhythmic. The German version of Radio 3 tinkled away in the background. I climate controlled my zone and gently heated my seats, reclined a little and enjoyed the view out of the panoramic sunroof. If I’d wanted to I could have streamed music through my phone and the car’s USB jack, played a DVD or even plugged in a video output. Or simply phoned up a friend using voice control. Yes, the CR-V passed the ‘can I pair my phone test?’, which is not always assured of success.

When still, the new CR-V is superbly insulated so the noises of other engines and work going on outside are muffled, like they’re taking place miles away. And quietly at that. The seats are comfortable, multi-adjustable and have two memory settings, while the rest of the driver’s cockpit is similarly swaddled; a knee pad on the side of the transmission tunnel a simple but very effective addition that many modern cars could do with.

New 2012 Honda CR-V dashboard interior

Unusually the CR-V has not one but two screens showing multimedia and navigation; the upper screen taking the place of a head-up-display, using a simplified visual interface to point out upcoming directions when using the satnav. It’s easier than looking at the touchscreen sat nav, which is quite low down and – as a factory fit – not especially pleasing to look at but not quite as handy as the sort of systems deployed by BMW and Audi that project directions or other road traffic information onto the windscreen.

Otherwise the centre stack is straightforward and simple – a welcome step back from the insanity of button overkill recently seen in a test car (think French, think barge) that boasted close to 100 individual buttons and controls. Honda calls it Man-Maximum, Machine-Minimum and, for once, it’s possible to observe some design-speak in action.

The overall impression of the interior is light, airy and well put-together. The aforementioned sat nav and some hard plastics let the side down somewhat, but the little touches of brushed chrome, leather and soft-touch materials – along with the overall impression of sturdiness – makes for another good Honda interior, even if it’s not going to blow anyone away with its visual elan. No Volvo-style floating consoles here.

New 2012 Honda CR-V cabin

All around the car there is space. There are binnacles galore here. You have something in your pocket? There’s a binnacle for that – regardless of shape or size. And the boot is an expanse of negative luggage space; virtually crying out to be filled with all manner of bags, buggies and boxes. Inevitably the rear seats split and fold 60-40 to extend overall storage space to a vast 1648 litres. And boy do they fold. With one touch. This may seem unremarkable these days but it’s not so long that a rear bench that moved in any way was a gleam in a madman’s eye.

The exterior is something I’m still grappling with. It’s a little bit Volvo XC60, takes a little of the new Civic’s ‘melted nose’ styling and there’s even a bit of Ssangyong in there too. Predominantly, however, the new CR-V looks like nothing more or less than a Honda CR-V – despite its high, bulbous rear quarter. From most angles it has a certain subtle presence. In profile it looks pretty radical, like one of those ants whose abdomens are swollen with honey. It’s not weird enough to startle the horses though, and the obvious attempt has been to refine the design rather than reinvent it.

New 2012 Honda CR-V side view

All of this fits with Honda’s idea of making cars that provide a touch of luxury that sets them above the volume players. That hard-to-explain notion that the likes of Honda and Volkswagen are a tiny step ahead of other car-makers in the same sector is no mistake – it’s a carefully constructed image that means people will pay more for something they perceive to have just a little more style, class, refinement and prestige.

I thought I detected the slightest tilt towards cost-cutting in the CR-V, but only just and I really looked hard. The CR-V is cleverly pitched – and it pulls it off. When prices are announced for the UK market expect them to be a little richer than previous iterations – and many competitors.

One area the CR-V does not feel reinvented is in the engine department. It’s the same old 148bhp 2.2-litre D-TEC diesel engine that you can also find in the Civic, albeit with CO2 emissions around 10% less. In the CR-V it feels responsive in certain narrow torque bands – over 250lb-ft are available – but while long gearing in the rather antidiluvian five-speed automatic gearbox may benefit fuel economy, it doesn’t do a lot for acceleration.

The automatic ‘box hangs onto gears for too long in Drive mode and seems reluctant to change down. You can choose to drive the new CR-V in Sport transmisison mode, which immediately boost revs. Here the ‘box will hang on to gear for so long it feels as if the engine is about to break free of the car and zoom off down the road in pursuit of the car in front. The effect may be to increase grunt but the aural effect is like driving in a food mixer.

Oddly, you can select an Eco mode while in either transmission setting, so you can whine about in a low gear at 7,000rpm while apparently saving fuel, which would be impressive if it weren’t also physically impossible. With a six-speed manual ‘box the CR-V felt rather more responsive; a slick, easy ‘box with gears that felt better spaced to me.

There are other engines available – a 2.0-litre petrol and a new 1.6-litre diesel in a front-wheel drive model emitting under 100g/km, coming later in the year, that should offer excellent fuel economy and competitive buying and running costs. Unfortunately I didn’t get to drive either due to a mad dash to Munich airport to escape the country before industrial action left us stranded there.

In terms of dynamics the CR-V feels very solid. There’s a remarkable lack of body roll and the suspension feels more pliable than in the Civic. That means it’s lovely to be in – and will be especially pleasant in the UK with its rutted roads – but isn’t especially dynamic. Few cars in this sector are but the CR-V is clearly built for comfort. Light steering will probably appeal to targeted buyers too, but will do little for those who enjoy driving their cars. The CR-V does feel very assured, mind, and the 4×4 models should tackle light off-roading without much hassle.

Still, does it matter when it comes to a car like the CR-V, whose owners enjoy such high levels of customer satisfaction? I’d argue not. Whenever I was in the car the traffic jam came back to me. This is a car to be comfortable in; for your family to be comfortable in; to haul your luggage around the country’s motorway network with a minimum of fuss; providing all the comfort-enhancing toys you’d realistically expect a car to have these days.

When this car is reviewed, described, evaluated it will be impossible to do so without recourse to the word ‘mature’. For the Honda buyer the Evoque is vulgar, the Sportage too willfully offbeat, the Qashqai too cheap, the X3 too nouveau riche, the Korando too radical. It is only the Toyota RAV4 and the new Land Rover Freelander to which the CR-V buyer might look. These three cars are the brogues-with-tweed of the compact SUV world and they’re looking at the competition with a wrinkled nose.

New 2012 Honda CR-V first drive review on PetrolBlog

The Honda CR-V is Songs Of Praise with Aled Jones. It is a smart leather briefcase. It is the Japanese version of Radio 3. And if you’re the sort of person buys Honda CR-Vs – or just wants that little dash of luxury other compact SUVs can’t offer – that’s a good thing.

PetrolBlog Score:

Honda CR-V 2.2 i-DTEC EX

  • Pint of milk: Sumptuous, comfortable cabin make the CR-V a lovely place to be: 7.
  • Filling station forecourt: Evolution rather than revolution, the CR-V isn’t a knockout but it has some style: 7.
  • You don’t see many of those: The CR-V once commanded 25 per cent of the market but fourth-gen models may be slightly more rare: 6.
  • Is it worth it?: List prices aren’t likely to be low but there’s plenty of kit and quality for that asking price: 7.
  • PetrolBloggyness: In some ways the CR-V is quite dull, but there’s something irresistible about the idea of it all: 6.
  • Total for the Honda CR-V 2.2 i-DTEC EX: 66/100

Details of scoring can be seen here.

The PetrolBlog Alternatives:

Sub £20k: 2012 Honda CR-V 2.0 i-VTEC ES

Nearly New Honda CR-VCan’t wait for the new model? Then how about a brand new version of the outgoing model. It’s common practice for manufacturers and retailers to heavily discount a model that’s due for replacement, so there’s bargains out there right now. This one comes with TOWIE-spec Ionized Bronze metallic paint and the ES spec means there’s a good level of kit. But it’s the £5k saving on the RRP that’s the deal clincher.

Check out the ad for the nearly new Honda CR-V on eBay.

Sub £10k: 2006 Subaru Forester 2.5 XT

Subaru ForesterIt’s no coincidence that Subarus tend to make a regular appearance in the PetrolBlog Alternatives section, we love them. This Forester is particularly irresistible, with a great level of spec, low mileage and full Subaru service history. For just £9,000, it’s hard to see where you’d go wrong.

Have a look at the Subaru Forester for sale on eBay.

Sub £5k: 2004 Land Rover Freelander 2.0 TD4 Sport

Land Rover FreelanderThere’s a good chance that anyone in the market for a CR-V will also be considering a Land Rover Freelander. There are literally many available for less than £5k, but it’s worth bagging a post-facelift model. This Sport model caught our eye, although the price suggests that the mileage may be a little on the high side.

Looks good though, eh?

Here’s the ad for the Land Rover Freelander on eBay.

Bangernomics: 1998 Honda CR-V 2.0i

Honda CR-VBangernomics and Honda could be the perfect couple. Hondas tend to be effortlessly reliable and are usually owned by careful drivers who religiously stick to servicing schedules. Therefore a one-owner, low mileage CR-V for less than £1,500 presents a compelling case. It displays enough wear and tear to hint at originality and authenticity and with just 46,000 miles on the clock, it’s barely run in. Even the automatic ‘box doesn’t put us off. (Heck, I’m very tempted myself – ed)

Check out the Honda CR-V for sale on eBay.

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ABOUT AUTHOR
Robin Brown
Although he has driven the Nordschleife, Goodwood Hill, Silverstone and Estoril in a variety of supercars and hot hatches, Robin is happiest at the wheel of an ‘80s saloon or coupe. Despite a background in consumer-facing automotive journalism, he’s generally more interested in automotive follies and curios, industry gossip and binnacles. Robin has worked widely in print and digital as a journalist and editor, though he once photographed a nude calendar. He wishes he owned a Porsche 944, is on the hunt for a low-mileage Rover 75 and drives a Ford Puma.

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