As someone who learned to double declutch into a non-synchromeshed first gear on his father’s Premier Padmini at the age of 14, I’m almost ashamed to say that I quite enjoyed the convenience and effortlessness of using the simple buttons of Honda’s 9-speed automatic transmission.
The purist in me didn’t miss having a physical gear lever or the tactile feel of gripping a chunky handle and slotting it into ‘Drive’. Instead, I was spoilt by not having to do more than the lazy action of merely pressing a button to select ‘D’.
Making the driver work as little as possible is the way forward in the journey to not making the driver work at all. Yes, cars will become autonomous and drive themselves, but hopefully not in my lifetime. Thankfully, I still have to drive for a living and the Honda CR-V has been my daily driver for the past few weeks. Yes, this is a car that requires minimal effort to drive but you still have to drive it, and that’s no bad thing.
PERFECT DRIVE: Meticulously thought-out driving position.
The first thing I learnt in my initial stint with the CR-V is that, for Honda, the driver is God. Every bit, big or small, is centred around the driver, which is why the driving position is absolutely spot on. It’s the way the seats hold you with the perfect cushioning, the crystal clear dials not at all obscured by the steering wheel, the position of the pedals, the infotainment screen angled to avoid catching a glare, and even the way the USB sockets are slightly angled in the central storage box (you don’t have fumble to find it like in many Indian cars) – it’s all an object lesson in ergonomics. And it’s amazing how all these finely thought-out details add up to make you feel so at ease behind the wheel. The only thing I could fault is that some of the buttons are too small for my podgy fingers. And yes, the infotainment screen, though clear and easy to read, could have been bigger, especially on a car that will set you back by Rs 30.67 lakh before you drive it out of the showroom. No complaints about the air con – the most important piece of equipment you will want at this time of the year. In fact, it is the best I’ve experienced in a long time, and its ability to chill the cabin in what I think is record time makes such a difference in peak summer.
CHILL MASTER: Very effective air con cools cabin rapidly.
Last month, I spent an inordinate amount of time in travelling, so this meant I couldn’t do the initiation ritual that all the freshers in our long-term fleet go through – the Mumbai-Mahabaleshwar run. The CR-V, instead, has been confined to the city since we got it – an environment in which it performed exceptionally well. In fact, it came across as a better city car than an SUV. The good all-round visibility and reasonably compact dimensions make it quite easy to wiggle through traffic, and then also playing to the CR-V’s urban prowess is the 1.6 diesel engine. It’s pretty responsive and, allied to the equally responsive 9-speed automatic gearbox, it darts through traffic in a pretty un-diesel-like way.
FEELING GRUFF: Diesel engine isn’t very refined.
Light on its feet is what the CR-V is, and that’s exactly what you need in Mumbai, where the 0-30kph-0 time is the most important parameter of city performance. And the good thing is that it doesn’t feel heavy or bulky, unlike similarly priced body-on-frame SUVs like the Fortuner and Endeavour.
Mumbai roads are the best they can be, with the BMC repairing them just before the monsoon, but that doesn’t mean they are remotely close to smooth. Yes, there are no pothole-infested roads at the moment (we have to wait for the first rains for that), but we do have sharp edges and badly paved bits, with protruding pieces of tarmac or paver blocks, which do test a car’s suspension. So how does the CR-V cope? Like most Hondas, the CR-V isn’t generous with suspension travel so it doesn’t soak up bumps and ruts like a sponge but instead rounds them off with a muted thud.
BUTTONED DOWN: Small buttons lack tactile feel.
What’s not particularly muted is the engine, which has a seriously gruff note and isn’t as refined as I’ve come to expect. If Maruti can hush up its new 1.5 diesel in the Ciaz, I can’t understand why Honda can’t do the same in a car that costs nearly three times as much. There’s that constant diesel drone and it sounds particularly loud outside the car. So, when the valet rolls up, you can’t hide the fact that you own a diesel car. What you’ll be happy to flaunt is the CR-V’s fuel-efficiency figures. I managed an impressive 11.7kpl in a driving cycle that involved more idling than running. I’m confident that if given a chance to stretch its legs, the SUV will sip just a litre every 17-18km. That’s economical enough for a round trip to Mahabaleshwar on a single tank of diesel. The Western Ghats is where the CR-V’s nose is now pointing!
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