What is it?
Honda's all-new, fifth-generation CR-V, expected to hit showrooms in early October, is an SUV that's taken a big step forward. Now larger and more lavishly equipped on the inside, it also comes with two fundamental advantages – a diesel engine under the hood and an extra row of seats. But will that be that good enough to move it from the fringes of the SUV segment right into the thick of it? Will it appeal to more traditional buyers looking for a more sophisticated and easier to drive SUV?
One thing's for sure, the news that the CR-V finally gets a diesel will certainly have people talking. What may, however, be a bit of a dampener is that car for India will only come with a lower-spec 120hp engine. Honda has a 160hp twin-turbo alternative too, but as the single-turbo 120hp engine is far cheaper (by around Rs 1.5 lakh we are told) that is what we will get. Question is, will that be enough to power the now larger and heavier (by around 140kg) new CR-V?
The news, however, isn't all bad. What's likely to lend a helping hand is the healthy torque output. Where the twin-turbo puts out a strong 350Nm, this single-turbo isn't too far behind at 300Nm. And Honda has used shorter gearing to add potency as well. So, when it comes to performance, this single-turbo takes a claimed 11.2sec to 100 versus the twin-turbo's 9.7sec – a difference of 1.5sec. Also, what's likely to help is the presence of Honda's new nine-speed automatic gearbox, something that will allow the engineers to tune the car for effortless driving.
What should also appeal to plenty of buyers is the fact that this new SUV is bulkier and comes with a taller stance. Place the current and new cars side by side, and it’s easy to see the bulging wheel arches, the wider front fenders, and the chunky chrome bar on the grille. Customers are also likely to appreciate the attractive looking ‘L’-shaped tail-lights. The design of the new CR-V, it must be said, however, is very evolutionary and easy to confuse with the one currently on sale in India. Also, the CR-V doesn’t have that traditional, upright SUV look, and hence doesn’t have the street presence of a similarly priced Fortuner.
What’s it like inside?
It's bigger to begin with and a lot better appointed too. The design of the dash is now more grown up, a lot more luxury car-like, and the quality of the materials, in general, is better too. Even fit and finish is much nicer than on the current CR-V, while the amount of kit on offer has taken a step up. To give it a more upmarket feel Honda has even used faux leather trim on the dash, and the wood and glossy piano-black highlights up front are also nicely executed. But the all-black theme could do with lighter accents to liven up the dark cabin.
The dash has a lot more character now and the highlight is the all-digital instrument panel that looks really classy. The frameless, semi-floating touchscreen is slick, and then there's the unique push-button-based gear selector, which frees up a lot of space. Apart from two large cupholders, the cubbyholes and storage boxes are very generous to hold all sorts of paraphernalia. There are many USB slots and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto will be standard on the India-spec cars.
The CR-V is also more comfortable to sit in and there’s a big jump in seat comfort. The seats are larger with loads of cushioning and offer sufficient support all round. Since the stance of the car is higher, the view out is pretty impressive as well. You sit a bit low at the rear, but with the second row pushed back on its sliding rails, legroom is great. And because the backrest is nicely reclined and thigh support is very good, overall comfort is excellent.
The talking point of the new CR-V, however, is the third row. Space right at the back is at a premium and getting in and out is a pain – the pull straps to flip and tumble the seat are a bit fiddly to use. There’s hardly any legroom for adults and this space is best used for short drives. The last row of seats don’t fold into the floor and luggage space isn’t as generous as some of the CR-V’s XL-sized rivals.
What’s it like to drive?
Refinement is quite impressive, to begin with. Idle is smooth and the diesel clatter from under the bonnet, though noticeable, is well damped. Tap the throttle, and the 1.6 responds instantly, pulling with a fair amount of zest off the line. There is almost no delay or hint of turbo lag when you put your foot on the throttle, and what's pleasing is that the CR-V moves forward quite smartly even when you press down a bit more. In fact, drive the CR-V without mashing the throttle to the floorboard and performance is more than up to the task too. The increase in pace is linear and smooth, the engine doesn't get gruff, and, though there is no spiky step up in pace, performance is more than adequate.
Yes, it does run out of breath at the top of the powerband, which can be quite irritating, and 20 or 30hp more would have made a world of a difference. Overtaking isn’t an effortless task and the engine takes its own sweet time to reach the conservative 4,500 rev limit. Enthusiasts will be disappointed with the lack of top-end punch, but, for the most part, power, torque and performance are sufficient.
Masking the power deficit to a great extent is Honda's smooth, and quick-on-the-draw nine-speed automatic gearbox. In fact, it's so smooth, you often aren't aware of it working hard in the background. And then there's the fact that with so many ratios, the engine is almost always in the right part of the powerband. It even responds well to taps on the paddles, and 'Sport', really does add an extra bit of urgency to things. In Eco mode, however, we didn’t find too much of a difference in performance, which is a good thing if you are the type who will drive with an eye on the digital fuel gauge.
The new CR-V also feels effortless to drive in the city. The steering is light enough and quick to react, the nicely set-up brakes add confidence in start/stop traffic, and Honda has improved the ride too. Yes, over bad patches, the suspension does have a fair bit of sharp, vertical movement, but what Honda has done quite successfully is round off and soften the blows. It doesn’t crash or thud through like the earlier CR-V, and that means overall comfort levels are considerably higher.
High-speed stability is fantastic and with its longer wheelbase, wider stance and bigger wheels, it feels so well planted, which makes it relaxing to drive. Even the steering is well set-up and the amount of the feedback that filters through the wheel is so good that the new CR-V is even mildly entertaining to drive on a winding road. It does roll a bit in tighter corners and then there is some sloppiness if you go from lock to lock, but otherwise, this is an SUV you can even enjoy driving. It's no Jeep Compass, though, so don't expect it to be anywhere near as nice or as confidence-inspiring to drive. Neither can it smother bad roads as well.
Should you buy one?
With its car-like driving manners, diesel engine and seven seats, the CR-V will appeal to a wide range of SUV buyers. The engine is smooth, performance is adequate, and, despite the added bulk, the new CR-V feels nimble from behind the wheel. The cabin is larger and more upmarket, it is well kitted out, and even the seats of the first and second row are very comfortable. Yes, a bit more space on the third row would have been nice, but what it really does need is 20 or 30 more horses under the bonnet. Expected to be priced north of Rs 30 lakh (prices for the 2.0 petrol are likely to start from Rs 27 lakh), it doesn’t give enough bang for the buck.
But even as things stand, the CR-V offers an easier-to-drive, less bulky and more sophisticated alternative to a Toyota Fortuner, and that just could be what some SUV buyers are looking for.
New Honda CR-V image gallery
Honda CR-V India launch in October 2018