The mainstay of Honda's model fleet in South Africa, its popular CR-V, has just been unwrapped in its fancy new fourth generation guise that comes to the market in six derivatives offering the choice of front-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive models, three engine options and four specification levels.
The new range boasts a number of technological advances plus some design tweaks here and there; the result is a prettier and somewhat more capable vehicle.
Although still easily identifiable as Honda's top-selling CR-V sports utility vehicle, the Japanese SUV has undergone some sleek body enhancements to make it less boxy, much smoother, and prettier. It is slightly shorter than the previous model, yet it retains the same spaciousness as the previous model. Nice new cosmetics include LED daytime running lights, LED tail lights, and overall height as been reduced by 30mm which gives it a more planted profile.
However, appearance only tells part of the story of the last CR-V that has found a soft spot in the hearts of 16,427 locals since it arrived in this country in 1995. Much of its appeal lies in its comfortable, neat interior, generous luggage space, almost car-like ride and host of safety features - to which can now also be added lower fuel consumption and emissions.
The new range also boasts a number of technological advances and a big plus is the addition of a two-wheel-drive version, known as the 2.0 Comfort - the first time that the CR-V is offered in a two-wheel-drive derivative.
There is also an all-wheel-drive version of the same vehicle. The front-wheel-drive model is equipped with a 6-Speed manual transmission, while the all-wheel-drive has a 5-Speed Automatic. Both variants are powered by the same 2.0-litre i-VTEC, 16-valve, in-line 4 cylinder petrol engine, which produces 114kW and 192Nm.
Much of the CR-V's appeal lies in its comfortable, neat interior.
Typical of Honda engines, the engines are fairly high revving with maximum torque only kicking in at 4,300rpm and the full power ban only comes alive at about 6,300rpm.
At our launch drive from Cape Town International Airport along the N2 to Elgin, Theewaterskloof Dam, Franschhoek and Stellenbosch and then back to the airport I drove both models and my choice would be the automatic version because the engine still lacks a but of pep and on the manual version it does require a lot of stick work to keep the power up. This will also be more noticeable on the energy-sapping Highveld where commuting is already a pain without having to change gears constantly.
What impressed with both models is the quiet ride. The cabin is well insulated and engine noises are only really noticeable when you open the taps wide. The seats are comfortable and there is plenty of head and shoulder space which makes it a perfect family wagon for long distances.
There is a pleasing, classy ambience about the well-stocked cabin and the lay-out that includes a 5 inch "intelligent" Multi-Information Display (i-MID) for the audio and telephone systems.
What impressed with both models is the quiet ride.
One of the real handy features of the cabin is "easy fold-down" 60/40 split rear seats which only need a tug on a single handle to transform the CR-V from a five-seater passenger car into a versatile load-lugger.
Already renowned for its conveniently low load-bed, Honda has lowered it even more to lead its class in the practicality stakes.
Visibility from behind the wheel is good and the ride is nice and high, which is one of the main reasons why so many prefer driving an SUV rather than an ordinary sedan. The steering has a heavy dullness to it and is devoid of much feedback. It seems strangely calibrated, even for an electronic set-up.
A tad top heavy
The suspension leans heavily towards comfort rather than performance and this set-up does make the vehicle feel a tad top heavy. Body lean is quite pronounced, particularly when you turn on the taps.
Although clearly not a blue-blooded 4x4 off-roader it feels as though it will be rather steady on its feet on the gravel with initial power being put to all four rubbers. Once up and running power moves to the front but if you start driving enthusiastically (or when wheels start losing grip) the power is fed to the rear wheels.
Visibility from behind the wheel is good and the ride is nice and high.
One of the most important reasons for the CR-V's success story is its outstanding range of safety features and the latest model is armed to the teeth with passenger protection such as Vehicle Stability Assist (VSA), ABS brakes with EBD and Brake Assist, an Emergency stop system, Trailer Stability Assist (TSA), Motion-Adaptive Electric Power Steering (MA-EPS) which stabilises braking, mitigates understeer, mitigates oversteer, a host of Advanced Driver Assist Systems (which include Lane Keeping Assist, Adaptive Cruise control and Collision Mitigation Braking System, numerous airbags, and ISOFIX child seat mounting points.
In addition to the two models we drove, the other models to choose from include the 2.4 Elegance and the 2.4 Executive. Both of these models come with 5-Speed Automatic transmissions, and they share the i-VTEC, 16-Valve, in-line, 4 cylinder 2.3-litre petrol engine which kicks out 140kW and 220Nm.
A mix of comfort features with each specification
The two oil-burners are powered by Honda's much-liked 2.2-litre i-DTEC common rail turbo diesel engine and both the Elegance and Exclusive are all-wheel drive.
This model offers a choice of 6-Speed Manual or 5-Speed Automatic transmissions. The i-DTEC engine churns out 110kW and 350Nm.
Emissions on the i-DTEC engines have fallen to 162 g/km (manual) and 186 g/km (auto); on the 2.0-litre i-VTEC engine from 196g/km to 178g/km and on the 2.4 auto it has dropped 18g/km to 207g/km.
Honda has lowered the CR-V's load-bed even more to lead its class in the practicality stakes.
There are four specification levels to choose from with the Comfort level offering black fabric seats as standard, while the Elegance, Executive and Exclusive models all have black leather seats. Each specification level offers a mix of comfort features, while the Exclusive specification includes such luxuries as premium audio, electrically adjusted driver seat, electronic lumbar support for driver and front passenger, as well as keyless entry.
The CR-V competes in one of the most competitive segments of the local new car market and its constantly good sales figures underline its credibility as an excellent family vehicle with impressive features and a price tag that makes it a very attractive SUV option. As a spacious weekend leisure car, mummy's taxi or daily commuter transport it is right up there with the best.
The new CR-V models and prices below (which include a three-year/100,000km warranty and five-year/90,000km service plan) are:
Bizcommunity.com motoring editor Henrie Geyser () has worked as a journalist in Cape Town, London and Windhoek for the Argus Company (now Independent Newspapers) and spent 12 years at The Cape Argus in Cape Town. He then owned and ran a public relations consultancy for 13 years. He joined the online publishing industry through iafrica.com, where he worked for five years as news editor and editor. He now freelances for a variety of print and online publications, on the subjects of cars, food and travel, among others; and is a member of the South African Guild of Motoring Journalists.
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