Facing a competitive segment filled with fresh and attractive options, the Honda CR-V is beginning to show its age. So does this much-loved SUV bring anything to the table other than great value for money?
Earlier this year, Honda America revealed the sixth-generation CR-V midsize SUV to the world that would replace its predecessor after six years on sale.
The new generation ushers in handsome new looks, upgraded technology and an efficient self-charging hybrid option, but sadly Australians have been told this model is still at least a year away from going on sale locally.
With that in mind, is there still a strong argument for purchasing a current fifth-generation CR-V in its twilight years when there are so many other fresher and highly compelling options to choose from?
Well, for one thing, the CR-V is quite affordable.
Sitting in the middle of the CR-V pack, the VTi X seen here is priced at a genuinely affordable price of $41,500 driveaway, slotting just underneath rivals such as the Toyota RAV4 GXL and Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport once you add on-road fees to their respective $37,950 and $37,990 price tags.
Honda rolled out a fairly comprehensive facelift for the CR-V in August of 2020, ushering in a refreshed design, more safety features on more grades and the diminutive 5.0-inch multimedia screen was replaced with a larger 7.0-inch unit across the range.
Alongside the likes of the Mitsubishi Outlander, Nissan X-Trail and Skoda Kodiaq, the CR-V is one of a handful of midsize SUVs to offer the flexibility of seven-seats as well as an on-demand all-wheel-drive system – though the two can’t be paired together in Australia.
The CR-V VTi X we have here forgoes both options and receives a simple front-drive layout, five seats and a lower purchase price as a result.
With so many cars turning convention on its head with minimum gain, the CR-V brings a commendable sense of approachability to how it drives, though at the same time it fails to stand out in any one area.
The high seating position combined with the thin pillars and lower window line provides visibility that inspires confidence in the driver. Once in the chair, the controls themselves fall easily to hand with a good range of adjustability for different body types.
For a midsize SUV, the CR-V is on the larger side and can require more consideration in multi-storey car parks, with no access to fancy technology like a 360-degree camera, but the large mirrors and general visibility make things easy enough if you’re willing to turn your head.
It’s been a few decades now since slapping a ‘turbo’ badge on the boot was enough to evoke a feeling of excitement, but with the CR-V’s sharp looks and gulping air intakes Honda’s midsizer perhaps writes a bigger cheque than it’s willing to cash.
That’s not to say the CR-V isn’t quick when it needs to be. Independent testing by Chasing Cars revealed it took just 7.54 seconds to accelerate from 0-100km/h – more than two whole seconds faster than the Subaru Forester or Mitsubishi Outlander – so it’s safe to say that pulling onto the highway at a reasonable speed won’t be a problem.
This sprightly performance is largely thanks to the 140kW/240Nm 1.5-litre turbo-petrol four-cylinder engine under the bonnet, which feeds power through the CVT transmission before connecting with the front wheels.
By offering a turbocharged engine and intelligent tuning of the CVT transmission, drivers can easily access torque around town without intrusive noise caused by a high-revving engine, as is the case in rivals such as the Toyota RAV4 and Subaru Forester.
Honda has given the CR-V ‘good bones’ so to speak, with the struts at the front and a multi-link suspension setup at the rear, but in practice the driving experience fails to translate to anything other than bland.
The CR-V has pleasant and predictable steering matched with suspension that performs well at keeping the Honda’s weight under control but it fails to provide a character that is exciting or ride quality that’s particularly comfortable around town.
While not intolerable, navigating awkward suburban streets layered with speed bumps and imperfections soon became fatiguing due to how busy and, at times, unforgiving the ride of the CR-V is.
On the highway the ride is noticeably improved, though it’s here that the intrusive road and wind noise becomes the primary issue. That said, the lane-keep assistance and adaptive cruise control performed well at keeping the CR-V on the straight and narrow.
Honda’s Sensing safety package equips the CR-V with features such as forward collision warning and a basic form of AEB that helped it earn a five-star ANCAP rating back in 2017.
However, technology has since moved on, and newer rivals such as the Kia Sportage feature more advanced AEB able to prevent a head-on collision at an intersection, and the complete omission of reversing AEB in CR-V is disappointing for family buyers.
The CR-V VTi X is the range tip-in point for accessing automatic high-beam as well as front and rear parking sensors, but it’s worth noting that on our test vehicle the front-left side sensor made a bad habit of sounding an alarm for phantom obstructions.
Honda’s Lane Watch system is a fantastic feature from the Japanese manufacturer that provides a live feed of the driver’s blind spot when driving, however it only functions on the passenger side and projection on the centre touchscreen temporarily hides the navigation system when in use.
It may be getting on in years but, fundamentally, the CR-V still offers a spacious environment for all occupants with a familiar and logical approach to all its functions and features.
At this price point, a cloth-trimmed interior is expected and thankfully the CR-V’s is a relatively good one, but if you need something more durable for liquid spills, the leather-appointed seating in the VTi L AWD or recently-announced Black Edition grades might be worth a look.
The driver’s seat of the CR-V features good bolstering to keep you in place but lacks any lumbar support or adjustment. This resulted in unnecessary fatigue after a few hours of driving, though soft-padded armrests and door tops did make the journey more comfortable.
The design itself is visibly old and while the use of physical buttons is appreciated, their size is overly large and only makes the 7.0-inch touchscreen look smaller. While not everyone wants a flatscreen TV on their dashboard, in a segment filled with better quality displays stretching up to 12.0-inches or more, it’s time that Honda updated this unit.
Thankfully, though, wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are fitted as standard and the eight-speaker stereo is pretty good but it faces an uphill battle with so much road noise in the cabin.
It’s clear Honda has put a lot of effort into making the CR-V more useful for families with eight huge bottle holders, ample storage and a clever mirror hidden in the sunglasses holder to help parents keep an eye on the back seats, but unlike digital alternatives sold by Jeep and Hyundai, at nighttime its effectiveness is significantly reduced.
The flat floor in the second row brings added roominess to the CR-V’s five-seater configuration and the available space should offer enough flexibility to fit a rearwards-facing baby seat with minimum impact on the front passenger’s normal seating position. Plus, with doors that open up to 90 degrees, placing a child in the back will be easier than in some rivals.
If you want privacy glass to keep little ones protected, you’ll need to opt for a higher grade and sadly the CR-V doesn’t offer pull-up sunshades anywhere in the range.
Material quality in the rear is less impressive than the front, with hard and scratchy door tops and the armrests are less padded, with occupants offered basic amenities such as rear air vents and dual USB A ports.
Opening the power tailgate via a handy kick sensor reveals a good size 522-litre boot with a full-size spare, with the storage area expanding 1084-litres when the second row is folded down.
During our testing across hundreds of kilometres in urban areas and on the highway, the CR-V recorded a combined fuel economy figure of 7.9L/100km, which is not too far off Honda’s claim of 7.3L/100km.
Honda Australia made the decision last year to cap the price of the first five services at $125 on all models including the CR-V, representing extraordinary value for buyers across relatively short intervals of 10,000km or 12 months, whichever comes first.
For comparison, the Toyota RAV4 and Mitsubishi Outlander cost $230 and $199 to service over their first five services, though customers are given greater flexibility with 15,000km/12 months intervals.
Buyers are offered the industry standard five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty though Honda does offer an extra year of coverage for rust perforation issues.
As it was when it launched six years ago, the CR-V offers a sensible and affordable option for Australian buyers looking for a versatile midsize SUV.
The CR-V excels at being easy to understand and offers surprisingly sprightly performance thanks to its turbocharged engine but falls down due to the rate of progress among its peers.
While the CR-V still offers good value for money, significant innovations in active safety technology and fuel-sipping hybrid options offered by rivals mean that other SUVs will be better suited to everyday runabout family duties.
The winner of the coveted Chasing Cars Best Midsize SUV prize earlier in 2022, small adjustments to the RAV4 Cruiser cement this crossover in our esteem
Variant tested VTi X (2WD) 5 SEATS
Key specs (as tested)
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