TEST DRIVE: Honda CR-V

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Steve Sharpe drives Honda’s CR-V

Honda first launched its CR-V back in 1997 and it instantly became a popular choice in the fast growing small SUV sector.

Backed by Honda’s legendary reputation for reliability, the CRV appealed to those who wanted the practicality and versatility of an SUV with the convenience and ease of use of a smaller car

It did no harm that it was British-built either. Since its first appearance, the five million models sold make it one of the world’s best-selling SUVs.

The CRV has undergone a series of facelifts and technical upheavals since then.

The second generation CR-V, launched in 2001, improved performance and efficiency with a 2.0 litre i-VTEC petrol engine, while the i-CTDi diesel engine was introduced to the CR-V line-up in 2005, offering greater efficiency and a torquey, relaxing driving experience.

In 2007 the third generation CR-V was lower, shorter and wider than its predecessors, while the removal of the spare wheel from the back door gave it a vertically opening tailgate for the first time.

This fourth generation model, which was introduced last year, is the first CR-V line-up that features Honda’s 1.6-litre i-DTEC engine.

The new engine made its debut in the Civic and now this powerplant has been introduced into the CR-V.

Honda reckons that with the increasing demand for lower cost motoring, the trend for two-wheel drive diesel SUVs has grown and now represents over a quarter of the total C-SUV market in Europe.

The new CR-V 1.6 i-DTEC has been introduced with this in mind.

Its green credentials on paper are pretty impressive.

Low CO2 emissions mean road tax of just £30 a year, while 62mpg on the combined cycle should get you 800 miles on one tank of fuel.

But the SUV market has grown considerably since the first CR-V made its way out of the Swindon factory, and now it’s a burgeoning market, with many quality vehicles jostling for a podium slot.

To keep up with the rest, Honda have not only introduced this new engine to the range, but also made some other changes.

This new version is lighter and shorter than its predecessor, with the position of the windscreen brought forward. Honda say the driving position is more car-like than SUV, and indeed the SUV on the whole appears to be more Tourer-like in appearance than many rivals.

Inside the cabin there’s a mix of old style and new. The plastics are a little hard but pleasantly textured and don’t appear cheap, so there’s a classy edge to things.

The cloth-covered seats are well-cushioned and comfortable and the console is nicely uncluttered, with the heating controls particularly easy to adjust with one hand resting on the gear stick.

The version I drove didn’t have a satnav – in some models the screen is positioned in the dashboard – and the big controls for the media system gave the whole central section a retro look.

A small LED screen tucked further back illuminates various displays.

The CR-V has a load of room inside, and levels of cabin space are high in comparison with rivals. There’s plenty of room for all occupants inside with a flat back floor giving good leg room for the middle back passenger.

The boot is large and well-shaped with a 25mm lower load lip to help with the hoisting of heavy items.

The CR-V also features an easy-to-operate one-action fold-down rear seat system, which allows them to be folded completely flat with a simple pull of one handle.

This new smaller engine has made the CR-V lighter than the previous model, and this has improved performance as well as economy.

The Honda seems quicker than the 11-plus second 0-62mph would suggest.

The diesel engine supplies a pleasantly punchy ride, with the best performance coming with higher revs.

There’s a positive response to a prod of the accelerator at most speeds and it’s only if you let the revs fall that you flounder.

In town the CR-V is surprisingly nimble for a car of its size.

A good turning circle means that manoeuvring in and out isn’t too much of an arduous task.

Visibility out of the front and sides is excellent, although the thick rear pillars do affect what you can see out of the rear.

The suspension has been set with an emphasis on comfort and on longer runs the CR-V settles into a relaxed ride.

The big wheels absorb the majority of road imperfections with ease, making long drives effortless.

Road rumble and wind noise has been kept to a minimum, although the diesel engine can be raspy as revs rise.

As the ride has been set for comfort rather than performance the CR-V isn’t a thrill a minute on wining roads.

But there’s a good amount of grip and although there’s some body roll around corners it’s not too noticeable. Steering is accurate enough and the six-speed gearbox is smooth.

More and more people are looking to these SUVs as a family car, and so the lines between sectors are becoming more and more blurred – the only mud most of these SUVs are likely to come across is in the garden centre car park.

Honda is a manufacturer which enjoys a proud reputation for reliability, with the success of previous versions of the CR-V testament to that.

This new model, with the 1.6 i-DTEC engine, will fill a gap in its range.

It’s economy figures are highly impressive – and Honda say tests they’ve carried out notched up 77mpg – and the £30 tax bill is going to be appealing. These figures also make it an appealing option for fleet buyers too.

The levels of space and luggage capacity is also a big selling point, and the new engine provides a lively ride, while it’s extremely comfortable on long hauls.

The range starts at £21,500 for the entry-level petrol version, rising to more than £33,000 for the range-topping 2.2 diesel. The new 1.6 i-DTEC diesel is between £22,000 and £26,000.

There are a number of trim grades to choose from according to your budget – entry level cars get dual-zone climate control, 17-inch alloys, a multifunction steering wheel, heated electric mirrors and cruise control , but you’ll have to move up to SE trim to get rear camera, bluetooth stuff and parking sensors. SR gets goodies like leather trim and bigger alloys, while you have to plump for EX trim to get an integrated satnav and panoramic sunroof, although satnav can be added further down the trim as an option.

There’s an impressive selection of safety equipment on board too, with a five-star safety rating in the bag.

Honda is a tried and trusted name and the CR-V has a long history of success on these shores.

With improved economy and a sprightly 1.6 engine, this new version is sure to carry on with that tradition.

Fact file

Honda CR-V

Engine: 1.6 diesel

Transmission: Six-speed manual.

0-62: 11.2 seconds.

Top Speed: 113mph.

Economy: Avg 62.8mpg

Price: £24,660.