Chas­ing the com­pe­ti­tion

Honda’s facelifted CR-V takes on the chal­lengers, writes Neil McDon­ald

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Road Test -

AQUICK glance at this year’s of­froader sales fig­ures re­veals two things. They are go­ing gang­busters and there are plenty of choices out there in buyer land. This is good news and bad news for Honda’s pop­u­lar CR-V.

Honda has re­sponded to the chal­lenge from newer ri­vals by giv­ing the CR-V a mod­est facelift for this year.

Though it has been around in var­i­ous guises since 1997 and grown to be a for­mi­da­ble com­peti­tor, the CR-V faces fresh chal­lenges.

The Mazda CX-7 and Volk­swa­gen Tiguan have been edg­ing the lik­able CR-V out of the sales lime­light this year.

It also has to go head to head with the strong- sell­ing Subaru Forester, Nis­san X-Trail and Toy­ota RAV4. Other well-spec­i­fied ar­rivals such as the Hyundai ix35 and repack­aged Nis­san Dualis will not make things easy for it ei­ther.

Honda Aus­tralia spokesman Mark Hig­gins says de­spite the com­pe­ti­tion the CR-V re­mains one of the com­pany’s more pop­u­lar core mod­els, with a strong owner loy­alty base, and it con­sis­tently ranks as one of the brand’s top-three sell­ers. ‘‘It’s es­sen­tially Mum and Dad’s taxi,’’ he says.

Hig­gins says the lit­tle off-roader wagon has a strong fol­low­ing among fam­i­lies be­cause of its prac­ti­cal­ity and eco­nom­i­cal four-cylin­der en­gine.

‘‘The loy­alty rate for CR-V is very high. Own­ers tend to up­grade out of one into an­other,’’ he says.

As be­fore, there are three mod­els — a starter, mid-range Sport and range-top­per Lux­ury. The Sport re­mains the best­seller, closely fol­lowed by the Lux­ury, Hig­gins says.

Prices kick off at $30,990, ris­ing to $42,790 for a loaded Lux­ury. The Sport is $38,790.

Honda has im­proved the CR-V in sev­eral key ar­eas, tweak­ing the steer­ing, ride and han­dling.

The en­try model also gets full-length cur­tain airbags as stan­dard, and the Sport gets up­graded

seven-spoke al­loys. The range-top­per Lux­ury has new five-spoke al­loys and au­to­matic head­lights and wipers.

Ex­tra sound dead­en­ing has been added around the en­gine bay and in the cabin to re­duce road and en­gine noise.

There are some cos­metic touches out­side and in­side, in­clud­ing new door han­dles and in­te­rior sur­faces, up­graded fabrics and plas­tics that help cre­ate a pre­mium fin­ish.

The front end gets a new bumper and an up­dated grille.

Hig­gins says the feed­back from buy­ers on the im­prove­ments has been favourable.

‘‘Many re­mark on how much qui­eter it is and the sedan-like ride,’’ he says.

All CR-V mod­els share the same car­ry­over 125/kW/218Nm 2.4-litre i-VTEC four-cylin­der en­gine with ei­ther a six-speed man­ual or five- speed au­to­matic. The auto is stan­dard on the Lux­ury.

Driv­ing

IT’S been a while since we’ve driven the CR-V. But friends who own them are com­mit­ted CR-V own­ers and love them. We can see why.

It man­ages to mas­ter the dual roles of fam­ily du­ties around town and be­ing a com­pact and eco­nom­i­cal off-roader if you want to go bush. A five-star crash rat­ing also gives re­as­sur­ance. The 2010 up­dates have de­liv­ered im­prove­ments to two spe­cific ar­eas, the steer­ing and sus­pen­sion.

The re­vised steer­ing feels more di­rect and meatier, and the end re­sult is it is more com­mu­nica­tive. The sus­pen­sion has also been mas­saged to im­prove the ride and han­dling. It works.

The CR-V no longer feels slightly floaty when swinging through round­abouts or driv­ing through wind­ing moun­tain roads. It’s more se­cure and that’s a big pos­i­tive.

The 2.4-litre four-cylin­der, mated to a fivespeed au­to­matic in the Lux­ury, re­mains a sweet unit that has am­ple power and is rea­son­ably eco­nom­i­cal. But some of its ri­vals are now opt­ing for six-speed au­to­mat­ics over a five-speed.

The fully au­to­matic ‘‘real-time’’ all-wheeldrive sys­tem re­mains.

It uses a multi-plate clutch to push power to the rear wheels only when needed.

In the past we’ve found it re­acts too slowly when you hit soft gravel, but it will ful­fil most light-duty off-road­ing needs.

The curvy de­sign, a marked de­par­ture from the boxy look of pre­vi­ous CR-Vs, has grown on us, but the front-end still lacks vis­ual pres­ence.

As with all Hon­das, the CR-V’s cabin is ap­peal­ing and mod­ern.

The switchgear has a qual­ity feel, the di­als and trip com­puter are easy to read and there’s plenty of room for pas­sen­gers and lug­gage.

The neat twin-height lug­gage shelf is a bonus for fam­i­lies with small chil­dren.

You can pop a stroller un­der the lug­gage shelf and put gro­ceries above it. It’s a neat trick and typ­i­cal of Honda’s de­sign thor­ough­ness, just like the 40/20/40 split rear seats, which slide and tum­ble for­ward to in­crease the load area.

She says (with Lara Duff)

THE CR-V is a smart choice for par­ents who want a higher driv­ing po­si­tion with­out go­ing to the ex­tremes of some­thing like a Prado.

It stows a lot of gear while car­ry­ing a fam­ily in pas­sen­ger-car com­fort.

The kids never com­plained of the wal­low­ing that back-seat pas­sen­gers some­times have to cope with — and which can have chil­dren feel­ing sick in the first few curves.

The styling is per­haps the worst part about the Honda.

The fam­ily re­sem­blance is there, but it lacks the vis­ual im­pact of an Ac­cord or Odyssey.

In­side, the ma­te­ri­als feel high-qual­ity and are easy to clean, which helps when the CR-V is ca­pa­ble of week­end camp­ing and fish­ing trips.

The bot­tom line

THE Honda CR-V is still a for­mi­da­ble pack­age, but its ad­van­tage is be­ing eroded by fresher new­com­ers.

Up­grade: the CR-V’s steer­ing is more di­rect and sus­pen­sion tweaks im­prove ride and han­dling, which could ex­plain why (right) Aus­tralian cy­clist Rochelle Gilmore drives one when com­pet­ing in Europe.

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