Mercury (Hobart) - Motoring - - FRONT PAGE - JOSHUA DOWL­ING

Api­oneer of the soft-roader seg­ment, Honda in­tro­duced the orig­i­nal CR-V lo­cally in 1997. It even came with a fold-up plas­tic pic­nic ta­ble stowed un­der the boot floor. Since then other faux-wheel drives have eaten Honda’s lunch — and it’s had to fight for the crumbs. Honda sold more CR-Vs in its first full year than it did last year, in an SUV mar­ket al­most 10 times big­ger than it was 20 years ago.

Now the CR-V has been given its big­gest over­haul in six years. Bravely, the price of the five-model range has gone up — stretch­ing from $33,590 drive-away to $48,535 drive-away — but Honda says the wagon is loaded with ex­tras.

De­spite its fa­mil­iar ap­pear­ance, this fifth­gen­er­a­tion CR-V is new from the ground up. The body is longer, wider, taller and roomier than be­fore yet un­der the bon­net is the small­est en­gine to power the CR-V here.

In place of the pre­vi­ous pair of petrol en­gines and a diesel, there is just one — a 1.5-litre four­cylin­der turbo that can run on reg­u­lar un­leaded. It is matched with a con­tin­u­ously vari­able au­to­matic trans­mis­sion with front­drive or on-de­mand all-wheel drive.

There is a seven-seater for the first time, although it’s more of a five-seater “plus two” for trans­port­ing the kids’ friends over short dis­tances.

The big­ger cabin, thanks to the ex­tended foot­print, brings more room for heads, shoul­ders, knees and toes.

The boot is slightly smaller but still gen­er­ous (522L, a loss of 34L), sec­ond in the class be­hind the Nis­san X-Trail (565) and ahead of Toy­ota’s RAV4 (506) and Mazda’s CX-5 (442).

Pleas­ingly, Honda has re­tained a full-size al­loy spare un­der the boot floor.

The rear bumper is still the low­est in the busi­ness, mean­ing you don’t need to lift heavy ob­jects too high to get them in the back and the dog will find it eas­ier to leap in­side as it ap­proaches old age.

The 60-40 split back seats with two Isofix mounts flip down via tabs on each outer cush­ion or via levers in the cargo hold.

For all of its clev­er­ness, Honda hasn’t

thought out the child seat top tether mounts prop­erly. Three mount­ing points for the sec­ond row seat are in the roof near the top of the tail­gate, lim­it­ing cargo space in the five-seater and mak­ing the sec­ond row un­us­able for child seats if the third-row seats are in use.

In the seven-seater — $43,000 drive-away in lux­ury spec — the third row can ac­com­mo­date two child seats thanks to two other tether points in the boot floor.

Be­tween both front seats is a cav­ernous cen­tre con­sole with a clever slid­ing deck to hide valu­ables. It’s not quite as big as in ear­lier CR-Vs but it’s tall enough to stow a cou­ple of large bot­tles or a hand­bag if you change the con­fig­u­ra­tion. There are other large stor­age cub­bies in the doors and glove­box.

There are two 12V sock­ets and four USB charg­ing ports, three of which are fast charg­ers.

The touch­screen has Ap­ple CarPlay and An­droid Auto (dearer mod­els gain built-in nav­i­ga­tion) but, best of all, Honda has rein­tro­duced the vol­ume knob. Hal­lelu­jah. Tap­ping a screen or a but­ton on a steer­ing wheel while on the move isn’t as easy as an old fash­ioned knob.

Mean­while the vol­ume tab on the steer­ing wheel re­sponds to press­ing, as a but­ton, or swip­ing your thumb across the grooves for a faster re­sponse to ad­just vol­ume.

All mod­els come with a sen­sor key for the door and push-but­ton start. The car will lock or un­lock au­to­mat­i­cally if you touch the grooves on the ex­te­rior door han­dles.

It means you can leave the key in your pocket and the CR-V will un­lock it­self. It will also lock it­self as soon as you’re 2.5 me­tres away.

Honda’s new widescreen dig­i­tal dash­board, first seen on the new Civic, is larger in the CR-V, the nu­mer­als are big­ger and it gives the car an up­mar­ket ap­pear­ance and an edge on ri­vals.

The big­gest dis­ap­point­ment: au­to­matic emer­gency brak­ing, which is stan­dard on key ri­vals such as the CX-5 and VW Tiguan and crucial to a five-star safety rat­ing, is avail­able only on the dear­est vari­ant. It is bun­dled with radar cruise con­trol and lane keep­ing as­sis­tance and is not avail­able as an op­tion on the other four mod­els. Speak­ing of safety, the CR-V is not equipped with Takata airbags; Honda now uses a dif­fer­ent sup­plier. ON THE ROAD De­trac­tors will dis­miss the turbo 1.5, given the class is dom­i­nated by 2.0-litre en­gines or larger.

But the new en­gine has more grunt than the pre­vi­ous CR-V’s 2.0-litre and the same amount of power (but more torque) than its 2.4-litre.

The CVT keeps the en­gine in its peak power band but not ev­ery­one is a fan of the whin­ing that sounds like the gears are slip­ping. That said, it’s one of the bet­ter ex­am­ples of the genre and does a rea­son­able job of mim­ick­ing the feel of a con­ven­tional auto.

Com­fort over bumps is good and the steer­ing is light and, with fewer turns lock to lock, more di­rect than be­fore.

De­spite the larger foot­print, the turn­ing cir­cle is the same (11 me­tres, pretty good but not best in class). Tow­ing ca­pac­ity for the fiveseater is 1500kg and the seven-seater, 1000kg.

The CR-V leans a lit­tle in cor­ners, due in part to the ex­tra ride height. It has more ground clear­ance than its pre­de­ces­sor, for tack­ling ter­rain more ar­du­ous than a gravel drive­way, but still feels se­cure on a wind­ing road or round­abouts.

At free­way speeds road noise from the tyres seems louder than its peers. At sub­ur­ban speeds on smooth roads the tyres are qui­eter but then you hear en­gine racket. Some ex­tra sound dead­en­ing wouldn’t have gone astray.

Noise-proof­ing ma­te­rial was prob­a­bly one of the sac­ri­fices made at the fi­nal hur­dle. The new CR-V is be­tween 49kg and 107kg heav­ier than the model it re­places — at a time when most other brands are sav­ing weight.

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