WATCH THIS SPACE

Honda’s lat­est CR-V can now carry seven — but there’s room for im­prove­ment

Mercury (Hobart) - Motoring - - MOTORING - BILL McKIN­NON

Five gen­er­a­tions and 20 years af­ter Honda launched the CR-V, it has be­come the world’s top-sell­ing SUV be­cause, ac­cord­ing to the maker, “It is de­signed to put fam­i­lies at the cen­tre of ev­ery­thing it does.”

In some re­spects, the lat­est CR-V lives up to that claim. How­ever it also has sig­nif­i­cant non­fam­ily friendly is­sues as well, which thwart its bid for class lead­er­ship.

To­day we’re in the first CR-V seven-seater, the VTi-L, priced at $38,990.

VALUE

All CR-Vs are pow­ered by Honda’s new 1.5-litre turbo, matched with a con­tin­u­ously vari­able trans­mis­sion and, in the VTi-L, front-wheel drive. Stan­dard gear in­cludes an all-dig­i­tal dash, key­less en­try, dual-zone air­con — with four roof vents and fan speed con­trol for the seven-seater — plus a seven-inch in­fo­tain­ment touch­screen and Ap­ple CarPlay/Android Auto con­nec­tiv­ity.

The VTi-L adds nav­i­ga­tion, 18-inch al­loys, power tail­gate, sun­roof and power-ad­justable, heated front seats with leather fac­ings.

It has most of the fruit but voice con­trol is op­er­a­tive only via the Ap­ple or Google apps and dig­i­tal ra­dio comes only on the top spec $44,290 VTi-LX five-seater.

COM­FORT

On any road, the CR-V’s finely tuned sus­pen­sion de­liv­ers a smooth, sup­ple ride. Tyre roar is ex­ces­sive on coarse bi­tu­men at high­way speeds, though. Un­der ac­cel­er­a­tion, the 1.5 is also pretty noisy, its deep drone am­pli­fied by the CVT, which al­lows the revs to flare be­fore prop­erly en­gag­ing drive.

You sit in a plush cap­tain’s chair, po­si­tioned slightly lower than in some SUVs. The dig­i­tal dash is bright and clear and the large icons on the in­fo­tain­ment screen are fairly easy to hit.

How­ever, the ab­sence of stand-alone voice con­trol for Blue­tooth and nav­i­ga­tion means that you have to take your eyes off the road and do ev­ery­thing by touch un­less you con­nect via the smart­phone apps.

There’s a heap of stor­age in­clud­ing a huge cen­tre con­sole box with a clever slid­ing tray. Au­dio qual­ity is good and up front you get two USBs and three 12V out­lets.

The flat mid­dle bench, split 60-40, has gen­er­ous, ad­justable legroom and ad­justable back­rest an­gle. It’s well shaped for re­straints and has two USBs, cen­tre con­sole vents and pock­ets in the front seat backs.

Two Isofix mounts are pro­vided; just as well, be­cause tether straps are se­cured in the roof, mak­ing third-row ac­cess prob­lem­atic if you have teth­ered re­straints in the mid­dle.

Two third-row seats are plonked on top of the cargo floor rather than re­cessed into it, as in most seven-seaters to­day. This chews into boot space and the “floor” is high, which makes hoist­ing heavy ob­jects dif­fi­cult.

There’s more: the third row back­rests are raised by pulling straps. Ac­cess re­quires pulling yet more straps on the mid­dle seats and bat­tling stub­born lock­ing mech­a­nisms. The rear seats are cramped and un­com­fort­able for all but young kids.

If you want to fold the mid­dle seat to ex­tend car­ry­ing ca­pac­ity, lock­ing it is also done via straps and hooks.

This is 1990s seven-seater de­sign, which has too many in­con­ve­nient com­pro­mises to be com­pet­i­tive in 2017. At some stage, late in the CR-V’s de­vel­op­ment, some­body at Honda said “Wait! We need a seven-seater!” But it was too late to do it prop­erly. This is the re­sult.

SAFETY

It’s im­pos­si­ble to take Honda’s “fam­i­lies first” claim se­ri­ously when im­por­tant safety fea­tures such as for­ward col­li­sion warn­ing, au­to­matic emer­gency brak­ing, radar cruise and lane keep­ing are only on the top-spec ver­sion. Rear cross traf­fic alert is not avail­able at all.

The stan­dard rear cam­era has mov­ing guide­lines. An­other cam­era in the pas­sen­ger side mir­ror hous­ing dis­plays an im­age of the ad­ja­cent lane or the kerb when you in­di­cate to turn left but it’s no sub­sti­tute for proper blind spot mon­i­tor­ing that cov­ers both sides of the car.

Tyre pres­sure mon­i­tor, park­ing sen­sors and au­to­matic head­lights are also stan­dard.

DRIV­ING

The 1.5 is a typ­i­cal 21st-cen­tury turbo with easy pulling power at low revs for re­laxed, fru­gal progress around town, where you can ex­pect 9L11L/100km. On the high­way it cruises silently and re­turns 6L-7L/100km, on reg­u­lar unleaded.

Per­for­mance is slug­gish from a stand­ing start, though, largely be­cause the CVT takes too long to prop­erly en­gage un­less you use Sport mode. Even then, you have to stick the boot in to a greater ex­tent than in a con­ven­tional au­to­matic to get re­spectable ac­cel­er­a­tion.

Rel­a­tively soft sus­pen­sion ini­tially feels old school SUV, as though it might strug­gle to keep the CR-V tidy in cor­ners, but body con­trol is rea­son­ably dis­ci­plined, the steer­ing is pre­cise and the Honda has a con­fi­dent, planted feel on rough roads.

HEART SAYS

It’s a more stylish, sporty look­ing wagon than the usual seven-seater stodge­boxes I’m see­ing.

HEAD SAYS

If I’m go­ing to buy a seven-seater to carry the fam­ily, I want pre­mium safety and a clever in­te­rior lay­out. This has nei­ther.

AL­TER­NA­TIVES HYUNDAI SANTA FE AC­TIVE X, FROM $40,990

A larger wagon, with a po­tent (and thirsty) 3.3litre V6, six-speed auto and all the safety fea­tures miss­ing in the Honda.

MAZDA CX-9 SPORT, FROM $42,490

Costs an ex­tra $3500 and worth ev­ery cent. The class leader. Loaded with safety tech in a spa­cious, clever cabin lay­out.

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