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Honda’s latest CR-V can now carry seven — but there’s room for improvement
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
It’s a more stylish, sporty looking wagon than the usual seven-seater stodgeboxes I’m seeing.
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.