Honda CR-V 2018: First Drive Review
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Does the first-ever 7-seat Honda CR-V pack enough to revive the nameplate's status in India?
Older readers will remember Honda’s CR-V as a trend setter. It was the one that made SUVs fun to drive, slick and cool. The first two generations in India (second and third globally) changed mindsets and appetites. Despite being a two-row and petrol-only offering, the CR-V was much sought after. But the tide turned with the next-gen - a bland design, insipid interiors and soaring petrol prices made it a side note. But now, Honda is bringing the CR-V back with a bang this October.
The fifth generation Honda CR-V isn’t easy to distinguish from the outgoing car at first glance. But when you spend some time with it the changes become apparent and the impact begins to feel much more dramatic. This CR-V now looks sleek but it has dialed up the tough quotient and premiumness too! Its face looks familiar but the grille and headlamps look more futuristic now. The all-LED headlamps give it a sparkle as does the chrome strip on the grille. The bulges on the bonnet and the creases on the sides are more pronounced, which definitely make it look taller and stronger. At the rear you can see that the tall tail lamps stand out even more thanks to the LED guide lights.
If the CR-V feels more impressive, its because it is larger too. This new Honda has grown longer, wider and has a bigger footprint too. The 40mm longer wheelbase has allowed Honda to accommodate a third row of seats, a first for the CR-V. That’s not all: To up the SUV quotient the ground clearance has been increased too. The AWD version has 208mm of ground clearance while the 2WD version has 198mm. Both are impressive numbers, but we’ll see how the numbers turn out under the Indian norms.
The CR-V has been thoroughly overhauled on the inside. Firstly, it feels a lot more upmarket now. The faux wood used on the dash and door pads looks and feels impressive. There are soft-touch materials everywhere. It feels hi-tech too! One sci-fi bit, much like in Lambos, is that there is no gear lever here. Instead, the CR-V uses buttons on the centre console to select Park, Reverse or Drive. Cool! And convenient!
The driver’s instrument cluster is all-digital and is very easy to read and packs in a whole load of information. The dash design features slim air-con vents that sit on top of the centre console, much like the Amaze. Who is inspired from whom, surely you can guess? The centre console looks quite clean as there aren’t too many buttons or knobs. The floating 7” screen integrates Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. It also doubles up as the interface for some climate control features such as fan speed and airflow direction.
There is a large storage section between the front seats that includes cup holders, trays for your phone and cubby holes for keys and even a larger bin that can store a couple of soft drinks cans. However, the door pockets are quite slim and can accommodate only half-litre bottles.
The front seats are very welcoming as they hug the occupant, and will please even larger passengers. However, only the driver’s seat is powered, and is 8-way adjustable as well. The passenger seat has to be adjusted manually. As expected, there is plenty of headroom here. The cabin is wide, and while driving you realise that the Lane Watch camera is really helpful as otherwise you have to turn quite a bit to take a peek at the passenger side ORVM.
The rear bench is comfortable too. They can slide back and forth, the cushioning is just right and the ribbed sections on the seatback feel quite comforting. There is plenty of space here to stretch out, especially if there is no one in the third row as this allows you to slide the second row back. However, with the sunroof and the roof-mounted aircon vents, head room is compromised and taller passengers will rub against the roof lining.
To access the third row you need to pull on two straps, one to slide the seat forward and the other to flip it forward. Typical of Honda, there is a nifty strap that allows you to strap the seat up. The third row is fairly low-set and can accommodate upto 5’6” tall occupants when you slide the middle row all the way forward. So this is primarily for kids. The good thing is, even with the middle row slid all the way forward you can still get an adult to sit there comfortably.
The CR-V we drove in the Philippines was equipped with Honda’s new “Earth Dreams” 1.6-litre diesel engine, which is related to the 1.5-litre i-DTEC that we have in India. Thankfully, the noise levels inside the cabin aren’t off-putting. You can hear the diesel clatter as you accelerate, but even then it isn’t off-putting. Once you get up to speed it is quiet.
On the road the engine felt easy to drive, but a bit lazy. Its 300Nm of torque makes it responsive enough to keep pace with the traffic, and the 9-speed automatic gearbox helps it further. You have paddle shifters to switch gears if you are in a hurry, as the gearbox seems to be tuned more towards calm commuting. You surely won’t think of this is a fast SUV as its 120PS of power makes it quite underpowered when compared to its rivals. You will feel the lack of punch when you punch the throttle for an overtake. But once it’s up to cruising speeds it sits comfortably. The 9-speed gearbox’s usefulness in India might be a bit limited as it engages 8th gear only after 110kmph and 9th only after 140kmph.
When it comes to comfort, on the undulating concrete roads outside Manila the CR-V's all-independent suspension felt a bit bumpy. But as I watched some ladder-frame SUVs go by, I was glad that we weren’t bouncing around. On the smoother highways it felt calmer but it could be more plush.
However, there is one clear upside here: despite being taller and larger than before the CR-V still feels very car-like to drive. It doesn’t roll around and the all-wheel drive sends power to the rear wheels at just the right time and in the right doses so that you can zip around easily, be it on fast highways or rain-soaked hill roads. The stopping power from the brakes was also sufficient to get the big Honda slowed down rapidly. Honda will also bring a front-wheel drive version to India too.
In India the CR-V will be available with six airbags, ABS, EBD and the Lane Watch system. The latter triggers a video feed from the camera mounted under the passenger side ORVM when you use the indicator to change lanes or to turn. In Indonesia the CR-V is available with Honda Sensing package on the AWD versions. These include radar- and camera-based safety technology like adaptive cruise control, road departure warning and blind spot detection.
In India the CR-V will be available only with an automatic transmission option for petrol and diesel. The diesel will be available with a choice of front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive, both of which will come with a nine-speed automatic transmission. The two-litre petrol will be available only as a front-wheel drive and will use a CVT automatic transmission. The variants on offer haven’t been decided yet; however, safety features such as six airbags will be standard. However, the petrol is likely to be offered only with two-rows.
If you were looking for the fun to drive CR-V from 10 odd years ago, the 1.6 iDTEC isn’t it. But it still is a very car-like SUV that is easy to drive and live with just so long as you don’t expect exciting performance from the engine, which although capable is quite laid-back. That it is now more premium from outside and inside, more spacious and also packs in more ruggedness makes it a lot more appealing now.
Words: Kartikeya Singhee