GOOD LOOKER: The styling is much more dynamic than that of previous generations. Picture: HONDA MOTOR SOUTHERN AFRICA
GOOD LOOKER: The styling is much more dynamic than that of previous generations. Picture: HONDA MOTOR SOUTHERN AFRICA

Remember the original Honda CR-V? It was a great package in the early days of smaller SUV models, but what stood out for me was not its styling, its comfort or its performance — it was the picnic table that was designed as the floor of the boot and which you could remove on a Sunday afternoon to chill out with friends. It was a superb piece of design and it is so disappointing that Honda dropped it.

That picnic table reflected the notion that the CR-V, like many other models of its genre, are lifestyle vehicles. In fact, it is probably even more true today, with SUV sales on the rise around the world at the expense of the traditional sedan. The SUV has become the single family vehicle, utilised at weekends to get out of town with the family, only today you have to have enough boot space to load in a separate picnic table.

Enough about the picnic table though, because Honda has launched the fifth generation of its CR-V. Nine million have been sold worldwide since the CR-V was first launched, with the fourth generation being the world’s best-selling SUV.

At the launch of the new model, Graham Eagle, vice-president of Honda Motor Southern Africa, went to great lengths to explain Honda’s position when it comes to future motoring. The company is promising that two-thirds of its vehicles will be electrified by 2030 and it will also have various levels of autonomous driving technology. Asked what is available in SA and what is coming soon, Eagle said none of it, at least for now, so forget we even brought it up and let’s get back to the CR-V.

Revealed for the first time in October 2016 in the US, the latest generation gets a much more dynamic overall look, with a more aggressive facade and lots more chrome.

The interior is more spacious but you need to shell out far too much to get all the kit. Picture: HONDA MOTOR SOUTHERN AFRICA
The interior is more spacious but you need to shell out far too much to get all the kit. Picture: HONDA MOTOR SOUTHERN AFRICA

Designed for the US by any chance? There’s no denying that the US is a prime market for the model — in 2016 the company sold nearly 360,000 of them there. But there is also no denying that it is a really good-looking vehicle.

It is an entirely new model with a new platform, chassis, multilink rear suspension and the option of a turbocharged engine. The platform is based on the Civic, from which that 1.5l turbocharged motor also comes. It produces 140kW at 5,600r/min and 240Nm between 2,000 and 5,000r/min and is connected to a continuously variable transmission (CVT) with manual steps if you wish to use them.

There is a more traditional 2.0l normally aspirated option as well. Both are petrol motors, with Honda leaving out the international diesel option, saying that it was not a great seller in previous generations.

The dimensions of the new model have also changed, with the length down 10mm but the wheelbase up 40mm. That longer wheelbase translates into more interior space, with 65mm of additional knee room for the rear passengers and 250mm more cargo length if you fold the rear seats down.

Speaking of cargo, there has been a focus on storage space with a host of nooks and crannies to keep everything from bottles to iPads. The clever centre console storage can even be expanded to allow you to keep a laptop in there, although it will not be covered so perhaps not such a useful thing in SA.

Those storage solutions are part of a massive makeover of the interior which now has a more solid look and feel, much like the exterior. The old-school wood trim elements in certain models will be a little controversial though, particularly in contrast to the chrome on the exterior, but I actually quite liked it.

That rear design is attractive with a touch of US market about it.
That rear design is attractive with a touch of US market about it.

That wood is also in contrast to the digital aspects of the interior which Honda Africa’s GM of research and development, Toshiba Hasegawa, says displays "urban base beautility", although he admits that he might have made that last word up. Yes, Hasegawa San, we think you might have too, but we get what you mean.

The instrument cluster is now fully digital and you can flick through various items using the controls on the steering wheel. This is important because the digital touchscreen in the centre console is far from user-friendly. The menus all make sense but the buttons, or rather icons, have absolutely no fingertip feedback and unless you have the steady hand of a watchmaker who could assemble a Swiss timepiece while driving on SA’s bumpy roads then you are inevitably going to fail to hit the button you want first time. This forces you to take your eyes away from the road and therein lies the problem with many touchscreens.

Fortunately Honda has listened to some of its customers and at least ditched the touch volume controls in favour of a physical dial. As I say, there are controls on the steering wheel which avoid you having to stop the car to search for your favourite radio station and if you utilise Apple CarPlay then you do get bigger icons.

We drove both engine options at the launch and, honestly, it was the older 2.0l that provided the best all-round drive. The turbo was responsive at lower urban speeds and certainly the most fun initially, but the 2.0l had better pull at higher speeds and will certainly be the better option if you like the odd longer-distance journey.

All models displayed good levels of comfort, although the suspension has that slightly soft feeling Americans love so much. The electronic steering had a tendency to want to fight back, but generally the handling was good and there was no sign of understeer even when pushing harder in the front-wheel-drive model. All-wheel drive is available in the upper spec versions.

Talking of upper spec versions, you need to fork out if you want all the goodies. Only the top-spec 1.5T Exclusive at R626,900 gets the full electronic safety package as well as other items like the head-up display. Opt for the 1.5 and you also have to deal with getting the model serviced every 10,000km which seems very odd to us these days.

In spite of a few annoyances with the new CR-V, overall it is a really good package. The only elephant in the room, and sadly it is quite a big elephant, is the pricing. Honda has been struggling with pricing in recent years and the CR-V is no exception, particularly if you want a decent level of specification. Stick with the 2.0l in Elegance trim though and you are in for R477,900, a figure that is more palatable, even if the vehicle has slightly less to brag about.

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