Review: 2017 Honda CR-V – Calculated Superiority

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Review: 2017 Honda CR-V – Calculated Superiority

Nature would have us believe that there is strength in numbers.

Sticking together has for eons, been a natural method of survival for many species. Regardless of how powerful they may be in singularity, for instance, wildebeest or elephants, grouping together is the most effective way of ensuring the survival and the continuation of the species.

The great migration of the Serengeti, which happens every year in May and June is a true spectacle of nature. The journeys of more than million wildebeest, zebra and gazelle traversing some of the harshest terrains – offer up one of nature’s greatest examples of how there is truly strength in numbers.

Which draws some parallels to the all-new 2017 Honda CR-V. Bear with me.

'Supremacy returns' was the much-touted tagline during the launch – something I struggled to understand.

Yes, it’s the fifth-generation of the ever-popular SUV that popularised the idea of the practical, good-looking, ‘mild’ off-road SUV. Which meant owners could have the elevated driving position and road-friendly driving dynamics – without the running costs of a lumbering 4x4 vehicle.

The new one isn’t any different. But, the CR-V wasn’t the first.

By the time the CR-V was introduced in 1995 - the Toyota RAV4 had already pioneered the idea of the modern compact SUV a year earlier, and the Suzuki Vitara 5-dr Wagon, albeit slightly more industrial, was first introduced some five years earlier, in 1990.

So if it wasn’t the original trailblazer, is the CR-V’s so-called supremacy simply measured by its successful sales figures?

Numbers that look good on a spreadsheet for prim-and-prop accountant types, but does little in the way of making you, the driver, feel supreme.  

A fact that became apparent on the recent Honda CR-V media test drive.

As the convoy barrelled down a busy road in Kluang town, I caught three other CR-Vs (the first, third and fourth generation) just ahead of me. Given our relatively brisk pace and small focus angle of my lens, I managed to catch the following few shots.

But, it served to remind me that few other cars could, after production spanning five generations – still have a decent number early models in active service, let alone in a small vicinity like Kluang.

But still, quantity breeds commonality. For every other just like mine – the less special mine becomes.

So, can the all-new Honda CR-V split the difference between special and capable in equal amounts?

Specifications: Honda CR-V 1.5L (2WD) TC-Premium

  • Engine: 1.5-litre turbocharged 4-cylinder, transverse, VVT
  • Transmission: CVT automatic, front-wheel drive
  • Power: 190 hp at 5,600rpm, 243 Nm @ 2,000rpm
  • Performance: 8.8 seconds 0-100km/h, 200km/h Top Speed, 7.0 L/100km (NEDC)
  • Weight: 1,549 kg
  • ·Safety: 6-airbags, Anti-lock brakes (ABS) with Brakeforce Distrbution (EBD), electronic stability control (VSA), Hill Start Assist (HSA), Honda Sensing – Forward Collision Warning (FCW), Collision Mitigation Braking Sysem (CBMS), Lane Departure Warning (LDW), Road Departure Mitigation (RDM), Lane Keep Assist System (LKAS)
  • Price: RM167,700 OTR excluding insurance
  • Origin: Locally-assembled in Pegoh, Melaka.

Overview

The fifth-generation Honda CR-V was launched in July of this year, and has, much like all other Honda Malaysia’s most recent products – been a superb success. The Honda CR-V received 1,400 bookings, the sales target for 2 months, in just one week.

If that isn’t supremacy, at least for Honda, I don’t know what is.

Four variants are on offer starting with the 2.0-litre 2WD variant starting out at RM142,400. The following three variants are powered by new 1.5-litre turbocharged engine first seen here on the Honda Civic. The 1.5L TC 2WD and TC 4WD variants are priced at RM155,700 and RM161,600 respectively.

This is also the first time the most expensive CR-V does not have a 4WD drivetrain – Honda Malaysia learned after the launch of the fourth-generation facelift model that drivetrain and equipment specification are somewhat mutually exclusive. Buyers in Malaysia value a good specification sheet as much as they value a capable drivetrain, and that plenty of customers knew they don’t really require 4WD capability.

This brings us to the range-topping 1.5-litre TC-Premium which adds on equipment such as the programmable power tailgate, Lane Watch Camera and crucially, the Honda Sensing suite of active driver assist systems.

Let’s simplify it:

  • From the front
    • Active Cruise Control (ACC) with Low-Speed Follow (LSF) – Driver assist function, maintains pre-set speed and a programmable distance to the car in front. Preset speeds between 30 km/h and 180km/h, but the LSF works from 0 km/h. So it can bring the vehicle to a complete stop and restart again as traffic progresses.
    • Forward Collision Warning (FCW) and Collision Mitigation Braking System (CBMS) – Collision avoidance, both systems work in tandem to prevent or mitigate a frontal collision. FCW uses a monocular camera and millimetre wave radar to detect a risk of collision, provides an audible and visual warning. If no action is taken, CBMS steps in, and can progressively adjust brakeforce, from light to strong.
  • From the side
    • Lane Departure Warning (LDW) and Road Departure Mitigation (RDM) – Monitors vehicle position within the lane and alerts driver. If no action is taken, RDM provides subtle correction by braking individual wheels and providing steering assistance. LDW works between 72 km/h and 180 km/h.
    • Lane Keep Assist System (LKAS) – Like the LDW, Works between 72 km/h and 180, but assists to keep the car centered within the lane with minute steering adjustments, almost unseen. This helps reduce driving effort.

All systems are driver assist functions, which requires constant driver input, the system quickly detects when the steering is being left unattended and prompts a warning.

The other point to note is, by packaging the full-suite of Honda Sensing driver assist systems, the Honda CR-V ‘temporarily’ takes over the Honda Accord (at least equipment wise) as the flagship of Honda range.

The new car measures 4,584 mm in length, 1,855 mm in width and 1,679 mm in height for the 2WD model (4WD: 1,689 mm). Which means it has shrunk in length by 6 mm (4,590 mm) but grew in width by 35mm (1,820 mm) over the fourth-generation model. At 1,685 mm in height, the previous 4WD variant sits in between the new models 2WD and 4WD variant.

Also – the styling packs quite a bit more pizzazz this time around. Led by Honda's 'Modern Functional Dynamic' design language which is both daring and finely executed.

On paper, a width increase of 35 mm might not sound like much – but in the flesh, the CR-V looks substantially much more premium now. Angular body lines in the bodywork, at the front bumper and along the flanks give the sheet metal some character, in short, it’s a design that won’t tire so easily.  

I’m not quite sold on the wheels though – largely because they remind me of fidget spinners, which are cool, but not as SUV wheels – I’ll let you be the judge of that.

On the infotainment front – the CR-V packs a 7-inch infotainment screen compatible with Apple Carplay and Android Auto. 2 HDMI/USB ports are on hand.

Driving Experience

The 1.5-litre turbocharged four-cylinder produces 193 PS (20 PS more than in the Civic) and more crucially 243 Nm (23 Nm more than the Civic) between 2,000-5,000 rpm.

The engine is coupled to Honda’s CVT automatic – which for the most part is superb in its responses and even serves to broaden the car’s overall performance envelope.

Because it’s not constrained to a set bunch of ratios – the CVT auto is able to fill in the gaps where engine torque isn’t at its optimum, such as between 1,000 rpm and 2,200 rpm and then again higher-up in the rev range, between 5,000rpm and 6,000rpm.

On the road, this gives the CR-V seamless and strong acceleration up to the speed limit, and then some, until around 160 km/h. At one stint, I had my foot planted to the floor, until around 197 km/h and it still had a bit more left to give. 135 km/h seems to be the sweet spot for a brisk cruise in the new CR-V. 

The engine, like any other Honda product bearing the fabled VTEC name, is eager to rev and punchy, to say the least – but note, it isn’t like the buzzing banshee B- or K-Series four-cylinder engines of the past. But it does serve to mimic the performance characteristics of a larger 2.4- or 2.5-litre engine, which is no bad thing. The gearbox likewise will assume a stepped (geared-like) response under heavy throttle for best results.

Stability at speed is much improved, thanks to a lower centre of gravity and thoroughly reworked front and rear subframe design. The body structure feels rigid too – which helps spread the forces from the ground.

While all previous CR-Vs (especially the third and fourth-gen cars) were no slouch in the handling department – the new car is simply miles better. Confidently, it drives like the other European offering and manages the quantum of comfort and handling precision very well.

After all, that the new CR-V was benchmarked against the Volkswagen Tiguan during its development. Hence, on the highways, the new CR-V eats up the miles with relative ease. The interior refinement levels are superb and makes light work of a three-hour cruise - courtesy of advancements such as liquid-filled suspension bushes, liquid seals on suspension mounts and better sound insulation materials.

As with any Honda Malaysia press drive – extensive on-road testing, lengthy press conferences, and in-depth comparisons drives give us a holistic understanding of the new product and how it measures up against its rivals.

On an isolated and tight backroad, we had a chance to put the all-new CR-V through its paces. Chief of which, was the Nissan X-Trail and Mazda CX-5, and personally, for me, the most important yardstick for comparison was the fourth-generation model.

It doesn’t take very long to notice the improved accuracy of the steering of the new car. At speeds, the suspension’s response to road camber and bumps is far more measured and the rear more composed. The fourth-generation model also serves to highlight immediacy of the engine and gearbox.

Open disclosure: tyres on both the Nissan X-Trail and Mazda CX-5 comparison test vehicles were not in their optimal state. So driving comparisons would be qualitative at best.

Switching into the X-Trail, most immediate aspect one notices is the refinement levels. More exterior noise protrudes the cabin and the whine from the CVT transmission would suggest that it’s really doing something out of its main scope of talent. But for the most part, the X-Trail's steering decently communicative, and the car felt light on its feet. Power wasn't too shabby either.

The CX-5 remains a wonderful steer and delightful performer after all these years. The steering responses are superb and body control still up to par with more modern metal. The new CR-V beats it on straight-line pace, but the CX-5 body rigidity and suspension setup ensure it’s still quick through the corners. Note though, at the time of testing, the all-new CX-5 was yet to be officially introduced in Malaysia.

During the drive, we were also given a short stint to test the 4WD variant on a closed course. The test involved putting the car through a quick sweeping left-to-right transition, which allowed us to experience the torque split between the front and rear axles.

The 4WD system uses a very intelligent which calculates the car’s throttle position, steering angle and even available traction to determine when best to deploy torque towards the rear wheels, in real time. An ECU controls a hydraulically actuated central transfer case, which then sends power to the rear differential.

The system works best to improve acceleration from a standstill and coming out of corners. During the test – there was a noticeable urgency during turn-in and when maintaining a proper tracking mid-corner. The CR-V 4WD has a surprising amount of grip too, harnessing a substantial amount of G-forces in the switchback of corners.

Comfort and Practicality

Comfort and practicality are other strong points of the new CR-V, seating five up, the seats are nicely supportive and there’s adequate lateral support for the driver and front passenger. The added width of the car is a boon for rear passenger shoulder and headroom as well.

Cubby holes are found almost everywhere, rarely did my other two passengers and myself need more space to stash our phones, SmarTag and water bottles. The large, multi-mode centre console will accommodate a handbag, or even a large hardcover cookbook if needed.

The one-pull release in the boot, that folds the rear seatbacks is a boon when trying to load longer items, as is the powered tailgate, again, the width of the aperture comes in handy when trying to load bigger items.

Conclusion

The new CR-V befits its popular reputation as the all-rounder full-sized SUV.

The improvements in body rigidity and suspension geometry have made it a much sharper drive have gone a long way towards capture some of the charm of being a driver’s car. Something its predecessors lacked, this also makes it more desirable. 

The engine, gearbox and well-thought-out practicality remain its best traits – and alone enough to sign on the dotted line.

With the Nissan X-Trail looking a tad dated – there’s little question of the CR-V being popular on the sales charts and in the hearts of many owners.

But the acid test will come when it’s is pitted against the Volkswagen Tiguan and all-new Mazda CX-5. But for now, it definitely ticks all the boxes.

Gallery: 2017 All-New Honda CR-V Media Test Drive



Arvind

Arvind

Arvind describes a car in the same way he would describe a woman; this is not very healthy. Unlike the eternal sunshine of a spotless mind, soulful naturally-aspirated soundtracks and trigger quick (self-applied) gearshifts are all that fill the darkest recesses of his mind. Arvind is still trying to understand women...


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