What is the Honda CR-V?
Honda’s CR-V mid-sized SUV was introduced in 1997 and the current fifth-generation model arrived in 2017.
With consistent improvements and shifting consumer demand, the CR-V has established itself as Australia’s favourite Honda.
And after four years of consistent sales in its current generation, the Japanese manufacturer has given the CR-V a light update that leaves the major mechanicals unchanged but adds a dusting of extra equipment and a subtle but effective aesthetic redesign.
The range remains comprised of seven variants that offer two-or four-wheel drive, five or seven seats, and a choice of two petrol engines with a single automatic transmission.
A minor reshuffle of the variant order and a slight change to the nomenclature are the only line-up revisions.
Price and value
Opening the CR-V range is the Vi priced from $30,490 before on-road costs. It stands out as the only version in the line-up to have a naturally aspirated 2.0-litre petrol four-cylinder engine, while all others have the more sophisticated VTEC Turbo 1.5-litre.
Opt for one of the six variants above it and you’ll get 140kW and 240Nm of grunt versus 113kW and 189Nm as well as more mileage out of a tank.
Honda says the 1.5-litre can use as little as 7.0 litres of fuel per 100km compared with 7.6L/100km for the 2.0-litre.
With the update, there have been price increases across the board ranging from $1500 to $4500.
The entry Vi is $2200 more expensive but offers a light increase to equipment with the larger 7.0-inch central touchscreen offered in the rest of the range, dual-zone climate control and smartphone mirroring – as well as the facelift offered range-wide.
Moving up the range there are a list of additions depending on the grade including wireless device charging, LED headlights and fog lights, and leather appointed upholstery.
Competitiveness is key in this incredibly busy sector of the SUV market and the updated CR-V goes up against strong rivals that include the Hyundai Tucson from $29,640, the Kia Sportage which starts from $28,690, and the $30,980 Mazda CX-5 to name just a few.
For our look into the refreshed CR-V, we focused on the mid-range VTi X and the more premium VTi L7.
Living with the Honda CR-V
If you’re a fan of the existing CR-V then the good news is that all the features that made the fifth-generation car attractive are carried over and the 2021 additions only add to the enjoyment/ease of ownership.
It’s a mid-sizer with cabin space that appears to defy its exterior dimensions, and if Tardis-like space is high up your list the CR-V should definitely be in your sights.
The front seats are roomy while deep glazing and skinny A-pillars offer a great view out without detracting from the sharpened exterior looks.
Speaking of which, while the exterior redesign may have been limited to a bumper and wheel update, the result is very effective.
More black and dark chrome in place of gaudy bright chrome effect has added and air of sophistication and a new full-width chin-fin in titanium-effect finish looks commanding and more sporty.
We also particularly like the new headlight design which incorporates LED technology for the higher-grade versions.
Inside, not a lot has changed which needn’t be a bad thing. There’s tons of storage spaces and clean design with the introduction of some new materials.
Second-row accommodation doesn’t offer the same lofty headroom as the front seats. It's still adequate for adults, though, with plenty of leg, elbow and knee room.
Perhaps the best part of the CR-V’s interior, though, is its load bay flexibility.
A height-adjustable boot floor offers two positions for maximum volume or easier loading and, underneath, is a full-size spare wheel.
The second-row seating has tilt and slide adjustment and will also fold flat for a boosted boot but can also roll forward to free up more full-height loading space.
Add to that rear doors that open to 90 degrees and a powered tailgate with (a somewhat temperamental) hands-free foot sensor and you have one of the most versatile and accommodating mid-size SUV boots on the market. But it gets better.
Opt for one of the two CR-V variants with a 7 in its name and you’ll get one of the most compact seven-seat SUVs on the market.
It’s fair to say the third row is not as spacious as some, nor would you inflict the pair of little pews on people much bigger than children for very long, but the option for short rides is there and genuinely useful.
When not in use, the seats fold flat and rob a little boot space (but not at the expense of the full-size spare wheel), and there's even privacy glass that extends to the second-row windows, dedicated cup holders and air-conditioning vents.
Best of all, Honda is not screaming SEVEN-SEATER from its brochures, instead admirably referring to its VTi 7 and VTi L7 as a 5+2.
The 7.0-inch touchscreen that’s now common to all CR-Vs is a little deceptive hiding behind a much larger single-piece fascia, and is a little anticlimactic when it comes alive.
Engine and transmission
We have yet to get our hands on an entry-level version of the CR-V and the Vi which uses a relatively conventional 2.0-litre petrol engine with no turbo.
If the figures on paper are anything to go by, though, the 1.5-litre turbo engine standard to all but the entry point is the one to go for.
Other than a little hesitation off the mark, the VTEC Turbo unit is surprisingly lively once up and rolling with the sweet spot right in the middle of the rev-range.
There’s no diesel-like torque at the low end as you might find in a German SUV powered by a similarly sized petrol engine but the mid-range punch is still very accessible and useful for overtaking as well as nipping around town.
Revving to the rev limit is not as satisfying as some previous Honda VTEC units with noise and vibration building to a din rather than a song, accompanied by performance less meaningful than it is about the 3000 to 4000 rpm region.
A continuously variable transmission (CVT) auto is standard for all CR-Vs and is a simple but effective pairing.
There are no simulated gear ratios as you will find in Subaru’s CVT interpretation for example, which means the Honda drivetrain labours and moans unglamorously when worked hard and is best left, like the engine, to mid-range duties.
For a relatively small-capacity engine in a mid-sized SUV, the 1.5-litre returns excellent fuel economy and we managed a figure right on the claimed 7.3 litres per 100km.
Driving the Honda CR-V
With so many impressive mid-sized SUVs in Australia’s market, it should come as no surprise that an offering from a trusted Japanese brand can offer something that is fun to drive even if it doesn’t push that as its main selling point.
But the CR-V is exactly that. It’s certainly no Type R, but the combination of adequate power where you need it and a surprisingly obedient steering and chassis setup is an unexpected feather in the Honda’s cap.
Finding a good driving position is easy – particularly in the VTi L7 which has electric seat adjustment – and the model is most enjoyable negotiating the urban jungle with its nimble low-speed nature.
The CR-V is also at home on the open road, too, with long legs for cruising and all occupants will appreciate the view out.
Despite sharp-looking 18-inch machine-finished alloy wheels with lower-profile tyres fitted as standard to the VTi L7, the ride quality is commendable on average roads but can come a little unstuck on choppy surfaces.
Its controls are just a little too sensitive, however. The steering would benefit from just a touch more weight, the brakes are just a little over-assisted and the accelerator hard to modulate for lighter duties and smooth driving.
These characteristics would probably suit an older driver or would take only a little getting used to if not.
While the driver’s seat initially felt supportive and comfortable, it didn’t take too long for an undesirable trait to emerge.
Without wishing to put too fine a point on it, it gave our reviewer cramps in the bit you sit on. Yes, you could argue he has a strange or precious derriere or something physically unusual and that may be the case, but he certainly won’t be the only one.
How safe is the Honda CR-V?
One of the most significant elements to the 2021 CR-V update relates to its safety offering and the addition of Honda Sensing to all but the entry Vi.
Previously, only the top two variants had the company’s suite of driver assistance and safety kit as standard but now it’s applied to six out of seven.
On top of the model’s ISOFIX child seat anchors, driver attention monitor, full-length curtain airbags, and Vehicle Stability Assist, Honda Sensing adds lane keep assistant, lane departure warning, forward collision warning and braking, and adaptive cruise control.
It goes without saying that with normal attentive driving you will probably never know the new technology is included and it will only step in if a hazardous situation is unavoidable by the driver.
The only exception to this is the collision warning which is a little paranoid and overactive at times.
Its standard rear-view camera does not offer the sharpest resolution image and seems prone to a grubby lens although three switchable camera views are a welcome feature offering an impressive wide option.
ANCAP five-star safety rating that was awarded in 2017 carries over thanks to the safety enhancements that add to the already high standard of occupant protection and pedestrian protection that was rated as ‘acceptable’.
How much does it cost to run the Honda CR-V?
Scheduled servicing for the CR-V is required every 10,000km and will cost $312 as part of Honda’s capped-price servicing that it refers to as Tailored Servicing.
This offers customers transparent pricing for scheduled maintenance over the first five years or 100,000km, including additional ‘adaptive items’ that need attention depending on the distance travelled and the conditions in which the vehicle is typically used.
All new Hondas are sold with a five-year unlimited-kilometre warranty, which can be optionally extended to seven years and is transferable if the car is sold to a new owner for no extra cost.
A six-year corrosion warranty is also standard for all models.
Unlike many rivals, roadside assistance is only included if the customer extends the warranty to seven years.
Despite its more advanced turbo engine for all variants above the Vi, the CR-V does not require high-grade fuel, with 91 RON the recommended minimum.
Our test car returned an average fuel consumption bang on the manufacturer’s claimed 7.3L/100km.
Verdict – the 2021 Honda CR-V
You don’t need us to re-run the old fable of fixing things that aren’t broken when talking about Honda’s updated CR-V.
It wasn’t exactly falling off a sales cliff before the 2021 version arrived and nor was there any sign it was about to if left unchanged.
In that regard, its light makeover makes a lot of sense especially the more handsome front and rear bumper design to keep the model looking showroom fresh. Likewise, the addition of technology to bring connectivity and safety up to Australia’s unceasingly high demands will keep punters coming.
And like the 2017 version, the 2021 iteration is still easy to recommend from a packaging, performance and standard equipment perspective.
However, Honda is clearly exploring a new saying that if it ain’t broke, increase the price.
While some price adjustment is expected with any updated model, Australia’s most competitive car segments – of which the mid-size SUV market very much is one – are occupied by incredibly fickle and price-driven customers and that audience will waste no time talking with their wallets if they think the 2021 CR-V has priced itself out of the competition.
Value (judged on price, specs vs competitors) 7/10
Safety (ANCAP, safety inclusions, child seating) 8/10
Running costs (warranty, servicing, fuel consumption) 8/10
Comfort and practicality (all seat positions, cargo space, ease of use) 9/10
On the road (engine/drivetrain, ride and handling) 7/10
What you’ll like
Roomy cabin; 5+2 option; strong and efficient turbo engine; innovative load area
What you might not like
Front seat comfort; price increase; reverse camera picture
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