THE MOST improved new vehicle of 2017? That’d be the Honda CR-V hands down.
Now in its fifth generation since helping lead the medium-SUV onslaught some two decades ago, this is new-from-the-ground-up stuff, sharing nothing from before bar its nameplate. And thank Lord Soichiro for that! The previous model unceremoniously bombed out of COTY 2013 due to being uncharacteristically rubbish.
But clearly Honda has been listening.
The new CR-V’s fresh, strong ‘Earth Dreams’ chassis soaks up bumps where previous versions would simply telegraph them through inside. Noise, vibration and harshness levels have been quelled significantly; the stability and traction control systems now work with (rather than against) smooth and relaxing passage; and general handling and roadholding traits have improved markedly.
Volkswagen’s (previous) Tiguan and the BMW X3 served as dynamic benchmarks, so it’s no shock the Mk5 CR-V is the most enjoyable yet.
All this is brilliant news for medium-SUV buyers, especially as Honda has attempted to democratise performance with a muscular yet miserly 1.5-litre turbo-petrol four across the range. And it will happily drink 91-octane unleaded too. Even paired with an efficiency-focused CVT transmission (sadly a manual is not available), this powertrain plays second fiddle to the CR-V’s capable chassis. Honda claims the new-gen model was engineered for European and Australian drivers first, and it shows.
But wait, there’s more. Within the handsomely proportioned exterior is a spacious, beautifully built, well-presented cabin that proudly prioritises family practicality and occupant wellbeing. Access, clarity, operational ease, storage and vision are all first class, backed up by a massive wagon-like cargo capacity that is vast enough to now include a third-row option.
Such attention to detail reflects the Honda’s long-standing position as America’s favourite SUV (even if it is designed in Japan).
Finally, there’s the subject of value, a former brand bugbear but one that this Thai-built CR-V more or less nails. Along with a newly announced five-year warranty, every model includes driver-attention alert, tyre-pressure monitoring, keyless entry/start with walk-away locking (very handy), a rear-view camera, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, dual-zone climate control, alloys and a full-sized spare. Even the boggo VTi seems premium. When Honda tries, rivals really ought to worry.
So, what’s the catch? Autonomous Emergency Braking is only available on the $45K VTi-LX AWD range-topper, and that’s hardly egalitarian. While Honda promises to amend this oversight some time in the future, in an all-new family wagon such cynicism is both surprising and disappointing, particularly as the Mazda CX-5 – another COTY contender – standardised AEB years ago.
Additionally, other areas also require attention. The gutsy, yet shouty 1.5 turbo lacks the sweetness of previous Honda engines. Tyre noise remains high, gravel braking distance can be alarming and the slow, vague-on-centre steering lacks crispness.
Nevertheless, today’s CR-V rights previous wrongs with breathtaking ease, hitting our judging criteria square-on for efficiency, packaging and – selective AEB inclusion aside – safety and value. But while playing the game smartly, the Honda doesn’t actually move anything on.
Still, as the recipient of Most Improved for COTY 2018, it is a medium SUV we would now happily recommend.
Honda claims this is the most global CR-V yet, even though it was created primarily for US appetites. Proof of this is in the dimensions. Designed by an American in Japan, it is 11mm longer, 35mm wider and about 6mm taller than before.
A 40mm wheelbase stretch made the optional three-row version possible – something demanded by South East Asian customers. Previously Honda resisted such a move because it already offered a larger seven-seater SUV (the Pilot, pictured below) in the US.