THE updated Honda CR-V Series II scores a limited-edition turbo-diesel variant that’s all about its outstanding powertrain.
This article was originally published in Wheels magazine.
WHAT IS IT?
A temporary replacement for the previous 2.2-litre i-DTEC CR-V turbo-diesel, with a fairly limited lifespan. Just 90 ‘limited edition’ CR-V Series II diesels will head Down Under in just one premium spec (the DTi-L), sourced from Honda’s UK factory rather than Thailand like petrol CR-Vs.
WHY WE’RE TESTING IT
Not only because this Honda CR-V scores the carmaker's excellent 1.6-litre ‘Earth Dreams’ turbo-diesel, featuring an all-new nine-speed automatic transmission, but because this is the drivetrain we’ll see debut in the slightly smaller, yet more accomplished, HR-V later in the year.
Ford Kuga Titanium TDCi, Hyundai Tucson Highlander CRDi, Kia Sportage Platinum CRDi, Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring Diesel, Mitsubishi Outlander Exceed Di-D, Nissan X-Trail TL 4WD, Renault Koleos Privilege 4x4, Subaru Forester 2.0D-S, Toyota RAV4 Cruiser D4-D, and Volkswagen Tiguan 130TDI 4Motion.
When Honda’s excellent new diesel drivetrain lobs in the slightly smaller HR-V later this year – in both six-speed manual and nine-speed automatic guises – it’ll be something to celebrate. In the meantime, while this DTi-L is far and away the most compelling variant in the CR-V line-up, its wooden steering, understeery handling and inconsistent ride continue to tarnish Honda’s once-unsurpassed reputation as Japan’s finest carmaker.
PLUS: Amazingly gutsy, refined and efficient small-capacity diesel; excellent nine-speed auto; nicely packaged
MINUS: Low-geared, treacly and vague steering; heavy-footed ride; lacks handling poise
HONDA’S fourth-generation CR-V has never been a favourite. Developed during a GFC-rocked global economy and lacking the dynamic and mechanical sparkle that once signified Hondas, this 2013 debutant demonstrated the depressingly low priority the Japanese brand placed on engineering prowess during that period.
But things are changing, albeit slowly. Last year’s Series II update brought some much-needed though minor suspension and steering improvements to the current CR-V. But it’s the ‘limited edition’ turbo-diesel version that provides an encouraging glimpse of a brighter Honda future.
In showrooms from late September last year, the new CR-V diesel centres on the debut of a new ‘Earth Dreams’ 1.6-litre turbo-diesel four, replacing the previous 2.2-litre turbo-diesel.
Backed by Honda’s all-new nine-speed automatic transmission, the little 1.6 diesel truly defies its midget status. Despite a sizeable capacity drop, it produces more power (118kW, up 8kW) and the same torque (350Nm) as the old 2.2 diesel, with the added benefit of improved refinement and less thirst (now just 5.9L/100km on the combined cycle, compared to 6.9).
And even though the transmission possesses a seemingly ludicrous number of ratios, you’d never know. Smooth, intuitive and efficient, the nine-speeder gives the CR-V diesel a real kick off the line, as well as the legs to extract the greatest efficiency from highway running.
It’s a pity the diesel’s new space-age gear selector is such a fiddly, gimmicky and plasticky piece of tat. It’s like a hangover from a ’90s iMac; a classic case of form over function compared to a traditional, leather-topped lever.
Then there’s the CR-V’s dynamics. Improved they may be, but that’s very faint praise. Instead of over-light and vague steering, the CR-V diesel’s is almost heavy, feeling like it’s turning through treacle, and yet still vague. It’s a textbook case of how adding steering weight does not create feel.
The old CR-V’s nauseating ride is now less sickly, with improved body control and damping effectiveness. Yet the sense that the CR-V’s heavy wheels are out of phase with its suspension tune still exists.
So does its rather ponderous front end, which rolls more than the rear, detracting from its handling poise. You can provoke drive to the rear by braking the nose into a corner, then jumping on the gas and relishing the diesel drivetrain’s effortless corner-exit shove. But around town, the CR-V’s chassis still lacks cohesion.
Unlike the old diesel, the 2016 Series II version is a top-spec-only proposition (the DTi-L for $44,290) available in very limited supply. Just 90 will be imported from Honda’s UK factory in Sunderland (the petrols hail from Thailand), restricted by an increasingly unfavourable exchange rate, yet loaded with more kit than any CR-V in the catalogue. And as I write this, 74 have already been sold.
Thankfully, the talent of its diesel drivetrain will resurface in the tastier HR-V later this year.
Model: Honda CR-V Series II DTi-L
Engine: 1597cc 4cyl, dohc, 16v, turbo-diesel
Max power: 118kW @ 4000rpm
Max torque: 350Nm @ 2000rpm
Transmission: 9-speed automatic
0-100km/h: 10.2sec (claimed)
Fuel economy: 5.9L/100km
On sale: Now