Honda CR-V review: making good Sense out of it all
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2020 Honda CR-V Touring 2WD
- Impressive specification on entry Touring
- Sensing safety tech across the range
- Outstanding practicality
- Thrashy engine at speed
- Dashboard design lacks cohesion
- No more ultra-cheap entry version
It has a relatively low profile in New Zealand, so it’s easy to forget that the Honda CR-V was one of the pioneering “crossover” SUVs, blending 4x4-style looks with a road-car chassis. The Toyota RAV4 came first (a year earlier, in 1994), but Honda beat Toyota to the whole five-door thing.
I’ll declare an interest here because I ran a CR-V as a long-term test vehicle for a year back in 1995 – the first-gen one with the walk-through cabin and removable picnic table. It was a revolution/revelation at that time and so I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for the high-riding Honda.
While the CR-V only just squeezes into the medium-segment SUV top 10 in NZ (RAV4 outsells it nearly seven-to-one), globally it’s still a very important model. The second best-selling SUV in the world last year in fact, behind the RAV4 and ahead of the Volkswagen Tiguan.
This is even more remarkable when you consider that CR-V hasn’t benefited from the same development dollars as many rivals. We got an all-new RAV4 last year for example, whereas this generation of CR-V has been with us since 2016. And will be for a while yet it seems, because it’s just had an update.
You can identify the upgraded model mainly by the Audi-esque chromed square trim around the bottom of the new bumper. But there are also new alloy wheel designs and a couple of new colours, including the Ignite Red Metallic you see here.
The model cycles have been long, but Honda has kept up on key tech. It embraced the whole engine-downsizing ethos a long time ago, with the CR-V powered by an “EarthDreams” direct-injection 1.5-litre turbo-petrol engine (now standard across the range). There’s also a hybrid version in other markets, but not ours; not yet anyway.
Driver-assistance was impressive in the previous Sensing models, but a key change for the facelift is that what was once a model is now a package of tech that’s standard across the range.
Every CR-V now has the “Sensing” suite that includes Adaptive Cruise Control with Low Speed Follow, Lane Keep Assist, Collision Mitigation Braking System, Road Departure Mitigation, Lane Departure Warning and Auto High Beam Support.
That’s in addition to Honda’s unique and rather novel Lane Watch Camera (located on the passenger-side mirror), which gives you a picture of the left-hand lane/blind spot in the infotainment screen when you indicate, with guidelines to show when it’s safe to move over on the motorway.
Speaking of sides of the car: there’s a new “i-dual zone” climate control system that uses GPS to take the position of the sun into account when adjusting the airflow. The controls are part of a redesigned centre console that also includes relocated and illuminated USB ports up front.
We’ve just gone back-to-back in the entry CR-V Touring 2WD (pictured here in blue) and what used to be called the Sport Sensing, but is now the Sport Premium AWD (in the new red).
They’re both five-seat models by the way; there’s also a Sport 7 with (you guessed it) third-row seating.
The CR-V has always erred on the side of comfort versus speed and the ethos hasn’t changed with this facelift model. It’s even in the name: Comfortable Recreational (or sometimes Runabout) Vehicle.
Care has obviously been taken with the larger wheel-and-tyre combination on the Sport Premium, because it still rides well compared with the entry Touring.
Steering is pleasingly direct in both models; the thing that’ll put the brakes on enthusiastic driving is body roll, which is nicely controlled but always a reminder that this isn’t one of those sporty SUVs.
Same goes for the powertrain. The 1.5-litre turbo engine makes impressive power, but the Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) is calibrated to make the most of the 240Nm/2400rpm torque. Ask for more and the engine sounds pretty thrashy, although the transmission does avoid the flaring typical of CVTs by stepping down in revs as you get around towards the red bits on the tachometer.
The Premium has paddles for pseudo-manual shifting and all CR-Vs have an S-mode for the transmission, although all that seems to do is switch to lower gearing. There’s no Sport mode proper, but you do get the obligatory tree-branded Honda pushbutton Eco mode.
Do you need AWD? Not in performance terms, because the CVT dishes out the power in a careful fashion. You’ll know whether you need it for other reasons; you can add it to the Touring, but it’s standard on the Premium.
The CR-V’s real roots are in ease-of-use and practicality and that still characterises the new model, from the sensation of space inside to the massive centre-console storage box with a clever L-shaped moveable cover/shelf.
The seating configuration isn’t quite as clever or comprehensive as the Magic Seat system in the Jazz and HR-V – but it isn’t far off and the CR-V is still arguably the most useful and versatile load-carrier in its segment.
Fold down the rear seats in “Utility Mode” (a single motion with the handle in the boot) and you get a genuinely flat load floor, which is a rarity these days. But if you want maximum space you can also adjust the height of the boot floor.
In “Long Mode”, as with Jazz/HR-V, you can fold the left-hand section of the rear seat forward and recline the front passenger’s seatback completely back to liberate a load space that goes all the way from the tailgate to the dashboard: over 2.5m according to the DRIVEN tape measure. You can only carry one passenger doing that though, as it’s the larger 70 per cent section of the rear seat that’s on the left.
A power tailgate with hands-free “kick” activation is now standard across the range.
It’s a bit unfair to compare the $40k Touring directly with the $52k Premium, because there are steps in between: you can add AWD to the Touring ($43,990) or a seven-seat cabin ($47,990); while you don’t get the AWD with the Sport 7, you do get extra equipment including full-length curtain airbags, paddles for the CVT, panoramic roof, LED intelligent headlamps, active cornering lights, automatic wipers, wireless mobile charging, roof rails, privacy glass, leather, heated/power operated/driver’s memory seats, wireless charger and ambient interior lighting.
So the premium for the, um, Premium makes more sense in that context. In addition to the Sport 7 you get 19-inch wheels (up from the 7's 18in rims) on a unique suspension calibration, heated/hydrophilic (a coating that helps turn droplets into a consistent film for better visibility) door mirrors with auto reverse-tilt and auto up/down windows.
However, the greatest gains have been made in the entry Touring. You do have bear in mind that the bare-bones CR-V S (previously $34,990) has been deleted from the range, but still: the step up to this new Touring 2WD is impressive.
By all means plump for the Premium, but the Touring doesn’t feel lacking in any way. And cloth seats are still more comfortable than leather.
HONDA CR-V 2020
ENGINE: 1.5-litre turbo-petrol four
GEARBOX: Continuously variable, FWD (Touring) or AWD with 7-step mode (Sport Premium)