It drives well, looks attractive and feels well made...
Five million owners can't be wrong but, to be honest, it's hard to see what all the fuss is about with Honda's CR-V. This anodyne softroader might have helped mould the character of today's burgeoning sport-utility (SUV) market, but since its inception in 1995, it's basically been Mumsnet on wheels. Honda claims an equal number of pensioners as avid customers, but I've never seen anything other than school-run sprogs in the back. Perhaps the wrinklies are donating them to their fecund granddaughters.
Don't knock it, though. Even if the CR-V is transport as white goods, you can only wish that fridges were this well-engineered. A good example on this fourth-generation model is the powered tailgate, which comes as standard on the top-spec EX trim. That rear door does everything automatically except actually open. Why's that, we inquired? "Ah," said the Honda engineer. "These things are expensive bits of kit and we want our owners to have the confidence that if it did go wrong, they know that they will be able to get into the back."
Such is the belt-and-braces Honda way. Not that it's likely to go wrong, since Hondas are some of the most reliable machines on the planet. Go on to the Mumsnet website forum and you'll find the main criticism of the CR-V is the possibility of a spider crawling across the rear camera lens and frightening the life out of the driver. If only all motoring problems were as small as a touch of arachnophobia.
The fourth-generation CR-V is already in production at Honda's Swindon plant and goes on sale in October. Gone is the brutish snout, the trout-pout rear and that weird car-that-swallowed-a-car appearance.
There's a useful new centre console and storage space around the driver is generous.
Instead, you get a front end heavily based on Honda's pioneering FCX Clarity fuel-cell model, a lower roof line and slightly reduced length, but with the same wheelbase as its predecessor. It looks attractive, but wholly unremarkable.
Inside, Honda's engineers have pored over the technical drawings for the Tardis, freeing up head room, boot space and rear leg space within a slightly reduced silhouette. It's comfortable, but the seats feel huge, being designed to accommodate the average American buttocks. There's a useful new centre console and storage space around the driver is generous.
The rear seats fold 60/40 with space, it is claimed, for three 29in-wheel mountain bikes and their riders - personally I'd make them ride home. The boot capacity is a generous 598 litres, which extends to 1,669 litres with the rear seats folded. The boot floor is lower than in the previous model, but so is the load lip, which makes it easier to drag the shopping, or an old dog, inside.
Eschewing the Civic's space-rocket dashboard, the CR-V has a simple instrument binnacle, with a huge speedo flanked by ancillary gauges. In the centre is the optional (and overcomplicated) satnav screen and a smaller information screen above it, on to which owners can download their own pictures as backgrounds.
Honda's diesel has been revised to make it more frugal and behave even more like a petrol engine...
Two engines are offered, both singlecam, four-valve units displacing 2.0 litres for the petrol and 2.2 litres for the turbodiesel. There's a choice of sixspeed manual or five-speed automatic transmissions and, for the first time, a two-wheel-drive version, which extends the price range down to about £22,000. Full prices are yet to be announced, but expect to pay up to £35,000 for a fully loaded automatic diesel.
It's the diesel model in EX trim with a manual transmission that will represent the rump of UK sales and buyers shouldn't be disappointed. Honda's diesel has been revised to make it more frugal and behave even more like a petrol engine, and while it isn't the most powerful unit, it is highly refined with enough go for this high-riding, 1.7-ton machine. Our advice is to avoid the sloth-like automatic though, which feels very old fashioned and doesn't really complement the engine, while the manual makes light work of gear changes and gives better control. The idle stop/start system is one of the best we've tried, particularly on the diesel.
This is an off-roader for people who see most of their trees and grass in local parks and do their most tricky off-roading in a festival car park, but the CR-V should give a good account of itself in the occasional snowfall and the 4x4 system adds a degree of confidence to the handling while not extracting an outrageous tithe at the pumps.
A MacPherson-strut front and a three-link rear suspension gives an acceptable ride and the damping is excellent. Body roll is well controlled and while the 18in wheels occasionally feel like they are clambering through rather than rolling over potholes, on the whole the ride is comfortable. It's worth noting that the standard 17in wheels that are fitted to S and SE models will ride more softly.
The idle stop/start system is one of the best we've tried...
Push the CR-V hard through a corner and it wants to travel straight on, but this really isn't a machine for people who whizz round corners for the hell of it. There's a bit of wind buffeting around the elephant-ear door mirrors, but in the main this is a seriously quiet and refined motor car.
The CR-V has pioneered safety in this class and the new model is no exception with a new front-end structure designed to match the crash protection height on anything you are planning on bumping into. As well as brakeforce distribution, electronic stability program, traction control, trailer stability control and emergency-stop braking, there's optional active cruise control and a lane-keeping assistant.
It drives well, looks attractive and feels well made, but you could say the same of several competitors in this sector, not least the South Koreans. On paper and from the outside, the new CR-V, despite its track record, is just another characterless school-run soft-roader. Yet when you get behind the wheel, this Honda reeks of painstaking engineering and that's the difference. You just have to drive it to recognise it.