Honda used to be the Civic company, but that’s old thinking.
Yes, yes, while Honda still sells piles of Civics – Canada’s best-selling car for a million years or so — the CR-V crossover wagon is the rig that defines the brand in a marketplace salivating over crossovers, SUVs (sport-utility vehicles) and trucks of all sorts.
Just to be clear, compact car sales – the Civic and its rivals – are flat this year, while compact SUV sales – the CR-V, Ford Escape, Nissan Rogue… — are chugging along, up 7.4 per cent through the end of March, notes DesRosiers Automotive Consultants.
Honda is fine with this. There’s more money in selling SUVs than cars. A basic Civic starts at $16,390; the base, front-drive CR-V, $26,690. These two share the same platform, as will the forthcoming Accord, so Honda gets more out of its investment by selling CR-Vs, than Civics.
The 2017 CR-V, then, is excruciatingly important to Honda, not to mention the tens of thousands of Canadians who buy Canada’s top-selling compact SUV. To be fair, the depth and breadth of the improvements Honda has made to the fifth-generation CR-V are impressive. But they are hardly ground-breaking. Disappointing, that.
Honda had five years to nail this; the last remake of the CR-V came in 2012. We expected more.
You see, the interior is quite brilliant and wonderfully roomy, aside from the cluttered digital instrument cluster. The seats are built for two-hour-plus comfort and the seven-inch touch-screen infotainment screen is big, in colour and has software that is easily managed – Cracker Jack-friendly without bothering with the owner’s manual. You’ll find under-floor storage just behind the rear seats, along with a two-position removable rear cargo floor. All told, the insides are brilliant.
On the other hand, the new 1.5-litre turbo four-cylinder engine is noisy and buzzy and rough when pushed hard. The turbo engages heavily in hilly driving and when it does, you can smell it. Turbos run
hot and this one has the scent of hard labour when pushed. Sort of the mechanical equivalent of gym sweat.
Honda has forever billed itself as an “engine” company; I expected more. Honda will argue that the 1.5-liter turbocharged engine makes 190 hp, and 179 lb-ft or torque is on tap at a low 2,000 rpm – better than the 185 hp/181 lb-ft at 3,900 rpm of the old 2.4-litre, non-turbo four. The lackluster continuously variable transmission (CVT) is anything but sporty, too. Combined fuel economy (litres/100 km): 8.0 using regular gas is as good as you’ll find in a non-hybrid SUV.
This engine’s so-so refinement is an issue. So, too, is the new chassis. This new modular chassis delivers a delightful ride quality in a straight line. When curves and corners enter the equation, the tall CR-V struggles to remain composed and the steering lacks feel and feedback.
Ford’s new Escape is significantly more enjoyable to drive, as is Subaru’s Forester. The CR-V’s road manners are more in line with the Nissan Rogue and Toyota RAV4. Acceptable, workmanlike and thoroughly uninspired.
Honda most certainly spent the bulk of its development money on safety features such as adaptive cruise control, pre-collision braking and lane-keep assist which are standard on most models. And yes, the crash test scores are outstanding.
What money was left went into comfort and style. The exterior design is strong and clean, with very nice lines that tie things together into a strong whole. Better still, the massively roomy cabin — fit for five adults — is wonderfully refined: tight gaps, soft-touch materials, excellent colour-matching. And let’s cheer the return of a knob for the radio volume and buttons for fan speed.
Oh, and the infotainment is compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Other standard gear: remote engine start, dual-zone climate control, electric parking brake, rear USB charging ports, front passenger seat with four-way power adjustment and driver’s seat with eight-way power adjustment and four-way power lumbar support.
My tester was a top-line Touring model with slippery leather upholstery and a base price tag of $38,090, which is more than the cheapest Mercedes-Benz GLA250 4MATIC ($38,000). The CR-V was loaded and luxurious, and will be wonderfully reliable, holding its value well for years, even decades. Heck, the Touring even gets heated front and rear seats and a heated steering wheel.
But if I were spending my money, I cannot forget this is a Honda, not a Merc. So I would opt for a very nice $29,490 CR-V LX and save the 10Gs. Or perhaps upsize to a Honda Pilot LX ($38,890).
2017 Honda CR-V Touring
Price: $38.090. Freight and PDI: $1,725.
Engine: 1.5-litre four-cylinder, turbocharged.
Drive: all-wheel drive.
Transmission: continuously variable transmission.
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 8.7 city/7.2 hwy using regular fuel.
Comparables: Ford Escape, Subaru Forester, Nissan Rogue, Chevrolet Equinox, GMC Terrain, Jeep Cherokee, Toyota RAV4, Mazda CX-5, Hyundai Tucson and Santa Fe, Kia Sportage, Volkswagen Tiguan.