Soft Roader For Grown Ups (Honda CR-V 2.2 i-DTEC EX)

THERE’S a new CR-V on block but you won’t find much evidence of a design revolution at Honda trumpeting its arrival – and there’s good reason for that. The Japanese firm’s ‘soft-roader’ is a popular choice among buyers, so it’s no surprise to see a steady evolution of the SUV’s familiar looks.

The company’s designers have hardly been resting on their laurels, though. What we’ve got now is a car that’s a little lower and wider than before, helping to promote a more car-like driving experience and delivering a clever optical illusion that goes some way to flattering the CR-V’s size. It’s also more streamlined-looking in profile and an altogether more visually polished product.

It’s fair to say that, with such an established customer base, the last thing Honda wanted was to alienate its loyal buyers with a radical overhaul of the CR-V. But, in a testament to the old car, there’s wasn’t much wrong with it. Buyers liked its premium cabin ambience, practical interior, dependable handling and overall refinement. And guess what, it’s the same but better with the latest model.

Clever folding rear seats help boost the CR-V’s versatility, as does the car’s flat boot floor and spacious load area, while generous equipment levels across the board ensure that it maintains its affordable premium market position.

As before, Honda offers the CR-V with both petrol and diesel engines – now with stop-start technology. The latter is the firm’s familiar 148bhp 2.2-litre unit, now tweaked to reduce consumption and emissions, with the 153bhp 2.0-litre petrol motor available for less demanding buyers. This is borne out in the fact that diesel models gain Honda’s part-time all-wheel drive system while fans of front-wheel drive will have to make do with petrol power.

That’s hardly a surprise, as anyone seeking to rack up the miles or tow anything will likely head straight for the diesel variant. If they do they’ll have a choice of six-speed manual or five-speed auto gearboxes. Honda expects the former to be the more popular option despite the smooth-shifting qualities of the latter, and it’s fair to say it’s the smarter choice if you’re keen on reducing your fuel and tax bills given the combination’s 154g/km and 48.7mpg ratings.

On the road the CR-V proves to be a smooth operator, delivering a quiet and refined driving experience. The car’s diesel engine is only truly vocal when pushed hard, and the distinctly car-like behaviour results in minimal pitch and roll – the twin evils of SUV motoring – and a supple ride capable of easily absorbing all but the worst surface imperfections.

Although a high-rise Civic it is not, the CR-V’s polished performance on road does much to cement its place in the upper ranks of the soft-roader market. You’ve got all the mod cons of a family hatch, be they creature comforts or safety kit, plus the security of all-wheel drive if you opt for the appropriate variant. The part-time system, designed to work only when needed and save you fuel when it’s not, is an unobtrusive one offering a welcome helping hand on wet or greasy roads.

Available in a choice of four trim levels, the flagship EX boasts a generous level of kit including sat-nav, leather, a powered tailgate, electric everything and a panoramic glass sunroof, plus choice items such as xenon lights and DAB radio carried over from the SR model below it.

Will that haul be enough to tempt prospective buyers into the top-spec diesel CR-V? Honda certainly thinks so, as its target demographic has never been one to skimp on the creature comforts and views ‘value’ differently to the equipped-down-to-a-price lower cost opposition.

There’s no doubt that this latest generation CR-V is a polished and practical choice in an increasing crowded marketplace. It retains enough of its predecessor’s character to keep the loyal fans happy, yet includes a sufficient number of improvements that should keep the car at the top of buyers’ shopping lists for some time to come.

FACTS AT A GLANCE

Model: Honda CR-V 2.2 i-DTEC EX, from £30,995 on the road.Engine: 2.2-litre diesel unit developing 148bhp.Transmission: 6-speed manual transmission as standard, driving all four wheels through part time 4x4 system.Performance: Maximum speed 118mph, 0-62mph 9.7 seconds.Economy: 48.7mpg.CO2 Rating: 154g/km.

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