What can you do with a fourth-generation version of what is essentially the same vehicle? The quick answer is to improve what's already there.
AT A GLANCE
POWER PLANT: 2.4-litre 16 valve DOHC i-VTEC petrol engine, 140kW at 7000rpm, 222Nm at 4300rpm.
RUNNING GEAR: On-demand Real Time 4WD. Five-speed automatic transmission with manual over-ride. Hill-start assist. MacPherson strut front suspension, multi-link double wishbone system at the rear.
HOW BIG: Length 4534mm, width 1820mm, height 1685mm, wheelbase 2620mm.
HOW MUCH: $48,900.
WHAT'S GOOD: Easy to operate, excellent driver position, load capacity, encourages economical driving.
WHAT'S NOT: Looks not that different to before. Auto transmission remains a five-speeder.
OUR VERDICT: This new fourth-generation CRV keeps the model firmly in place as one of the pre-eminent medium-sized lifestyle vehicles on the road today.
Central to it all was what Honda dubbed a Real Time all-wheel drive system. Under normal circumstances the fully automatic system allowed the CRV to operate as a front-drive vehicle. But if insufficient traction was noticed, and that included accelerating away from a stop, then torque was immediately and seamlessly sent to the rear wheels to help things out.
This concept immediately struck a chord with New Zealand motorists, and the CRV became a very popular buy.
All this meant that when the second-generation version arrived in 2002, all that needed to be done was to add space, refinement and a few other innovations without any real need to tinker with the basic product.
The same applied to the third generation model in 2007, which added more power but improved fuel economy, refined things even more so it had a more car-like presence, and introduced various new-age electronic features.
Now we have a brand-new fourth-generation model in New Zealand - and the fact is that not a lot has been changed. But that shouldn't be considered bad news, because what has been done to the vehicle succeeds in keeping it right up there towards the top of the light-duty SUV excellence stakes.
The styling is a little different but not overly so. The body is lower to give an even more car-like presence. Interior has been improved, particularly via introduction of Honda's wonderful Magic Seat setup that allows the rear seats to be split and folded to provide a lot of load space.
The all-wheel drive version's 2.4-litre petrol engine has also undergone some work so it has 12 per cent more power but a 13 per cent improvement in economy. It also now has a new Econ operating mode that changes accelerator settings for even more economy.
And, in the interests of improved value for money, Honda
has also introduced a front-wheel drive 2.0-litre model, called S, that has entered the market at $39,900. This CRV has taken its place in a growing market segment designed to meet the needs of motorists who want SUV styling and security, but have no real need for all-wheel drive.
The top model, dubbed Sport, retails for $9000 more at $48,990. That's good pricing that makes the vehicle entirely competitive against the likes of Ford Kuga, Hyundai ix35, Kia Sportage, Nissan X-Trail, Peugeot 4008, Subaru Forester, Mitsubishi Outlander, and most particularly the CRV's arch-rival the Toyota RAV - the top petrol version of which costs exactly the same.
This pricing is also a lot less than was the case with the third-generation CRV, which got as high as $53,400. So, considering the improvements that have been made to this vehicle, the new RRP is pretty good.
It's interesting to note that the new CRV is smaller in size, but bigger on the inside. The vehicle's length is 30mm shorter and height is 30mm lower, but thanks to advances in materials and good design, the interior headroom remains the same and shoulder width has gone up by 75mm.
The only real change is that the rear seats are now 40mm lower than before. But even then the hip points of those seats remain higher than those at the front, which means rear seat visibility is still good.
Up front, the new CRV is very good. During the recent few days I spent in the Sport I really enjoyed the driver position, which is simply one of the best around.
Honda tells us the 2012 CRV's body and glass have been completely redesigned in the interests of improved visibility - and it is good - and what I like are the location and feel of the steering wheel plus the highish positioning of the transmission.
New in this model is a central LED screen that displays information ranging from average speed, to kilometres to empty. It also displays audio and Bluetooth hands-free information, the controls for which are mounted on the steering wheel.
The Sport also has leather seating and trim, a sunroof, automatic windscreen wipers, power adjustable and heated front seats, and an automatic dimming rear-view mirror.
One reason people buy SUVs is to enjoy more rear load space, and this new CRV has had its increased from 524 litres to a very good 589 litres. And thanks to Honda's Magic Seat system the rear seats now have the ability to lay completely flat, which can increase maximum cargo space to 1669 litres. That's a massive amount of space.
The model's 2.4-litre engine is basically the same as before, but with some improvements that have increased the maximum power to 140 kilowatts which is 15 kW more than before. Torque is also slightly up to 222 Newton metres, and the torque curve is now flatter.
That's just as well, because Honda has persisted with the same five-speed automatic transmission as before. This has come in for some criticism, and personally I think it should have been time for one or more ratios to be added. But having said that, I found the transmission still works well both as an auto and as a manual via paddles on the steering wheel.
The Sport also has Honda's Econ operating mode which, at the push of a button, alters the CRV's electronic throttle so it doesn't respond as much to accelerator pedal input. It also has the Eco Assist feature which changes the colour of panels either side of the rev counter to encourage efficient driving - white for inefficient, green for efficient.
Perhaps that is the most important thing about this fourth-generation CRV - like other new Hondas now on the market, it has certain features that are there to encourage economical and efficient motoring.
As it is, this vehicle has an official average consumption of 8.7 L/100 km which is very good for any all-wheel drive car, and I quickly discovered that it is easily possible to get the consumption well below that.
Add that to the improvements that have been achieved with the CRV, including a better interior and improved performance, and it becomes obvious this continues to be a desirable vehicle, despite the fact that at first glance nothing much appears to have been done between the third and fourth generations.
- © Fairfax NZ News