Launched locally back in 1996 at a time where SUVs were still seen as petrol-munching behemoths, the Honda CR-V now finds itself slap bang in the middle of one of the most popular segments in the country, frequented by formidable rivals from Volkswagen, Kia, Hyundai, Renault, Nissan, Toyota and Mazda.
Those new looks
In a trend that seemingly kicked-off with the current Civic, the latest CR-V takes a huge step away from its predecessor’s conservative looks, in being much more aggressive with a good helping of muscular touches.
While still retaining the same basic silhouette, the CR-V now features a much bolder look highlighted by a chrome grille flanked by slimmer headlights with integrated daytime running LEDs, a chunkier front bumper with a satin silver skidplate, bulging wheel arches and chrome side steps.
Although very much an eye-catcher when viewed from the front, it was the rear that divided opinion the most with a swoopy tailgate, L-shaped LED lights and extensive chrome detailing that looked a bit overdone.
Modern, packed interior
Opening the door came as the biggest surprise though with an entirely new design not even the Civic can match. Aside from the rather gaudy looking wood trim, perceived quality is top notch with a classy combination of soft-touch plastics, piano-key black inserts, leather and aluminium-look inlays.
Mounted just ideally on the centre facia, the tablet-like seven-inch touchscreen display with satellite navigation, Apple CarPlay and Bluetooth made for easy use with a further boon being no-less than four USB sockets located in the front and rear, and a HDMI jack.
As before, the CR-V retains its dash mounted gear lever allowing for a centre console that rates as the last word in storage with a sliding armrest hiding a movable try and deep cubby hole, dual cupholders and a secondary tray with a 12-volt power socket.
In addition to a full TFT instrument cluster and superbly comfortable electric and heated front leather chairs, the CR-V also scores in the practically stakes with a longer wheelbase than the old model, allowing for a boot capacity of 522-litres or 1 084-litres with the rear seats folded down.
A safety marvel
Where the Exclusive really impressed is in the safety department with items such as Forward Collision Warning, Collision Mitigation Braking, Road Departure Warning, Lane Departure Warning, Lane Keeping Assist, Blind Sport Monitoring and Adaptive Cruise Control as part of Honda’s Sensing driver assistance system.
With the CR-V arriving days before the disastrous storm that battered Johannesburg, the various safety nets, as well as standard all-wheel drive, made for a worthwhile combination that assured a planted feel and ability to detect possible danger even when the conditions deteriorated to crawling pace.
Drivetrain a love-hate affair
It is however on the move where the CR-V starts straining. Ditching the previous 2.4-litre naturally aspirated engine for the same 1.5-litre turbo as the Civic with 140kW/240Nm, progress felt somewhat sluggish, no doubt as a result of the AWD system and droning CVT.
As with most transmissions of this type, the unit in the CR-V goes about its business without fuss in everyday conditions, but apply extra throttle, and it holds on to the selected virtual ratio for too long, making overtaking or even going up a hill a buzzy affair. That said, it still rates as one of the better options on the market.
Out on the open road though, the CR-V felt more at ease with a smooth ride and incredible levels of refinement with road and wind noise almost completely absent. Despite tipping the scales at just shy of 1.6-tons, and having to contend with the so-so drivetrain, fuel consumption came to a best of 7.6-litres/100km, not far from the claimed 7.0-litres/100km.
Although an improvement over the previous model in almost every way, the new Honda CR-V still faces an uphill struggle in a segment seemingly expanding every day. At R626 900, the Exclusive is also relatively expensive despite its extensive list of kit.
If value for money is king and you don’t mind doing without some of the Exclusive’s nice-to-haves, and can live with the drivetrain, rather opt for the 1.5T Executive that retails for R42 000 less.