It’s the fourth generation that can’t fail

The fourth generation Honda CR-V doesn’t look likely to break an uninterrupted run of success for this compact 4x4.

Most compact 4x4 buyers want something safe, stylish, reliable and economical. If it drives well, is generously equipped and offers a choice of two and four-wheel drive, so much the better.

The recipe for the success of Honda’s CR-V is a keen understanding of buyer requirements and an almost neurotic attention to detail. Hence why the fourth generation version just can’t fail.

Sometimes you wonder why so many car manufacturers get it wrong when designing a compact 4x4. The template for success has already been set by Honda’s CR-V. First launched in 1995, the intervening three generations of this appealing SUV have been uncannily accurate barometers of customer taste. Yet when rival manufacturers target the market, they go a bit bigger, or a bit sportier or add off-road pretensions and all too often end up with a fundamentally dishonest vehicle that has strayed from the design brief.

Honda is nothing if not realistic about customer requirements, which is why this fourth generation CR-V, built in Swindon and now offering more space, efficiency and better quality doesn’t deviate too far from the script that found five million customers around the world. Why mess with a winning formula?

There are some quite fundamental changes to this generation CR-V’s oily bits. The big one is that you can now buy a CR-V in either front or all-wheel drive with the 2.0-litre 155PS i-VTEC petrol engine while the flagship 2.2-litre 150PS i-DTEC diesel unit continues sending drive to each corner. A very clever electrically assisted power steering works in concert with the car’s stability control system to initiate counter steering in the event of a skid, so as to prompt the driver to steer in the right direction.Honda believes that the majority of CR-Vs sold will continue to be all-wheel drive models and with a run of bad winters behind us, it’s easy to see why. The hydraulically activated “dual-pump” system of the third generation CR-V has been replaced by an electronically activated set-up that provides a faster response when a loss of traction is detected. It also reduces weight by 17 per cent and minimizes internal friction by 59 per cent. Hill Start Assist (HSA) is standard across the range and stops the vehicle rolling backwards during hill starts. Hill Descent Control (HDC) makes its debut on the CR-V and is available on automatic versions. It operates at up to 5mph and helps the CR-V descend difficult terrain safely and consistently.

Ride quality

Honda’s development team undertook a test programme on European roads to improve the CR-V’s ride quality without compromising its car-like handling or high-speed stability. The strut front and multi-link rear suspension has been upgraded with a 10 per cent increase in damper rates all round, while an increase in the body’s rigidity allows the suspension to operate more effectively. Care has also been taken to achieve a significant reduction in the engine and road noise entering the cabin. Sound insulation material has been applied to the floorpan below the passenger compartment, while sound absorption material has been fitted to the rear door, rear wheel arches, door frames, front bulkhead and bonnet. The doors now also feature a double seal. The net result is a 3dB reduction in cabin noise compared to the outgoing car.

The first generation CR-V was handsome in a generic kind of way, with the second generation car being a better finished and bigger version of much the same styling theme. Generation three debuted a slicker look with a sweeping coupe-like window line while the fourth generation car makes a departure from that with a kinked side window and huge swept-back headlamp pods. It’s undoubtedly a more assertive look. The front bumper is joined by a horizontal three-bar grille and deep-set headlights, while front LED daytime running lights and rear LED lights are further additions. The lower front bumper is designed to convey SUV capability and there’s a generous approach angle should you really want to see what the CR-V can do off-road. The signature vertical rear brake lights, which debuted on the original model, remain but feature a more three-dimensional style. Rather refreshingly, the length and height of the car have been reduced by 5mm and 30mm respectively compared with the outgoing model, without reducing the interior space. With the rear seats folded flat, the boot capacity of the CR-V has grown by 148 litres to 1648 litres and with the seats folded up, the boot capacity is a capacious 589 litres. The load length has been increased by 140mm to 1570mm, while the height of the load lip has been reduced by 25mm to make it easier to load heavy or awkward items. The boot of the CR-V can now accommodate two mountain bikes or four sets of golf clubs.

As before, most CR-V models will be sold at or around the £25,000 mark and at that kind of level, you’d expect a high standard of quality. Just as well then that this Honda’s smart ambience is further enhanced by an impressive range of equipment. In the cabin, attention focuses on the 5 inch “intelligent” Multi-Information Display (i-MID), which controls the audio, telephone and navigation systems (where fitted). In order to emphasise the feeling of space inside, the door casings have been sculptured to create a concave shape. This has also allowed the front seat occupants to be moved closer to the sides of the car, making it easier to step in and out. As a consequence, more space has been created between the seats for a centre console that houses two cup holders, storage compartment, an armrest and air vents for the rear seats.

The CR-V has always commanded some of the very best residual values in the market and it’s hard to see this latest version diverging from that script. It’s also been voted the most reliable of all SUVs, which only underscores the fact that this is as bulletproof a buy as it’s possible to make in this segment. It even betters Land Rover’s Freelander in both retained value and overall cost per mile figures. If you want to go off road, choose the Land Rover, if not go for the Honda. Some choices are as easy as that.

Improvements in fuel economy and reduction of emissions in the CR-V were amongst some of the development team’s key priorities. The power and torque outputs of the i-DTEC engine remain at 150PS and 350Nm respectively, but figures for CO2 emissions indicate a fall from 171g/km to 153g/km for the manual version, and from 195g/km to 175g/km for models equipped with the five-speed automatic transmission. The power output of the 2.0-litre i-VTEC engine has risen from 150PS to 155PS, while torque has increased by 2Nm to 192Nm. Despite this increase in performance, emissions have fallen from 192g/km to 174g/km for the manual version, and from 195g/km to 176g/km for the automatic.

It’s hard to see how Honda can fail with this fourth generation CR-V. To be honest, not a lot really needed changing. The engines have been tweaked for better efficiency and, to this eye at least, it looks a good deal better both inside and out. Otherwise the recipe is very much the same and it’s wise of Honda not to stray too far from the established and hugely successful theme.

It still only seats five, but moving to a genuinely useful seven-seat body would have meant upsizing this vehicle quite considerably: five million CR-V sales to date indicate that Honda’s customers don’t want that. Listening to them is what has made this model so successful. Yes, there are more dynamic and exciting SUVs for sale, but in a maturing market place that’s increasingly defined by what the vehicle can do rather than what it says, the CR-V looks set to remain the boss.