Model: Honda CR-V 2.0i-VTEC ES automatic
Engine: 2.0-litre petrol
Performance: 0-62mph in 12.2secs, 34.4mpg
Worth considering: Land Rover Freelander, Nissan X-Trail, Toyota RAV4
This week our readers try the new third generation version of Honda's mid-sized 4x4, the CR-V, a competitor for the Land Rover Freelander and Chevrolet Captiva, which we have also featured on the Verdict recently, as well as Nissan's X-Trail and Toyota's RAV4.
The comparison with the Freelander is especially interesting. Rover was Honda's European partner until BMW acquired the British company in 1994 and when the first generation CR-V and Freelander models both appeared on the market in 1996, there was a vague similarity of appearance between the two cars.
Subsequently they have diverged in terms of design; today's CR-V looks sleek, modern and slightly anonymous, while Land Rover has increasingly tied the styling of the Freelander to that of its more expensive models such as the Range Rover.
But perhaps the most revealing difference between the two cars is that the CR-V's model replacement cycle is only half as long as the Freelander's, which has just entered its second generation. That points to the frightening amount of money any new owner of Land Rover will have to spend in order to remain competitive after Ford sells the company off. For the time being the Freelander and the CR-V are fairly well matched, which is to say, highly capable.
The CR-V's interior is a little on the gimmicky side. There is a surfeit of bright, differently coloured, lights. Items such as the gear selector, handbrake and interior armrests are highly stylised. The amount of space on offer and practicalities such as the seat-folding mechanisms are well up to scratch, though.
And when you drive the CR-V, you can see where its reputation as one of the most car-like of SUVs comes from. The steering feels a tad lifeless but the CR-V scarcely rolls at all on corners, while its ride comfort over obstacles such as speed bumps is very good.
Generally, SUVs are best served by diesel engines, which have the torque to propel these cars' heavy, bulky bodywork around economically; our test car had a petrol engine, which, when combined with automatic transmission acquitted itself surprisingly well, although it sometimes became a little strained under acceleration.
So, the CR-V is an impressive effort. But as always with these "soft"SUVs, there's the suspicion that buyers who are unlikely to go off road anyway might be better off with non-4x4 models from the range; the options in Honda's case are the FR-V people-carrier and the Tourer estate version of the Accord.
Peter Gray, 34, Business consultant, Twickenham
Usual cars: Audi S3, Peugeot 206 GTI
Honda in the UK is a varied brand, seeming to serve contrasting areas of the market. One moment it's offering the thrills of screaming V-Tec engines and uncompromised handling, the next, the reliability and safety sought by the maturer end of the market. The CR-V falls undoubtedly into the latter of these two categories. It has a durable but unfortunately identikit interior, reasonable internal space and a raised driving and access position (handy for loading children). It feels flat and safe through the corners but its 2-litre petrol engine isn't well matched to the auto box and is noisy on kick down. The diesel would, I imagine, be much better.
Brandon Dias 35, Callum, 8, Aaron, 5. Bradon is an IT consultant from Norbury, London
Usual car: Volvo S60 T5
The Honda looks impressive on the road, with a good finish to the paintwork and felt very well put together. The children loved the built-in satellite navigation, and the rear view camera which allows you to view the back of your car when in reverse, a very useful safety feature which is helpful to see objects/children behind your car. It has plenty of space in the rear and in the boot, although with the sloping roof, it does cut into the overall boot space. On the road, the CR-V was smooth and easy to drive with its auto box, though on inclines and under acceleration it did struggle. Apart from that, it handles well round corners and is very comfortable.
John Lambert, 31, IT consultant, Warwick
Usual car: Citroëb BX
On the whole the CR-V is a fine car; an interesting alternative to conventional family cars. The interior felt robust and had a lot of handy storage spaces but the selector lever for the automatic transmission and the handbrake were both over styled to the detriment of function – I could not see the point of having a dashboard-mounted gear lever that did not leave the floor clear. The automatic transmission was brilliant, probably the best automatic I'd driven with seamless changes and always in the right gear. When accelerating quickly the engine became rather loud but normally the CRV remained perfectly quiet. The ride sometimes felt too stiff and I found the brakes worryingly unresponsive.
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