The Honda CR-V VTi-L.
The Honda CR-V VTi-L.

Road test: 2017 Honda CR-V review

A PIONEER of the soft-roader segment, Honda introduced the original CR-V locally in 1997. It even came with a fold-up plastic picnic table stowed under the boot floor.

Since then other faux-wheel drives have eaten Honda's lunch - and it's had to fight for the crumbs. Honda sold more CR-Vs in its first full year than it did last year, in an SUV market almost 10 times bigger than it was 20 years ago.

Now the CR-V has been given its biggest overhaul in six years. Bravely, the price of the five-model range has gone up - stretching from $33,590 drive-away to $48,535 drive-away - but Honda says the wagon is loaded with extras.

Inside the new 2017 Honda CR-V.
Inside the new 2017 Honda CR-V.

Despite its familiar appearance, this fifth-generation CR-V is new from the ground up. The body is longer, wider, taller and roomier than before yet under the bonnet is the smallest engine to power the CR-V here.

In place of the previous pair of petrol engines and a diesel, there is just one - a 1.5-litre four-cylinder turbo that can run on regular unleaded. It is matched with a continuously variable automatic transmission with front-drive or on-demand all-wheel drive.

There is a seven-seater for the first time, although it's more of a five-seater "plus two” for transporting the kids' friends over short distances.

The Honda CR-V VTi-L.
The Honda CR-V VTi-L.

The bigger cabin, thanks to the extended footprint, brings more room for heads, shoulders, knees and toes.

The boot is slightly smaller but still generous (522L, a loss of 34L), second in the class behind the Nissan X-Trail (565) and ahead of Toyota's RAV4 (506) and Mazda's CX-5 (442).

Pleasingly, Honda has retained a full-size alloy spare under the boot floor.

The rear bumper is still the lowest in the business, meaning you don't need to lift heavy objects too high to get them in the back and the dog will find it easier to leap inside as it approaches old age.

The 60-40 split back seats with two Isofix mounts flip down via tabs on each outer cushion or via levers in the cargo hold.

The boot of the 2017 Honda CR-V.
The boot of the 2017 Honda CR-V.

For all of its cleverness, Honda hasn't thought out the child seat top tether mounts properly. Three mounting points for the second row seat are in the roof near the top of the tailgate, limiting cargo space in the five-seater and making the second row unusable for child seats if the third-row seats are in use.

In the seven-seater - $43,000 drive-away in luxury spec - the third row can accommodate two child seats thanks to two other tether points in the boot floor.

Between both front seats is a cavernous centre console with a clever sliding deck to hide valuables. It's not quite as big as in earlier CR-Vs but it's tall enough to stow a couple of large bottles or a handbag if you change the configuration. There are other large storage cubbies in the doors and glovebox.

There are two 12V sockets and four USB charging ports, three of which are fast chargers.

The 2017 Honda CR-V has arrived.
The 2017 Honda CR-V has arrived.

The touchscreen has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto (dearer models gain built-in navigation) but, best of all, Honda has reintroduced the volume knob. Hallelujah. Tapping a screen or a button on a steering wheel while on the move isn't as easy as an old fashioned knob.

Meanwhile the volume tab on the steering wheel responds to pressing, as a button, or swiping your thumb across the grooves for a faster response to adjust volume.

All models come with a sensor key for the door and push-button start. The car will lock or unlock automatically if you touch the grooves on the exterior door handles.

The 2017 Honda CR-V.
The 2017 Honda CR-V.

It means you can leave the key in your pocket and the CR-V will unlock itself. It will also lock itself as soon as you're 2.5 metres away.

Honda's new widescreen digital dashboard, first seen on the new Civic, is larger in the CR-V, the numerals are bigger and it gives the car an upmarket appearance and an edge on rivals.

The biggest disappointment: automatic emergency braking, which is standard on key rivals such as the CX-5 and VW Tiguan and crucial to a five-star safety rating, is available only on the dearest variant. It is bundled with radar cruise control and lane keeping assistance and is not available as an option on the other four models. Speaking of safety, the CR-V is not equipped with Takata airbags; Honda now uses a different supplier.

The 2017 Honda CR-V
The 2017 Honda CR-V

ON THE ROAD

Detractors will dismiss the turbo 1.5, given the class is dominated by 2.0-litre engines or larger.

But the new engine has more grunt than the previous CR-V's 2.0-litre and the same amount of power (but more torque) than its 2.4-litre.

The CVT keeps the engine in its peak power band but not everyone is a fan of the whining that sounds like the gears are slipping. That said, it's one of the better examples of the genre and does a reasonable job of mimicking the feel of a conventional auto.

Comfort over bumps is good and the steering is light and, with fewer turns lock to lock, more direct than before.

Despite the larger footprint, the turning circle is the same (11 metres, pretty good but not best in class). Towing capacity for the five-seater is 1500kg and the seven-seater, 1000kg.

The CR-V leans a little in corners, due in part to the extra ride height. It has more ground clearance than its predecessor, for tackling terrain more arduous than a gravel driveway, but still feels secure on a winding road or roundabouts.

At freeway speeds road noise from the tyres seems louder than its peers. At suburban speeds on smooth roads the tyres are quieter but then you hear engine racket. Some extra sound deadening wouldn't have gone astray.

Noise-proofing material was probably one of the sacrifices made at the final hurdle. The new CR-V is between 49kg and 107kg heavier than the model it replaces - at a time when most other brands are saving weight.

Honda's CR-V VTi-L.
Honda's CR-V VTi-L.

WHAT'S NEW

PRICE

Prices are up by between $300 and $1000 on most models, to $33,590 drive-away to $48,535 drive-away. But Honda says there's more equipment plus a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty.

TECH

There's a new digital widescreen dash. Automatic emergency braking, lane keeping and radar cruise control are still available only on the dearest variant.

PERFORMANCE

The new 1.5-litre turbo has more grunt than the previous model's non-turbo 2.0- and 2.4-litre engines. Performance is helped by a new CVT, replacing the previous model's conventional five-speed auto.

DRIVING

The new model has a bigger footprint than before so it feels more sure-footed in corners. Steering is very responsive thanks to fewer turns lock to lock and the turning circle is the same as the previous model.

DESIGN

Completely new from the ground up, it's longer, wider, taller and roomier than before. The brakes are bigger to cope with the extra 49kg-107kg. Cargo space has been trimmed slightly to create more room for the second row.


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