With an improved engine and better driveability, the new CR-V is a comfortable runabout vehicle, writes Aditya Bengali

Honda had launched the second-generation CR-V here in 2004. It was the first-ever soft-roader here and gained a lot of popularity owing to its SUV looks and car-like driving manners. Despite the steep price tag (it was a CBU), the CR-V sold a respectable number of units initially.

Now, Honda is introducing the brand new, fourth-generation CR-V that may create a fresh interest in the car. The main advantage working in the new CR-V’s favour is that it is assembled in India and, at a starting price of Rs. 19.95 lakh for the 2.0-litre manual model we tested, is substantially cheaper. Although there’s still no diesel engine, it shouldn’t be too much of a deterrent for those looking to buy the car as the price imbalance between petrol and diesel is gradually decreasing. The new car is visually far more assertive in comparison to its predecessor. The distinctive three-bar grill makes it look a lot more serious and it’s a more cohesive design. The black cladding on the lower portion of the bumper and skid-plate treatment below the bumper gives it that SUV look. Honda has cleverly used sharp lines, cuts and creases to give the new CR-V an illusion of being larger than it actually is. In fact, the new CR-V is shorter by a good 30mm in height and 5mm in length than its predecessor but, the engineers have managed to do this without it affecting the wheelbase. Also, the windscreen has been pushed forward by a good 30mm to create more space for the occupants. Overall, though the design may not be very inspirational, it will undeniably have a broader visual appeal than the previous car. The large windscreen area and the sleek A-pillar work towards filling up the cabin with a fair amount of natural light while also enhancing visibility. Honda’s engineers have further reduced noise, vibration and harshness levels by using improved sound absorption material, better carpets and under-bonnet material.

Powering the new CR-V are the same 2.0- and 2.4-litre petrol engines we are familiar with. But, Honda has tuned them to produce a tad more power and torque. While the smaller of the two engines gets an option of either manual or an automatic transmission, the 2.4-litre variant comes mated to only a five-speed automatic transmission. Safety has also been given its due importance with six airbags — dual-front, side and curtain — and an occupant-position detection system (OPDS) amongst features such as ABS, EBD, VSA (vehicle stability assist), which are standard fitment across the range. The highly rigid unibody construction combined with lightweight suspension components makes the new CR-V lighter yet stronger. It tips the scales at 1480kg — about 50kg lighter than the previous car.

The CR-V has all the essential controls within perfect reach of the driver. All the buttons operate with a good positive click. Whatever Honda lost in terms of form, it has definitely made up for in function. Up front, the seats offer better under-thigh support than the previous car and finding a good driving position is easy, thanks to the electrically powered seat and an adjustable steering wheel. The new CR-V, despite being physically smaller, through some ingenious packaging, manages to liberate more all-round space for its occupants. Unlike the older car, the lack of open space between the seats and centre console restricts some storage options. Similarly, unique bits like the useful twin glovebox and ‘conversation mirror’— to keep an eye on the kids — are missing. Also helpful is an additional 12-volt socket in the new CR-V’s storage box. Moreover, in terms of practicality, Honda has vastly improved its rear seats and boot design. The rear seats now have a lower hip point, which makes ingress and egress easier. The seats are more comfortable too, with much better under-thigh support than before. The CR-V maintains its flat rear floor, making it a genuine five-seater and even with a six-footer up front, legroom is adequate at the back. Further improving practicality, the cargo loading area is now at approximately knee height, which makes it more convenient to load heavy luggage.

The 2.0-litre engine in our test car is essentially the same four-cylinder, SOHC in-line motor as in the previous CR-V. However, Honda has extensively reworked it to make it amazingly flexible and offer excellent driveability, which are definitely strong points. A stiffer chassis and re-tuned suspension means it does ride quite well for the most part but, sharp edges do filter through and the car has a tendency to follow undulations on the road. The old hydraulic steering wheel has been replaced by a new electric unit which is a delight to use in the city but is a bit too light for highway use. Though it’s precise and consistent, we would have preferred a weightier steering with more feel.

The new CR-V returned a decent 9kpl in the city, while on the highway it managed to cover 12.1 kilometres for every litre of petrol. That makes it more fuel efficient than the previous CR-V. To improve economy, the new CR-V is equipped with an ECON button as part of the ‘Eco Assist’ system.

As far as soft-roaders go, the CR-V is the pioneer and is still as good as they get. The best bit is that, since it’s locally produced, that sheds a third of its price. The CR-V has never been better value. We just wish it had evolved a little more.