Here’s a little known fact, at one point in time the Honda CR-V was the best-selling imported car in the country. It was the era when the City could do no wrong and where whatever Honda launched, be it the Accord or the Civic, went straight to the top of its class. Then diesels took over and Toyota went on to absolutely dominate the SUV-space with the Fortuner thanks to its diesel engine, three-row seating and rugged capability. Another little known fact is that production of the CR-V (well, assembly) never ceased, it has always been available except nobody really buys petrol SUVs and hence you see very few of new CR-Vs. That’s a state of affairs Honda plans to address with the new CR-V launching in October. It will get a diesel engine, it will get three rows of seats, it will have an automatic and it will have all-wheel-drive. Can it take on not just the Fortuner but also the Hyundai Tucson, Skoda Kodiaq and (5-seater) Jeep Compass? We drove the diesel CR-V in the Philippines to find out.
CR-V’s diesel engine is made in India
Quite a few little known facts in this story! Honda’s engine plant in Tapukara in Rajasthan has grown into a major hub for diesel engines, not just for India but also export. This single-turbo variant of the 1.6-litre i-DTEC engine, badged Earth Dreams, is made in India and exported to Thailand where the CR-V we are driving in Manila is manufactured and from where kits for the Indian CR-V will be procured from. That (and of course cost) is the reason why we don’t get the twin-turbo, higher horsepower version of this engine.
This engine is directly related to the 1.5-litre motor in the new Amaze as well as the City, in fact the bore is the same and only the 1.6’s stroke was reduced to make it a 1.5. The pistons used in both engines are the same and you find the same weight-saving all-aluminium construction on this 1.6 that Honda claims is the lightest in its class.
The engine uses a single turbocharger to crank out 118bhp at 4000rpm and 300Nm of torque that peaks at just 2000rpm. On paper the figures don’t seem very promising considering that the Amaze makes 100bhp but this motor is mated to Honda’s 9-speed automatic gearbox that does a very good job of harnessing the torque spread and making highway cruising a breeze.
What does 118bhp feel like in the CR-V?
In a word, adequate. The CR-V will be available with both front- and all-wheel drive and even with the former the front wheels are never in danger of breaking traction under hard acceleration, kerb weight is after 1732kg. The redeeming factor though is the 300Nm of torque and the new 9-speed automatic gearbox that does a very good job of harnessing the torque spread and making highway cruising a breeze. Put the transmission in Sport mode and you’re invariably in the right gear to execute quick overtakes or accelerate out of corners. There are also paddles behind the steering wheel to operate the gearbox and it is only on rare occasion that you find yourself tapping the downshift paddle multiple times to get into the desired gear, considering the number of ratios in the gearbox. The transmission has quick enough shift speeds to go with the 118bhp on tap and the overall package feels up to the task, while not lighting the fires of your correspondent that has grown used to the Hyundai Tucson’s 182bhp.
Refinement wasn’t a strong point of Honda diesels, was it?
Actually they have worked very hard on that area, after the barrage of criticism that came the way of the diesel City, BR-V and Amaze, and now the new Amaze doesn’t have an NVH problem. Same with the diesel CR-V. Okay it is not the most refined diesel on the market and at idle there’s no escaping either the diesel clatter or the diesel vibrations that seep into the cabin. At low speeds the diesel engine is also vocal, not to the extent of drowning our conversation, but a diesel grumble is always in the background.
On the highway though things turn around dramatically and you cannot hear the diesel at all. It is also to do with the road noise cancelling out the engine noise but at a 100-140kmph highway cruise the cabin is remarkably hushed and silent. The strong torque of the engine also makes highway driving a genuine breeze, it always seems to be in the powerband and there’s rarely any need to ask for a downshift unless while making a hard overtake.
The CR-V has to handle better than its rivals, correct?
Yes, you are right. I’ve driven the earlier CR-V (the one still on sale in India) and its predecessor at the race track and its lap times have been absolutely amazing. It has the same basic chassis as the Civic but since it always got bigger and wider rubber than the Civic, not to forget the benefits of AWD, and the CR-V could post quicker lap times than the Civic. And it wasn’t just lap times but the CR-V was always very good to drive.
“If you compare it with the ladder frame-based Toyota Fortuner and Ford Endeavour the CR-V is miles better on the dynamic front”
The new CR-V follows in the same vein and is very car-like to drive. The body rolls is well controlled, the steering is direct and precise, the suspension has no slack and the Honda remains eager and enjoyable to drive in the twisties. Even in the wet there is good grip and it encourages you to hustle the new Civic (the turbo RS spec) that was leading our convoy to the old American naval base in Subic Bay. If you compare it with the ladder frame-based Toyota Fortuner and Ford Endeavour the CR-V is miles better on the dynamic front.
Of course our benchmarks have moved on with time and compared to its monocoque-based rivals the CR-V is now in the same ball park, not head and shoulders ahead. And while the ride quality over regular roads is better than the Fortuner and Endevaour the Germans, and now even Hyundai and especially Jeep, have the edge in terms of outright smothering of bumps. Where the Fortuner and Endeavour score big time is in their ruggedness that allows you to hammer over the moonscape that is our roads in the monsoons whereas in the CR-V and all its monocoque-based rivals will have to slow down and take it easy. Scrapping its underbelly will be difficult though as the CR-V now boasting 208mm of ground clearance.
As for the CR-V’s cabin
It marks a big step up from the past. The most interesting piece of the design is the gear lever that is not a lever but a selector with buttons on the centre console to operate the gearbox. It saves a lot of space and the storage bin under the armrest is truly massive. The CR-V has grown in length, width and wheelbase and that permits the third row though truth be told no average sized adult can fit in there even for short journeys. This is best left for children.
That said the second row has excellent leg room, you can really stretch out in here. And because it has become wider there is a lot more shoulder and elbow space making for a spacious cabin. The Honda CR-V gets a touchscreen navigation system and the speedo console is motorcycle-inspired with a full-width digital tacho and a digital speedo readout. No analogue dials here, actually no dials at all.
“Die-hard CR-V fans will also be pleased to hear that the Honda will also come with a petrol engine, a 152bhp 2-litre naturally-aspirated four-cylinder”
In terms of equipment the CR-V gets a host of safety features like adaptive cruise control (works up to 75kmph), lane keep assist, lane departure warning, forward collision warning and collision mitigation, even a lane watch camera that projects (on the 7-inch centre display) what’s in your blind spot. You also get hill descent control, hill start assist and something called Agile Handling Assist that brakes an inside wheel in a corner to mimic the effects of a limited slip differential and pulling the CR-V towards the apex.
Can the CR-V take on the Fortuner, Compass et all?
It all depends on pricing, doesn’t it? And all indications are of a price tag close to Rs 30 lakh. People won’t buy the Honda because it undercuts the competition then. They will consider it because the CR-V’s refinement, ride, handling, comfort and dynamics are better than the best seller in this segment. We’d have liked more power, that’s without question, and the third row is for kids but I’ve never seen anybody in the third row of a Fortuner either so I don’t know why everybody demands that.
Die-hard CR-V fans will also be pleased to hear that the Honda will also come with a petrol engine, a 152bhp 2-litre naturally-aspirated four-cylinder. Both engines will get a choice of manual and automatic gearboxes (CVT for the petrol) and while the diesel gets both front and all-wheel-drive, the petrol will only have front-wheel-drive.
The CR-V always made for an excellent overall package and now that it gets the all-important diesel, that one big chink in its armour has been patched up. It will clock better sales numbers than before, of that there is no question. The only problem is there are other SUVs in this segment that tick all the very same boxes and they’ve not managed to dent the Fortuner’s stranglehold.