Honda is looking at having a big year in 2015. You can't help but have noticed the new Type-R or NSX that will be hitting the roads in 2015, leading the charge in a complete refresh of the company's cars.
The new Honda CR-V, first off the blocks, is looking to pinch a spot in every driveway across suburbia and beyond. The SUV segment is one of the fiercest fought, with Nissan's Qashqai going wheel-to-wheel with Honda's CR-V. (Other SUVs are available, of course.)
With over 7 million of these cars sold globally since its 1997 launch, the new CR-V for 2015 comes with a range of enhancements and improvements over the past, with a great deal of the changes on the tech side. We've encountered the CR-V twice now, first at the European launch in Spain, followed by a longer review period with the UK-spec 1.6 i-DTEC SR model.
The CR-V is obviously popular. There's a lot of these cars on the roads and on the second hand market they appear to hold their value pretty well too. So is the new Honda CR-V a car you'd want to live with?
Subtle design differences
Some might say the design differences are minimal. More precisely, the CR-V hangs on to some of its most defining features: the rear quarter with that distinctive rear window and roofline that drops only so slightly, remains pretty much the same.
Where you'll notice the difference, however, is in a new design across the front. The "flowing wing" on the face is designed to emphasise the car's width; there's also a newly designed rear light cluster looking to add a more modern 3D visual effect.
Dressed in new 17- or 18-inch wheels, you could say that the 2015 CR-V's exterior changes are more like a gentleman wearing a mustache, rather than a complete change in character. That's a good thing, though, because this is unmistakably the CR-V and everyone on the road will know it.
This iteration, like the previous version, is a good step forward in design over the previous models of CR-V. There's a sophistication to this new CR-V that moves the design towards the premium and away from the somewhat dowdy looks of old.
We still think the rear side window shape is a little odd, but given the generous boot space in the CR-V, we're happy to accept its uniqueness.
But if the external embellishments account to little more than metaphorical facial hair, then under the hood, this is a leaner, meaner, machine. The old 2.2 diesel is gone, with the 1.6 diesel getting pair of turbos to produce 160PS output. So, although a lower capacity, it actually gives more power than the engine it replaces.
That's one of Honda's more important messages: where the old 120PS 1.6 diesel (which is still offered) didn't have enough oomph for some, the 160PS version now should, as well as bringing with it lower emissions and better fuel economy. It's really the 160PS diesel that Honda is championing, and when paired with the 6-speed manual box, it offers the best performance option, both on paper and in our opinion driving it.
Does it feel like you're losing out moving from the 2.2 to the 1.6 diesel? No, it doesn't. Having driven both old and new models, the newly configured engine doesn't feel like it's lacking. But this is an SUV, and from the 1.6 160PS (4WD) we managed to top out at about 40mpg in lengthy motorway journeys. In terms of emissions and resultant tax, you're sitting above the cheaper 120g/km threshold, unless you take the 2WD 1.6 120PS model.
The new 9-speed autobox is designed for greater efficiency than the outgoing 5-speed, offering smoother steps. It's also 37kg lighter, so if you're after the automatic, things look better. There is still a 6-speed manual option on both the 120 and 160PS diesels; the 2.0-litre 155PS petrol uses the old 5-speed autobox or the manual.
On the road the new 9-speed automatic box does skip up and down the gears fluidly, but there's still something of a sense of separation. It's not as sharp or swift to respond as some rival autoboxes, so it doesn't totally escape that slightly ponderous feeling that automatics sometimes have - especially in these larger SUV models.
But we'd choose the manual as it's a much more positive drive. When you put your foot down the CR-V gets a chance to respond, pulling through the rev range, rather than skipping up through the gears. First gear is a little low, but with no low range on the gearbox, it needs to accomodate anything more arduous you might throw at it. The short dash-mounted gear stick is just as it was in the previous CR-V, but letting the 1.6 diesel roar a little as you accelerate gives a much more satisfying, connected, drive.
There's a slight performance decrease on the automatic, if you're after a quiet and easy ride then it's certainly worth a look, but the manual is definitely the more attractive to us.
With a slightly wider track, there's been some adjustment to the chassis to improve the handling and more responsive steering. We found the ride comfortable and there isn't too much wallowing around. The steering may be more responsive than the previous version, but this is still an SUV, and it drives like one. That means you won't be racing through corners, but it soaks up bumps, offering a nice smooth ride when you hit A roads and motorways, with that added advantage of often being able to see over the heads of those around you.
Interior space, added refinement
Talking of quiet rides (and making a clunky segue) Honda says that added seals and insulation, including thicker carpets, have resulted in a quieter cabin. It's only a 6 per cent noise reduction, however, and as much as we pinned our ears back, we couldn't discern much difference to the previous model.
There's still a good helping of wind noise when you hit the motorway, no doubt from those rather large wing mirrors, but then that's typical of SUVs. There's also those moments when you put your foot down when it sounds a little like driving a van. Again that's not uncommon for a diesel SUV and something that marks cars like the CR-V out from some of the more premium rivals, like the Audi Q5 for example.
But the trade-off with the CR-V is interior space. This is still a medium-sized SUV, but the interior space is excellent. It also offers the largest boot of its class and it's certainly capacious at 589 litres; the flat folding rear seats will give you a total of 1648 litres, and then can be neatly folded flat from the handle in the boot, which is easy to use.
Much of the interior is similar to the previous model. There's been some detailing in the dash, with the inlaid chrome-effect detailing adding a touch of class, but the layout is pretty similar to before. It's comfortable and, combined with the optional panoramic sunroof, a lovely place to sit, and there's no lack of quality in the cabin, especially if you have the leather touchpoints on the arm rests and doors.
There's enough headroom all round and the rear seat has enough legroom for adult and child alike, so the CR-V is likely to be popular for those with growing families. This is especially noticable as there's no transmission tunnel in the rear, meaning the back has an almost flat floor. For children clambering across, or somewhere for the dog to lie, this is a great benefit.
We found it comfortable for long drives and we really like the half-leather option of the SR trim. The aircon at times felt like it was taking longer to cool the car than we expected, especially when we were carrying four adults on a hot summer's day, but overall, it's a very pleasant place to be.
Honda embraces Android
One of the big changes to the interior is the Honda Connect entertainment system. This has been redesigned in part of a big tech overhaul for the new CR-V. The central 7-inch touchscreen now runs an Android-based system, customised by Honda and powered by Nvidia Tegra 3 hardware.
There's a smattering of apps sitting alongside the functions you'd expect, like the (optional) Garmin-based satnav and the calling functions to support the Bluetooth connectivity. As before it offers an on-screen touch system, supported by a run of buttons down the side. The whole thing lifts out of the way to access the CD drive behind, if you're still using optical discs.
Common gestures like swipes and pinch to zoom are supported so you can easily pinch the map, for example, aiming to make it intuitive like your phone. It almost is, although the combination of buttons and touch suggests that Honda decided to play it safe, rather than committing to a heavy reduction in physical buttons.
The Garmin satnav is reasonable. It offers plenty of options, including lane guidance and POIs, but sometimes the view isn't the clearest and on our test drives we missed a couple of turns because the map wasn't entirely clear. Re-routing was fast enough, thankfully, although we found that in the UK, the traffic information was a little slow to appear on the map.
Entertainment is based around the pre-installed Aha app, which will let you customise the content you want, although you'll have to sign in to the service.
Honda Connect supports MirrorLink, so in theory you can send the visuals from a compatible connected phone straight to it. The test model we drove was well equipped with 12V and USB sockets in the centre console for powering various devices and you can also tether your car to use the Honda Connect system to go online to search for local landmarks and so on.
However the overall result isn't the best out there. It's only a few button presses before you escape the Honda skin and are staring at naked Android like you might find on a tablet or phone. That might sound good to some, but for many drivers we suspect they'd rather have a simple system with access to all the functions, rather than this base layer behind. Being geeks, however, we explored Android a little and found the install option. We tried to install app APKs via USB but we had no success, leaving us with mixed feelings.
As before, there are two displays and we feel the top is underutilised. It will show trip data or a clock (among other miscellany), but there's still no transfer of navigation directions from the large display to either the second display or the driver display. That leaves you with a central system that's a little quirky, a second display that feels slightly superfluous and a driver display that lacks information, so you constantly have to look to the centre of the car for things like driving directions.
A smarter car for safer driving
Besides the internal tech for your entertainment, there's also a world of technology that's designed to keep you safe on the roads. Bundled together into Honda Sensing, the new CR-V can be equipped with radar and cameras to make the car hyper-aware of its surroundings.
This leads to enhanced i-ACC (intelligent Adaptive Cruise Control) and CMBS (Collision Mitigation Braking System). i-ACC works like other adaptive systems, sensing the vehicle in front and adjusting the speed accordingly.
But the intelligent part comes into play by analysing other vehicles on the road and predicting their actions. It's designed to slow you down if a car is going to cut in front of you, perhaps in an overtaking manoeuvre.
The collision system on the other hand can detect other vehicles and pedestrians to help you avoid hitting them. Although we couldn't really test these system in our test drives (pedestrians simply refused to stand in the road while we drove at them), we did get good use from the blind spot information and lane departure systems, both alerting us to drivers passing on either side.
Lane departure can be a little aggressive at times and driving on sections of motorway with roadworks, we found it was triggered by the temporary lanes. The lane departure warning will also sound on some lane changes and there's the risk that you'll be overwhelmed by the range of warnings the car offers you: at times, there's a chorus of beeps.
Together, it's easy to see how these systems are only a stone's throw from autonomous driving and of course you have the modcons like auto lights, auto wipers, keyless entry and push button start.
The car will also recognise road signs, so can display those to let you have a quick reminder of the speed you're supposed to be driving at. It is, all said, a comprehensive offering, although you will have to pay for many these optional smart extras.
At the entry S level (from £22,345) you get some creature comforts, including Bluetooth, dual zone climate control and cruise control which is really easy to use. All trim levels get steering wheel controls.
More convenience tech is added as you step through SE, SR and finally EX. At the EX level (from £30,440) you get the panoramic sun roof, power tailgate and full leather.
There's a lot to like about the new CR-V, just as there was the past model. There's a big tick in the box marked practicality given the roomy interior, and the spacious boot is attractive for anyone who wants to load it up with kids, a new fridge, or enough golf bags for all the passengers. Some SUV rivals struggle in this area, failing to give a boot as large as it looks, but Honda doesn't.
On the road we have enjoyed the ride and handling of the new CR-V. It's not hugely different from the previous model, but the new 160PS 1.6 diesel is an attractive option, giving you the power to keep pace in traffic and not feel like you've opted for something sluggish. With this in mind, we'd recommend the more positive 6-speed manual, although the 9-speed auto is better than the automatic box it replaces.
There's plenty of refinement in the cabin and looks that elevate the CR-V over the previous versions of this car. If you're after a mid-sized SUV then the Honda CR-V should certainly be on the list for consideration.