The new Honda CR-V feels less like a minivan and more like a large, comfortable hatchback with some added height.
2010 Honda CR-V
The new, and somewhat improved Honda CR-V is definitely a better-looking car than its breadbox-like predecessor. Thankfully, the designers have added some much-needed curves and given the solid crossover a more chunky, angular snout with swooping headlights. As a result, the car feels less like a minivan and more like a large, comfortable hatchback with some added height. Adding to the comfort is the improved suspension - nasty speed bumps feel like cushions and the handling is not at all compromised. Indeed, the nimbleness with which the CR-V can dart through traffic adds to its hatchback feel.
The automatic transmission, meanwhile, offers five gears with the obligatory seamless shifting the market seems to prefer these days. Again, this added to the CR-V's comfortable sofa-in-a-hatchback ambience. This warm and fuzzy hatchback-like feeling I experienced may be at odds with Honda's attempt to pitch the CR-V as a sporty crossover, a market segment that is becoming more crowded than a Satwa shawarma shop. Indeed, the marketing video for the CR-V features young, pretty lasses in bikinis and an arty looking bloke with an amusing pet dog. But I'm pretty sure that even with the latest model's vastly improved looks, it will do well as a family car, a comfortable way to do the school run and even something that might get an outing on a weekend to Fujairah. The sober leather interior, awash with creams and browns, just doesn't scream youth market at me.
And while the CR-V has full-time four-wheel drive, there is no way you'd get me off-roading in it. There's not enough clearance at the front for any serious scaling of dunes and no way to lock the differential. The lower gears on offer with the automatic transmission come in handy for engine braking or when you want to pretend you're driving a manual at low speeds, but not much use for any serious four-wheel-drive action.
Instead, the four-wheel drive on the CR-V helps with the car's overall feeling of stability. You're not going to get any wild oversteer with this car and, frankly, a car that doesn't lose the back end easily is a wise investment for anyone wanting to keep passengers safe (and not car sick). Once again, it's a great car for parents and a couple of kids. The other reason why I wouldn't take this beast on any surface more hair-raising than hard-packed sand is power. With 168 horses, it's not going to respond too keenly to slamming the fuel pedal down in the desert. Likewise, the CR-V's 219Nm of torque is barely enough to pull the skin off custard, let alone tow a friend out of trouble off road.
Let's be honest: this is yet another crossover that is not really meant for thrills and spills. But if Honda could translate the tremendous suspension to a serious off-road contender, that would be something with a huge potential in the UAE. The other concern I have with the CR-V is the complicated cargo space. The funky marketing video shows off a split-level boot and the nubile ladies are eagerly using it to transport two surfboards. It's all well and good but a folded-up pushchair and a load of groceries are the more likely candidates for such a set-up.
What didn't work so well on a practical level was a try to slide the shelf away and fold the 60:40 split rear seats down so my other half and I could transport a low but slightly cumbersome TV cabinet. I like to think we are both reasonably intelligent people, but after much jerking, yanking and less-than-polite language, we couldn't figure out how to fold down the back seats or eliminate the shelf. Instead, we ended up sliding the cabinet across the back seat where it fitted quite nicely, but the thought of the sharp edges scratching on the leather made us nervous. Maybe we're a pair of idiots - but in any case, I hope the sales staff at Honda showrooms explain how it all works in the back of the CR-V.
The escapees from the set of Gossip Girl in the CR-V marketing video might not dovetail with the people who will actually buy this car. But there are plenty of CR-Vs on the roads of the UAE and with the improvements in design and suspension in the latest incarnation, it will probably continue to do well. And if you can figure out how to maximise the cargo space, you're possibly smarter than I am. firstname.lastname@example.org