x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Road Test: Honda's CR-V can do more than the school run

This crossover might be more practical than fun, but Kevin Hackett finds it surprisingly versatile.

Interior of th eHonda CRV.
Interior of th eHonda CRV.

Crossover. It's a word that has become part of the motoring lexicon in recent years and Honda almost started it, only being pipped to the post by Toyota with its funky little RAV4 back in 1994. Basically a halfway house between a full-blown SUV and a normal saloon car, a crossover offers space, practicality and reasonable fuel economy to motorists more interested in getting the kids to school in comfort than setting lap records at the Nürburgring. And Honda's crossover, the CR-V, has always been one of the very best.

Launched a year after the RAV4, like the Toyota it was available in both front and rear-wheel drive, but it was always a bit more conservative in appearance and nature, appealing more to mature drivers than those who'd just passed their driving test. With the new, fourth generation CR-V, Honda is hoping to change that. The company caused a stir at the beginning of this year by resurrecting Ferris Bueller in an excruciating homage of an advertisement, shown during America's Super Bowl. It didn't work. Nobody drives a CR-V because they really want to, they drive one because they have to. So reasoned Honda's critics and, I have to admit, they were right.

The CR-V is never going to tick the right boxes for me. I have a wife but no young children and no pets. Cars like this serve a purpose, I have to remind myself, and while my own father thought it entirely suitable to use a Triumph TR6 as everyday transport for me, my two brothers and both my bonkers parents, today's family heads thankfully take a more sensible approach. That TR6 might have been the most ridiculous family car of all time but it did do one thing (apart from constantly break down): it fired my imagination and got me interested in cars from a young age. I doubt any current Honda would do that for a young boy.

This car, however, is really quite good. That might come across as damning with faint praise, but I've been pleasantly surprised by it and, while I don't envisage ever being in the market for one myself, I'd respect anyone for choosing it as their family workhorse. I didn't get to drive any of the previous three generations but I do know people that have experienced them and they all tell me that each new one is substantially better than the last. I have no reason to doubt them.

The engine is a 2.4L four-cylinder affair, coupled to a five-speed automatic box. The Honda weighs 1,545kg and that motor does a fine job of shifting the mass. Performance isn't electrifying, obviously, but it feels way more alive than the VW Passat I tested last week. It's also four-wheel drive, making for decent, confidence-inspiring cornering (it's front-biased and feeds torque to the rear wheels as and when required) and, should you end up venturing off road, at least you have a better than average chance of avoiding getting stuck.

It's spacious enough for five adults to travel in comfort and, while the cabin could be described as a bit on the dull side, all the plastics look and feel high quality. The instrument cluster, like those found in other Hondas, looks cool enough to get the kids excited, especially at night when the large, central speedo does a fine impression of floating above its surroundings.

Outside it's a bit Volvo-esque, with those over stylised, vertical rear lamp clusters, and the overall design is rather awkward to my eyes. It's not offensive but it's fairly anonymous and, if you missed that H badge, you'd be wondering if it was a Kia, Hyundai or something else. It also looks tougher than it really is, as if it would make an ideal tool for bashing those dunes at the weekend. Best not even think about that - this is an urban vehicle through and through. The huge tailgate, when lifted, reveals a sizeable amount of luggage space, especially if you fold down the rear seats. With one pull of a lever inside the cargo area, both seats fold completely flat, perfect for outings to certain Swedish furniture stores.

On the road the CR-V is serenely quiet, with its slippery shape helping to keep wind noise to a minimum, and the comfort levels it offers occupants is quite exemplary. The electric steering can feel a bit lifeless at times but there's little else to complain about - it's a fine way to travel and, because it's so refined, I feel totally unhurried and, as a result, far less stressed during the mad commute home.

All in all, the new CR-V is a brilliant compromise between saloon car and SUV - which, of course, is what a crossover is supposed to be. It still won't appeal to young buyers but that doesn't mean it's a car for those who have given up on life. And the best bit is, being a Honda, it won't break down and should provide safe, comfortable transport for you and yours for many years to come.