Honda CR-V review: familiarity in a sea of change

The CR-V was introduced in 1995
The CR-V was introduced in 1995 - Manuel Portugal

A few years ago, Toyota ran an advertising campaign in America for the Camry (bear with me here). The ad took a series of Camry-owning families that, despite owning several models of this quintessentially dull saloon, had never actually sold one. When they wanted a new one, they simply shuffled their existing fleet down one layer of the family pecking order. By the time it got to ‘the pool-guy’ end of the chain, some of those cars were still doing their job and approaching a million miles on the clock.

Think of an SUV equivalent and you’d do worse than Honda’s CR-V. One of the first SUVs, in fact, the CR-V was introduced in 1995 and there are still many of those first-generation cars on the road.

Andrew English test drives the Honda CR-V
Andrew English test drives the Honda CR-V - Manuel Portugal

Sold all over the globe, total overall CR-V sales are by now comfortably into two-digit millions; it’s the SUV’s SUV, even if Honda’s refusal to play the down-and-discounted fleet sales game means that it’s never bothered the top of the sales charts. Owners tend to be older, wealthier and more inclined to appreciate the Japanese marque’s excellent residual values – should they choose to sell their CR-V at all, that is…

The new Mk4 Honda CR-V is built in China and is now on sale for first deliveries in November this year. It’s much of the same; a bit more technical, a bit more ugly (though after a glimpse at the new Hyundai Santa Fe, we should be careful with such judgements) and a bit bigger. Interestingly, not once was the word ‘sporty’ mentioned during the press conference, and we all felt much better for its absence.

Sales of the car are by now comfortably into millions
Sales of the car are by now comfortably into millions - Manuel Portugal

At 4.7m long, the new CR-V is 106mm longer than the outgoing model, and 11mm wider (being 2.15m wide with the mirrors). There are two main versions of the five seater: a straight hybrid version (HEV) with four-wheel drive, weighing 1,822kg, which occupies the first two trim grades Elegance and Advance and costs £45,895 and £48,995 respectively.

There’s also, for the first time in a CR-V, a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) that drives just the front wheels, weighs 1,923kg and costs £53,995 in the top Advance Tech grade. Wow - we’ve got to the £50k family SUV, but Honda is not on its own here by any means.

The old 1.5-litre internal combustion CR-V model with the option of seven seats will not be coming to the UK. Honda UK has decided on a hybrid-only lineup for the CR-V, and while it might have invented those rear-most ‘fisherman’s seats’, the difficulty packaging them in the hybrid models means they can’t be offered at all.

The new stuff

Apart from the increase in size and new powertrains, there are a number of updates for the new CR-V. In the cabin there’s a more leg room and a smidge of head room for rear-seat passengers along with an insane amount of rear-seat tilt, which the kids will absolutely love.

The new Mk4 Honda CR-V is built in China
The new Mk4 Honda CR-V is built in China - Manuel Portugal

The fascia will be familiar to anyone acquainted with the ZR-V or Civic, with a workman-like honeycomb grille running across the middle that contains the fans. There’s a 10.1-inch centre touchscreen, which handles the sat nav, the sounds and the somewhat obscure Honda safety systems.

It’s not immediately obvious to locate on-screen functions as there’s a swipe action required to get to specific menus and, at times, the placing of items seems like the abstruse books section in the obscure library. At least the heater controls are pulled out of the screen, though the steering wheel is filled with multi-function buttons and toggles, and none of it is particularly intuitive.

While there is a head-up display it doesn’t exactly take the pressure off the switches or screens and don’t get me started on the instrument binnacle that is a confusing carnival of coloured fonts and whirling displays.

Typical of this is the nearside video camera, which switches on when you indicate left and obscures the sat nav display as you are turning. It might be a safety feature, but in the middle of a manoeuvre, it leaves you directionless. Annoying, too, is the intrusive speed limit warning chime, which is tricky to switch off.

First deliveries are available in November this year
First deliveries are available in November this year - Manuel Portugal

If the electronics and software are a bit of a dog’s dinner, there’s genuine merit in the rest of the cabin design, which prioritises practicality over fuss. The seats are spacious, comfortable and nicely thought out in the front as well as the back. There are various USB C sockets and a single USB A for those who refuse to change their phone every six months. In all it feels tough, well designed and a bit like a car you are going to own for a good long while.

The HEV’s small battery sits under the boot space, which is 587 litres plus an additional 9 litre cubby under the floor. The PHEV’s bigger battery sits under the passenger seat so the boot’s up to 617-litres of room, plus the additional nine, but it gets a smaller fuel tank (46.5-litres against the HEV’s 57-litres) as a payoff.

Under the skin

The HEV starts with a 1,993cc four-cylinder petrol engine running in the more efficient long-stroke Atkinson cycle. It delivers 146bhp and 139lb ft, and is augmented by a two-motor hybrid system with a two-speed transmission and a small 1.06kWh lithium-ion battery. The main electric motor delivers 181bhp and 247lb ft and it spins up to 14,500rpm thanks to changes to the rotor.

There are various USB C sockets and a single USB A socket
There are various USB C sockets and a single USB A socket - Manuel Portugal

The system works much like that in Honda’s smaller Civic-based SUV, the ZR-V, but with the addition of a two speed gearbox. Most of the time the engine drives a generator which provides power to the main electric motor to drive the car. In conditions of high load or constant-speed low speeds in urban motoring, however, the motor can be clutched in to provide direct power to the wheels either in top gear (for fast running), or bottom gear for slow running.

The PHEV starts with the same engine but adds a 17.7kWh lithium-ion battery. As with all PHEVs, the fuel consumption and CO2 figures are absolute nonsense (353mpg and 19g/km), but Honda does admit that the PHEV version will deliver 45.6mpg once the battery is empty.

Towing capacity for the PHEV is up to 1.5 tonnes, while the HEV’s maximum braked towing capacity remains a disappointing 750kg.

On the road

The HEV starts silently and pulls away initially on the electric motor, though the petrol engine soon kicks in. With just 181bhp to tug along 1.8 tonnes, the Honda CR-V HEV is brisk rather than fast, and on uphill overtaking there’s an impression that the noise is variable but the thrust is constant.

The brakes are strong and the pedal is intuitive in feel and progressive
The brakes are strong and the pedal is intuitive in feel and progressive - Manuel Portugal

Nor does the engine sound like a strangled parrot if you rev it, and it has a smoother and more refined note than its opposition from Ford (Kuga), or Toyota (RAV 4). And while there’s obviously quite a lot of shuffling going on in the drivetrain, you are not immediately aware of power sources being activated, clutches being opened and closed, and gears being changed. There’s just a slight vagueness at times, and a feeling that the throttle might be an on/off switch.

While the brakes are strong and the pedal is intuitive in feel and progressive, the regenerative braking is quite modest and you need to use the steering-wheel paddles to increase the slowing effort at times.

It’s a long time since I attended a launch of a car mounted on 60 per cent profile tyres and the CR-V’s 235/60/18-inch tyres look sensible with a pleasing amount of side wall to absorb the sharpest bumps and also to protect the alloy wheel when parking close to the kerb.

Considering the height of the tyres, the steering isn’t at all bad, even if it takes the CR-V a little while to settle when turning into a corner. The four-wheel drive system will shuffle torque back and forward far more than it used to (up to 50:50 per cent front to rear if necessary) and that gives an added confidence.

Push harder and the 4x4 hybrid becomes a victim to its weight, centre of gravity and tall tyres. Sporting this ain’t; it jolts and plunges, and the Dunlops quickly make their feelings known about this with a series of squeals.

The steering wheel is filled with multi-function buttons and toggles
The steering wheel is filled with multi-function buttons and toggles - Manuel Portugal

On frequency-selective damping all round, the ride quality is pretty good, though, and the CR-V settles quickly and is reasonably quiet and refined - especially on the motorway. No, you wouldn’t want to use it as a getaway car, but as an all-weather family charabanc, the ride and handling more than passes muster.

By contrast, the front-drive PHEV felt stodgy, less agile and unresponsive to drive. It pushed straight on every time you tried to turn it into a corner and, despite its dynamically adjustable damping system, it thumped and crunched on road bumps and sleeping policemen. In comparison with the eight-grand cheaper and 100kg lighter hybrid, it felt like more for less.

Unless you can run it through the company books to garner all the tax advantages, and charge it regularly to make the most of cheaper fuel costs, I’d leave well alone.

The car does 0-62mph in 9.5sec
The car does 0-62mph in 9.5sec - Manuel Portugal


It’s business as usual here for the CR-V, with an offering that’s dull, but solid and well engineered. Be warned, however - it’s expensive, and the latest Toyota RAV4 is just as good with a PHEV version that’s bewilderingly fast. Non business users should seriously consider whether they need to spend the extra on the uninspiring plug-in hybrid, as the ‘full’ hybrid is a better and cheaper vehicle. Good luck, and if you do decide to buy, we’ll see you back in another 20 years.

The facts

Honda CR-V hybrid 4x4 Advance

Body style: five-door family SUV

On sale: end of this year

How much? From £45,895

How fast? 116mph, 0-62mph 9.5sec

How economical: WLTP Combined 42.8mpg (39mpg on test)

Engine & gearbox: 1,993cc, four-cylinder petrol, 141bhp at 6,000rpm, 137lb ft @ 4,500rpm, with two-speed transmission. Four-wheel drive.

Electric powertrain: twin Direct Current electric motors mounted in series with engine (one generator, one drive motor), with the main unit delivering 181bhp/232lb ft. 1.06kWh lithium battery (hybrid only).

Electric range: n/a (50 mile WLTP range for PHEV)

CO2 emissions: 151g/km

VED: £635 first year, then £170 a year plus £390 luxury car tax for years 2-6

Warranty: Three years, 90,000 miles

The rivals

Toyota RAV 4

From £38,880

The Toyota is a 2.5-litre hybrid car
The Toyota is a 2.5-litre hybrid car

Toyota’s rival starts low for the 2.5-litre hybrid Design trim model, but rises quickly if you want the £49,450, 306bhp top-model PHEV. Fuel consumption for the straight hybrid is around 47mpg and CO2 emissions of 129g/km. So cheaper and more economical than the Honda and if it is a bit rougher round the edges, it’s also (if reports are to be believed), more dependable, and it has that useful 10-year warranty provided you have it serviced at a Toyota dealership.

Nissan Qashqai

From £26,820

The Qashqai has a much lower starting price than the Honda’s
The Qashqai has a much lower starting price than the Honda’s - David Shepherd

Market leader, the British built Qashqai has a much lower starting price than the Honda’s, but if you want the E-power hybrid version in the best Tekna + trim pack you’ll pay £41,795. The cheapest 4x4 is the N-Connecta 1.7 dCi 4WD manual at £29,510. Size for size, the Nissan X-Trail is as much of a match for the Honda, but the Qashqai is the sensible choice. Just avoid the problematic continuously variable transmission (CVT) option.

Ford Kuga Titanium

From £32,680

It is Ford’s best selling family SUV
It is Ford’s best-selling family SUV - Ford

Ford’s best selling family SUV drives well and is spacious inside. It’s a bit long in the tooth, but still a contender in the UK market and it prioritises dynamics in a way that much of the opposition doesn’t. Unfortunately you can’t have a full hybrid with 4x4 as with the Honda, though the Lord help you if you try to specify a car on Ford’s execrable web site.

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