The time has come to buy an SUV. With Australia’s diverse landscape of nameplates to choose from (the 39 manufacturers and 112 models), deciding on the right car for you is a serious challenge. For the past week, I’ve been reviewing Honda’s CR-V the big brother to their smaller HR-V, which targets families who want to have space for a car seat or 2, enough boot space for a stroller and a few suitcases, as well as the design and technology that gets you excited about owning one, while offering the safety necessary to keep your precious cargo safe.
The 2018 model of the CR-V is the most aggressive yet. If you’ve considered CR-V’s before, its time to take another look, gone are the boring rounded corners, replaced by aggressive edges and purposeful cuts into the body work, big bold and complex combinations of shapes and materials that demand attention.
The front of the car is your face to the world as you travel down the road, but its looks also house play key roles in the performance, balancing the right amount of air flow into the intercooler and radiator, while being shaped to reducing drag to assist with fuel efficiency targets. The key take away here is that the design of the car is noteworth and bold and looks like the usually quiet reserved marketing department took the day off and the let designers and engineers create a vehicle with a sign direction, often not seen in modern, design-by-committee vehicles.
This bold aesthetic is reflected in the rear taillights, one of the most distinguishing features of the car, but the hard shapes and lines in the body work and elements like angled glass in the side mirrors that shows Honda committed to the design and followed that through which overall speaks to a single design direction, thoughtful and purposeful.
The rims aren’t left out from the aggressive stance of the vehicle, with unique angled pattern finished in silver and black, tying in nicely with the hard angled edges of the bodywork. While these won’t be to everyone’s taste, personally I like something different, standing out from the crowd, which makes wheel a design feature, rather than simply a utilitarian contact patch with the road.
There is one element I think could have been done better, that’s the angle of the rear window, compared to the wrap around tail light. Most noticeable when I parked next to a Nissan X-trail, you can see they’ve made a conscious decision to parallel the window line to the rear window and tail lights. I think this would have been a good idea for Honda to follow.
Embedded behind the front windscreen are the cameras and sensors necessary to power Honda’s Sensing technology (their equivalent to Autopilot). The combination of technologies – adaptive cruise control (ACC) and lane keeping assist (LKAS), means the car comes pretty close to driving itself. As you drive, the car looks for the white lines of the lane markings on the road. The on-board computers then calculate the middle of those two lines and steer you to the middle of the white lines. This works really well, as some competing systems end up bouncing you like a pinball between the two lines.
Confidence in the system is earnt quickly and knowing confidently that when the icon on the dash has a lock on the lanes and a lock on the car ahead, the computer has your back. What I do find interesting is the decisions around keeping your hands on the wheel. If you remove your hands completely from the wheel, the car will remind you to return them to the wheel with a visual display and audible alert. This check occurs every 10 seconds. Here’s where things get weird. If you don’t follow its request to return your hands to the wheel, the LKAS system shuts down which seems like the unsafest option available. Even if the cars cameras and sensors completely understand the world around it (the lane markings and the gap it needs to maintain to the car ahead, LKAS just turns off because you didn’t obey and if you’re not paying attention, your car will run off the road. That seems like crazy to me. The better option would be to increase the volume and frequency of audible alerts, while also doing the best job possible to continue between the white lines. Turn up the stereo, put down the window, shake the car left and right, but don’t just turn off.
The good news is that with just a little bit of effort (holding the wheel) the system helps you drive safely and actually allows you to relax, enjoy the ride and dramatically reduce the micro-management and monitoring of driving. This means you get out from a trip much fresher than a vehicle without these assists. The extra time afforded by this system means you can safely open a bottle of water, unscrew the lid and take a quick drink, much safer than if you don’t have this technology.
Honda’s infotainment system runs on a version of Android, the experience of which is fairly responsive, really customisable – apps, widgets, backgrounds etc, there’s an included Maps for navigation but all that is irrelevant as the CR-V ticks the very important box of supporting Android Auto and Apply CarPlay. Connected your phone via USB cable, the voice button on the steering wheel allows you to launch the native voice assistant of your preferred mobile OS. Because I’d already told Google where my Home is, I was able to jump in the car, press the voice button and say “navigate home” and the car responded appropriately by providing driving directions. Another press and another command and I was listening to the latest podcasts in my PocketCasts playlist. This is a seriously great experience and should be a requirement for your next vehicle.
The touchscreen display is locked into a set position, but that’s actually not an issue, the display was bright and readable at all times. While the displays bezel-less design is sophisticated, there’s no escaping that a large black glass surface is a magnet for dust. Make sure you keep a microfibre cloth handy.
Automatic Windowscreen wipers / headlights
When driving, there’s a fairly high demand on drivers inputs to handle basic operation of a vehicle, but when we add weather and time of day into the mix, the number parameters grows significantly.
Driving at night, particularly in country areas, requires drivers to manage their high beam, finding the balance between seeing the road ahead and being courteous to other drivers. Thankfully the CR-V’s implementation of automatic headlights not only includes turning them on when the sun goes down, but also includes an auto high-beam system that detects cars ahead of you and turns down your lights, when they’re out of sight (or range) then your high-beams return to normal. The speed at which this happens is as fast as I would have done manually, which means there’s no reason not to use it and mark lighting down to another system you no longer need to manage.
If it’s raining, the same situation is true of your windscreen wipers. The system needs to closely reflect when you would manually enable the wipers to ensure the windscreen clear the windscreen. Thankfully Honda engineers have done a great job at ensuring the wipers, like headlights are now something you don’t have to think about.
Reversing camera / cyclist camera
Another critical piece of technology and one that should be expected in all new vehicles is the reversing camera. This is complimented by vehicle sensors in the bumpers to let you know when you’re close to other objects, incredibly helpful when parking in your garage.
Reversing cameras are relatively common now, but a camera below the left mirror, enabled each time you engage the left indicator, provides vision down the side of the car. This proved to be useful in a couple of key occasions. It serves as a great way to check if you’re passed a vehicle and can safely merge back to the left lane. The other time is when turning left and gives you great visibility of any bikes beside you, before turning across them. This camera can optionally be engaged to take over the center display, any time you want by pressing the button at the end of the indicator stalk. After growing used to this camera, its actually disappointing its not mirrored on the right. The great advantage of a camera feed from outside the vehicle is that you avoid the typical blind spots created by the A, B and C pillars of a vehicle.
The camera under the left mirror does look more like it’s bolted-on, rather than seamlessly integrated into the mirror design, in the future I hope they revise this. The camera works at night, but the video feed becomes grainy, while still usable, this is definitely is a case of room for improvement.
The leather appointed seats are comfortable and the cabin spacious for the size of the vehicle, the feeling of space enhanced by opening the electric sunroof. The front seats are heated, which coming into summer will pay dividends, although the lack of seat cooling is a downside (although common at this pricepoint). In terms of technology, the front seats are electronically adjusted and your favourite position can be stored in 1 of 2 driver profiles. For a shared vehicle, say between a husband and wife, the seat preferences are automatically implemented for the key that is used to unlock the vehicle, that’s just smart.
For the longer drives, the driver’s seat also features lumber support (again with electronic adjustment) making the SUVs really comfortable for family holidays or daily commutes.
In the center console you’ll find 2 USB ports, along with another 2 in the back for passengers to charge their devices. While the unique position of the automatic gear selector is a little strange at first, after driving the car for a while, you realise the extra space between driver and passenger is incredibly beneficial. There’s plenty of space for phones, wallets, garage door openers, a pack of lollies, couple of drink, as well as a generous secure storage area that also doubles as an adjustable arm rest.
While certainly not unique to Honda, only having tint on the rear windows is definitely a con. While the rear tint provides some protection for the kids in the back, the parents up front also wants to shelter from the giant ball in the sky. This leaves new buyers with an instant to-do-list to tint the remaining front windows (and potentially go darker all around).
Performance & Economy
The 140kW turbocharged VTEC engine doesn’t sound like a lot, but when you plant your foot, it wakes up and delivers the power you need for entering a freeway, overtaking or even climbing up a hill. While it won’t win many drag races off the line, once the turbo kicks in, it does get moving quickly for a vehicle of this size, especially in Sport mode. The CRV is a good balance of power and weight, of course we always want more, but that’s often at the expense of efficiency.
The fuel efficiency on the spec sheet lists 7.4L/100km of combined driving, but I have managed to get 6.8L as an average trip (combined driving). This economy means your family can use the car more often without stressing about the running costs.
Its clear Honda engineers spent a lot of time of fuel efficiency and the design of the slim line roof racks is a great example. Many other SUVs I seen today had elevated roof racks, creating drag and reducing efficiency. Personally I don’t see myself ever really carrying anything on the roof of a vehicle, so avoiding any penalty for the chance of maybe one day doing it, is important.
The top model of the CRV is all-wheel drive and after taking the car off-road on dirt and gravel, that pays dividends. The car feels planted and in control, regardless of the surface and the suspension setup is such that you can take corners at speed with confidence.
The powered tailgate of the CRV opens to reveal a large storage space. Enough to comfortable fit a stroller and a couple of suitcases (stacked). Convenient rear-access levers allow you to fold down the rear seats for a flat surface, making those weekend trips to Bunnings a simple-trailer free experience. Keep in mind, if you want to add the towbar accessory for the CRV, you’ll be up for a significant investment, the best part of $1,500 which seems obscenely expensive, but the cost is due to a complex integration to the electronics in the vehicle, so installation isn’t a simple plug and play.
The car’s design makes photography a simple exercise, so please enjoy some photos taken during the review.
Price and Availability
The price of the Honda CRV VTi-LX AWD costs $48,692 and currently is offered with 7-year unlimited KM warranty, along with 7 years of roadside assist. If the price is too steep, you may want to consider a lower model, as the range starts at a more affordable $33,590 drive away. The bulk of the technology on offer really is reserved for the top model, so check the specs as the steps down in price drop features fast.
In terms of colours, the electric blue of the review vehicle is bright and vibrant. The CR-V is also available is light grey, dark grey, black, white and the feature colour, red (although this lacks the ruby shinnyness of the Mazda CX5).
There’s no bigger accolade I can give the Honda CR-V than to tell you we bought one, before the review period ended. The car ticked all of our boxes in upgrading to a new car that delivers for our growing family.
There are many, many things to like about the Honda CR-V VTi-LX AWD, solid design, decent performance, great economy and loads of technology to make the driving experience easier and safer. If you’re considering an SUV, you definitely should have the CR-V on your short list and if your budget can stretch, go for the VTi-LX.