I’ve owned a couple of Honda CR-Vs over the years. Not through a burning desire to have a dull largish SUV on my driveway but from a need for something spacious, practical and reliable to haul around my family and all our junk.
What our old models lacked in kerb appeal or driving thrills, they made up for with acres of passenger and luggage space, clever family-friendly interior touches and a general ability to take a beating and just carry on.
I can’t speak to the longevity of the latest CR-V but in every other facet, it seems the blueprint hasn’t changed over the years. It’s still pretty uninspiring to look at and drive but it offers a massively practical and comfortable alternative to the biggest names in its class.
The CR-V was among the first in what we now call the C-SUV segment but it now faces an army of rivals ranging from the Ford Kuga, Nissan Qashqai and Hyundai Tucson to the Peugeot 3008, Mazda CX-5 and Toyota RAV4/Suzuki Across. Depending on budget and requirements, there’s also the likes of the Citroen C5 Aircross, Peugeot 5008, Land Rover Discovery Sport and even bigger cars like the Kia Sorento to consider.
So it needs to have something to stand out and that something is its sheer practicality.
Compared with any of the cars mentioned above, except the Sorento, the CR-V feels hugely spacious. It has a very traditional SUV shape, so you sit quite upright, with a high roof, wide cabin and lots of glass.
In the rear, legroom is class-leading and a nearly flat floor and wide bench adds to an overall feeling of spaciousness. At 6’ 5”, I can comfortably sit behind a driver of the same height - something no rival can match. What’s more, that wide rear bench means there’s no struggle for shoulder room either, even with five on board.
Front-seat folk aren’t missing out either, there’s loads of room in every direction and the seats are broad and soft.
Around the cabin there are plenty of cup-holders, storage cubbies and smart little touches like the fold-down mirror that gives those in the front a clear view of the rear seats. Even touches like rear doors that open to 90 degrees are boring but useful if you’re trying to wrestle a reluctant child into a car seat.
And at the rear, the 496-litre boot is big enough for most uses but not class-leading.
Like the exterior, which is about as generic as you can get, the interior is pretty dull but well screwed together and mostly very user-friendly. Only the weird drive select buttons and substandard infotainment let it down.
What it lacks in flair, the CR-V makes up for in refinement and comfort, with excellent noise suppression, comfortable seats and one of the smoothest rides in its class. Tall tyres and soft suspension mean it soaks up surfaces with unrivalled composure. It does, of course, come at the expense of cornering ability but it’s not a car to be hurling through the twisties anyway.
Previous CR-Vs have been available in petrol or diesel guise but this latest generation is only sold as an e:HEV hybrid. That means a full hybrid system with a 2.0-litre petrol engine, one drive motor and one generator motor. In higher-spec models that’s matched to an all-wheel-drive system.
And it’s here that the Honda’s biggest weakness rears its head. With 143bhp, the CR-V never feels overburdened with power or performance. That wouldn’t matter if it had stellar economy, but it doesn’t. In fact, it’s among the worst in its class.
A few years ago 36mpg was acceptable for a large SUV like this but we now expect better, especially from our hybrids. Virtually every rival will return at least mid-40s and over several hundreds miles in a plug-in Kuga, I saw nearly double the CR-V’s economy.
It has other qualities the Kuga can’t match - space and comfort - but economy is a big issue for many buyers.
So is value, where the Honda at least is on a par with rivals. Entry level cars cost from around £31,000 while the top-spec EX tested here starts at just under £40,500. All cars get LED headlights with high-beam assist and a fairly comprehensive safety pack while by the time you get to the EX you’ve got leather upholstery, dual-zone climate, heated seats all round, parking camera, head-up display, a panoramic sunroof and a hands-free power tailgate.
So it has all the luxuries you’d want along with a massively comfortable and spacious interior. If running costs are of no concern, that could be enough to recommend it. But the CR-V’s truly poor economy is a significant problem, especially as the cost of living continues to spiral upwards.
Honda CR-V e:HEV EX
Price: £40,420; Engine: 2.0-litre, four-cylinder, petrol, two electric motors; Power: 143bhp; Torque: 162lb ft; Transmission: E-CVT; Top speed: 112mph; 0-62mph: 9.2 seconds; Economy: 39.2mpg; CO2 emissions: 126g/km