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Car review: Honda CR-V performs well but fails to excite

Carlton Boyce / 19 January 2016

If you are looking for a well engineered car that performs well and gives a comfortable drive, the Honda CR-V scores highly.

Honda CR-V - Saga Magazine review
Saga Magazine reviews the Honda CR-V




Some cars grab your attention within seconds and force you to like them, despite the odd whiff of desperation and compromise that hangs around them like a fog. 

Others, like the Honda CR-V, force you to dig deeper, to see if you are self-confident enough to get past the marketing flim-flam and ask yourself: do I want to own this car?

Because the Honda CR-V is, perhaps, the ultimate example of a car as a domestic appliance; without consulting my notes, I can’t remember much about it other than that it was every bit as competent as it needed to be in all the areas that mattered without doing anything brilliantly. I rather liked it.

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Bland but nice drive

We’ll deal with the elephant in the room first: it’s a bit bland. Oh, it drives very nicely, riding a fat wedge of torque and, in the case of the nine-speed automatic gearbox fitted to my car, shuffling seamlessly between ratios to give a pleasant brawniness to the experience that suited the upmarket feel the cabin endows. 

As a result, the CR-V feels like a premium car not because it is festooned with gaudy trimmings and unnecessary gadgets (although every model bar the base-model S is generously equipped) but because it is engineered in a typically thorough way. 

Honda’s engineers are among the most fastidious in the world and should be proud of the CR-V: I bet it could rack up 200,000 miles without breaking a sweat and still feel as tight as a drum. By any objective measure the Honda scores highly.

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But it will never raise your heartbeat. It will never urge you to jump in and take it for a drive just to enjoy the patter of tarmac beneath its wheels. Nor will it encourage you to blast through the mountains in a pre-dawn run before sipping coffee as you watch the sun rise over a deserted beach.

But do you really need a car to do that? 

Because that blandness also manifests itself as a car that never irritates, never annoys, never leaves you feeling short changed. I used it for a week’s holiday with my family and never once felt short changed, or that any other car would have performed any one of the myriad roles I asked of it any better. And, when you think about it, that’s quite some recommendation.

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Petrol thirsty engine

Yes, the ride is a little bit jiggly on anything other than a smooth surface and it does lean a little in the bends but it grips well and is quiet and comfortable, devouring two hundred mile journeys with ease.

The high-power diesel would be my engine of choice as it has a well-balanced ratio of power to economy. 

While the petrol engine is quieter and cheaper it is far thirstier, so is best avoided if economy is important. Of course, if you don’t drive very far in the course of a year this is less of an issue and you might prefer to save a few thousand pounds on the purchase price by opting for one of the petrol-engined models. If you do, please make sure you take into account the projected residual value of your car as the saving might not be that great once you’ve factored in the higher level of depreciation.

I liked the automatic gearbox too, but if you insist on doing it yourself then the manual gearbox is as good as any out there, although the front-wheel-drive versions have a better gearchange than the all-wheel-drive cars.

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Two-wheel drive versus four-wheel-drive models?

My recommendations? A 1.6-litre diesel with a manual gearbox and two-wheel-drive. 

If you think you need four driven wheels to get around in the winter, then I’d still recommend a two-wheel-drive model but suggest that you add a set of winter tyres to the order sheet, swapping them for the standard tyres in the autumn and changing back in the spring. The dealer should be able to store them for you if you don’t have the space and you’ll have much better traction in snow and ice than any 4WD car on standard tyres.

If you do decide to buy a CR-V Carwow suggests that average savings of £3,000 per car are readily available, so the £29,000 list price for a CR-V SE Navi could drop to around £26,000, making it look like the perfect car for someone who appreciates a car with the Jeeves-like ability to blend inconspicuously into your life, albeit in a supporting, rather than leading, role.

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Best-in-class – Volvo XC60: Almost flawless in its execution, the Volvo has the best interior of any of its rivals. It drives well too, making it the pick of the bunch.

The best of the rest – Mazda CX-5: It might not have the biggest interior in its class but the CX-5 is the drivers’ choice, offering fine performance in a subtle package.

Left-field alternative – A second hand Land Rover Discovery: Getting a bit long-in-the-tooth now, but still the best option for anyone who needs genuine off-road ability and class-leading towing capacity.

For more useful tips and information, browse our motoring articles.

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Honda CR-V infographic


The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.