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What is it?
Another crossover-cum-SUV. Because that’s what people want nowadays. And it seems the one they want more than any other is this one – the Honda CR-V. Now in its fifth-generation, Honda sells hundreds of thousands of these things every year to people who want something practical and reliably tedious – something to tow their caravan or horsebox of a weekend, and/or deliver their children to and from school, all without giving them any reason to visit their local dealer or phone the.

In its many years on-sale the CR-V has become the world’s best-selling SUV – making it a hugely important part of Honda’s line-up. A new one is therefore A Big Deal. Only it isn’t strictly new. The fifth-generation CR-V has been on sale in the States for 18-months or so already, but we’re told steering and suspension changes make European cars much better to drive. In fact, Honda claims the new CR-V is the “most dynamic car in its class”, thanks also to a stiffer chassis that makes much use of high- and ultra-high-strength steels.

The big, technical news is that Honda will not offer the new CR-V with a diesel engine. A petrol, non-plug-in hybrid is coming early next year, but for now the only engine available is a 1.5-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol (also seen in the Civic), paired with either a six-speed manual or CVT transmission and either front- or part-time all-wheel drive.

But these are fundamentally family cars, so space matters. As does how you use it. We’re used to cars getting bigger with each generation, but the fifth-generation CR-V is the same length as the old one. It’s mainly because Honda’s stretched the wheelbase by 40mm – pushing the wheels closer to the corners and “contributing to the more muscular stance of the SUV” – that you get more space inside.

Second-row passengers get 50mm more legroom, and for the first time Honda has managed to squeeze in an optional third, child-friendly row of seats that fold flat into the boot floor. Elsewhere inside we’re promised more connectivity thanks to the same infotainment system you get in the Civic and broader use of higher-quality materials.

What is it like on the road?
Honda knows how to make a fine-handling car. The regular Civic is pretty good for what is ostensibly a humdrum, family hatchback. As a Type R it’s one of the very best, sensibly-priced cars on-sale today.

Most impressive is the ride, which is helped by hydraulic bushings. Granted the Austrian roads on which we sampled it were fairly smooth, but the CR-V rode what few scarred, pockmarked bits of tarmac we could find with dignity and composure. It doesn’t roll too much (even though ride-height is up by 35mm, the centre of gravity is unchanged) and the steering is progressive and well-weighted – not too twirly-light – if lacking in that fabled, illusive thing reviewers long for called ‘feel’. But it’s a family SUV, so who really gives a damn? The CR-V delivers a composed, controlled and confident drive that won’t irritate you in the slightest, regardless of whether you choose front- or all-wheel drive, and that’s what matters at this end of the market.

What might annoy you though is the CVT gearbox. Japanese car manufacturers love these things. We do not. But as CVTs go, Honda’s isn’t a bad one. We’d still choose the six-speed manual – because if Honda does one thing better than almost any other mainstream car manufacturer, it’s manual gearboxes – but we won’t judge you if you go for the auto. The seven ‘fake’ gears don’t totally eliminate the flaring of revs when you step on the gas, but they help, and the rubber-band effect you often get with CVTs isn’t so pronounced thanks to clever mapping.

An unintended consequence of this is that auto cars actually make a little more power than the manuals (190bhp and 242Nm plays 171bhp and 219Nm), but in practice both feel equally fast. Or should we say slow. A front-drive, manual CR-V does 0-96kph in 9.3 seconds, and runs on to 210kph. An all-wheel drive auto does ten seconds flat and 198kph. The manual transmission is available with either front- or all-wheel drive, whereas the CVT is AWD-only.

CVT cars have paddles behind the wheel for manual control of those steps – handy for towing, driving in snowy conditions and so-on.

When you’re pootling around town the 1.5-litre engine is quiet and well-mannered as anything, although despite noise-cancelling tech things get a little louder when you start to plunder the depths of its power and torque reserves. At any speed many seals and lots of work in the wind tunnel mean tyre- and wind-roar are minimal.

Layout, finish and space
It’s big in here. The wider track, longer wheelbase and sculpted front-seats give good legroom in the second of the CR-V’s three rows, and because the rear-doors open to almost 90 degrees getting things/tiny people in and out should be easy as.

The optional third row does eat into boot-space even when it’s folded flat (561-litres plays 472, with the third row stowed and front two in place), and is really only suitable for small children. Access isn’t quite as easy here as it is elsewhere in the class, either. Even though the 60/40 split second row can slide forward by 150mm, getting back there is still a two-tab job – the second pull requires a bit of effort that’s tricky to muster from the angle at which you have to come at it. Requires two hands…

The boot itself is big. Really big. The loadbay is a class-leading 1,860mm long with all the seats folded, giving a total of 1,756-litres of usable volume in five-seater cars. Storage is ample in the passenger cabin too – the centre console can be configured through three modes and can swallow a laptop or handbag if asked, and Honda’s moved the speakers up so all four door bins can be way, way bigger than before.

The dashboard will look familiar to anyone who’s sat in a new Civic. Good news is that material quality is broadly on point – everything feels reassuringly solid. As, indeed, a Honda ought to. The front seats are comfortable and together with reach/rake adjustment for the wheel mean most normally-shaped drivers ought to be able to get comfy. The bad news is that the design/layout of the controls feels a bit…old. And then there’s the infotainment system – the same as the one you get in the Civic. It can do things – many of them. But all you’ll want to do is plug your phone in and use CarPlay/Android Auto instead. Honda’s UI isn’t easy enough to use, the graphics aren’t good enough and the navigation is childish.

Verdict
Honda’s done a good thing. The CR-V is not without flaw, but it will make a good family car when it arrives in the UK. It’s spacious, comfortable, reasonable to drive and, as it’s a Honda, it should comfortably outlast its first eight owners. And their kids. It doesn’t have any sporting pretensions – no drive modes – and we respect it for that. The infotainment system is off the pace, the seven-seat option robs boot-space and can be tricky to access, and well, it’s a bit dull – but what small SUV isn’t? Honda says its biggest competitor is the Tiguan – but we disagree. The Skoda Kodiaq remains our choice in this segment, but there’s no denying the CR-V is a big step up from what went before, and is an able rival to the likes of the Kodiaq, Land Rover Discovery Sport, new Hyundai Santa Fe and so-on.

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