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Motors

No diesel is no trouble to the new Honda CR-V

Wednesday, 23rd January, 2019 4:28pm

What, no diesel? If Honda had taken its decision to excise diesel power from the CR-V range a couple of years ago, it would have been met with howls of derision. What a difference a day makes, or at least a few months.

The rolling, roiling, diesel scandal hasn’t killed off diesel power entirely (it still remains rather more relevant than you might think) but it has certainly reduced its oily lustre.

Keen to stay ahead of emerging trends, Honda decided that the new CR-V, the fifth generation of a car that has often been the world’s best-selling SUV (depending upon how you interpret the figures) would have no more diesel power.

A clever hybrid version, which does without a gearbox, is coming very soon, but for now the only available engine option is the same 1.5 litre turbo four-cylinder petrol engine that you’ll also find in the Civic.

Actually, the CR-V shares more with the Civic than merely an engine. The entire mechanical underpinning of the CR-V is largely lifted from the Civic, as is much of the interior.

The engine is the most significant shared item, though. It’s a very clever engine, this one.

From its lightweight aluminium block, to its low-friction cylinder liners, to its now-traditional Honda variable valve timing control (VTEC), it develops a robust 173hp, and a slightly less robust 220Nm of torque.

It is also exceptionally, gloriously, smooth. And quiet. We all switched to diesel power, post-2008, in the search for lower tax and smaller fuel bills. Along the way, though, we lost quietness.

The CR-V’s engine reminds you just how quiet, how all-but-silent a well-engineered, well-designed petrol engine can be, and helps to reassert Honda’s supremacy as not just the company that makes the most internal combustion engines in the world (all those lawnmower, motorbike, and outboard boat engines really add up) but arguably the maker of the best engines.

To judge from the way this engine smoothly revs up to its redline, you’d have to assume that the inside of those cylinders shine as if they’ve been worked by a master jeweller.

Performance is brisk on paper, but rather less so on the road. Honda claims a 9.3 sec. 0-100km/h time, which isn’t half bad for a small engine in a large-ish car, but it never feels all that quick when you’re using it.

You accumulate speed neatly and briskly, but there’s none of the addictive low-down torque hit of a diesel engine. Still, performance feels fine, and the six-speed manual gearbox (there is a CVT automatic option too) can be flicked between ratios with a snappy movement of your wrist.

Economy? Here’s the good news — work the little engine hard, too hard, and of course you will pay the price at the pumps. Drive with a touch more decorum, and you should easily get past the 40mpg mark in daily driving, which ain’t half bad, and isn’t actuawlly much thirstier, in real-world terms, than the old 1.6 iDTEC diesel.

The only downside is that CO2 emissions are a little steep, at 143g/km for the front-wheel drive Lifestyle spec test car we were driving, so your annual motor tax is going to be €390. Not a deal-breaker, perhaps.

There’s succour to be found in the price list though. The well-equipped CR-V starts at €33,500 and our test car, which felt entirely adequately equipped, clocked in at €35,500. That’s comparable with a well-specced Qashqai or Tucson, for a car with a classier image and a bigger cabin.

Ah yes, the cabin. The CR-V, especially since the third-generation model of 2007, has almost always been the most spacious and practical of the SUV hoard (it’s one of the main reasons that we’ve long-since loved it so much) and this new model is no different.

In fact, it’s even better, thanks to a wheelbase that’s some 40mm longer, in spite of the whole car being more or less the same size as the outgoing model. It means you get such an acreage of rear legroom that it’s tempting to start sewing crops. The boot, at 561 litres, isn’t quite the biggest one in its class, but it’s deep, and perfectly square in shape, and expands to more than 1,700 litres if you fold the rear seats flat.

For the first time, you can now also get a seven-seat version of the CR-V, and if the extra seats in the boot are on the tight side, then they are at least useful for short hops.

The rest of the cabin is broadly impressive. There is, arguably, a bit too much grey and black plastic on show, but I quite like the fillets of (fake) wood scattered about. It’s a divisive look, for sure, but to my eyes they visually warm the cabin up, making it feel more welcoming.

Downsides? The main digital instruments, borrowed from the Civic, look a bit cheap and messy (have a glance in a current Volvo to see just how classy digital instruments can look) and the big touchscreen in the centre of the dash is saddled with a dreadful set of software, that’s confusing to use and messy to look at.

At least you can get rid of that buy plugging in your phone, as there’s standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

The CR-V’s trump card, though, is just how nice it is to drive. Honda has fitted the CR-V with what it calls Agile Handling Assist which is basically stability control that steps in not just to correct and impending slide or skid, but to actively tweak the chassis, steering, brakes, and power delivery to ensure both a smooth ride and a pleasing cornering attitude.

It works really rather well — the CR-V’s steering is a little too light for it to be called a proper drivers’ car, but it’s one of those cars that you never tire of driving, and always look forward to getting behind the wheel. It just feels right, when you drive it.

So don’t worry about the lack of a diesel. Honda’s engineers have that well and truly covered, and besides which, the CR-V is a much, much better car than the sum of its fuel source.

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