The new CR-V is an important launch for Honda. Can it bring back some of the luster of old?
It all started in a wretched manner. Everything that could go wrong did. There’s a ritual during media drives such as these – a senior member of the management team flags off the media one at a time and they drive away in convoy. More often than not, the convoy disperses shortly thereafter, as journos go their separate ways hunting for a good location to shoot and good road to drive on.
As Mr. Jnaneswar Sen – the very soft-spoken and humble head honcho at Honda – dropped the flag, journalists started driving away in their respective cars. Incidentally, the one we got was parked a little further away as someone had taken it to shoot it in the soft sunlight of the early morning. So, we smartly marched off after exchanging morning pleasantries, and I confidently sat in the driver’s seat – eager to set off.
And then, suddenly, there were worried faces all around. People rushing towards the car, looking around in panic. Some chaps bent down, quite nervous about the underbody damage. The scene was far more dramatic than I would have liked! You see, there was a beautifying element made of concrete that the hotel had placed in the driveway, and I couldn’t quite spot it on the way out and drove straight over it. The damn thing made a noise loud enough to alert all bystanders. Thankfully, the guys inspecting the car gave me a thumbs-up, as it had only come into contact with the metal plate under the engine and didn’t cause any damage at all – apart from the odd scrape I imagine.
My first incident in all the years that I’ve been attending media drive events – what an embarrassment! Looking sufficiently apologetic and mortified, I drove away as slowly as I could. I had this feeling that people would be talking about this even after hundreds of years, and I could already visualize every person present there thinking of me as a careless chap who doesn’t know how to drive at all. Yikes, it gives me shivers the more I think of it. Sorry Honda!
Thankfully, there’s a simple remedy for such torment – just breathe deeply, and start coming to your senses. I did just that, and the drive from there onwards was deeply satisfying. But it wasn’t just deeply satisfying because I overcame my stupid psychological state but because the 2.0 litre manual that I was driving was charming my senses. Honda is offering this fourth-gen CR-V with two engine options – a 2.0 litre and 2.4 litre petrol – across four variants, and only the 2.0 comes with a 6-speed manual. It also comes with the option of a 5-speed automatic, but going by the fun thing this 6-speed affair is, I’d take the manual thank you.
When Honda brought the CR-V to India in 2003, I loved it. I liked the simple, no-nonsense look, and the spare tyre mounted on the tailgate gave it a lovely stance. Though it drove more like a sedan and floundered in the rough stuff, and was quite departed from the concept of a pure SUV, it did capture the looks perfectly. The third-generation CR-V, however, wasn’t to my taste. It looked a bit too peculiar and even downright ugly from some angles. But Honda has worked really hard on its 4th generation model – and it shows. Looks wise, I really like the front-end design. It’s in-your-face and makes a bold statement. It’s aggressive. The combination of the big chiseled headlamp and the grille echoes the FCX Clarity (fuel cell vehicle) somewhat. But the rest of the design is still a bit perplexing. It’s not ungainly like the previous one, but you can clearly see that Honda has deliberately kept the latest CR-V looking slightly similar to the outgoing model. I didn’t like the rear much, as it looked quite plump and the tail lamp design didn’t help in hiding its flab. But then, looks are subjective and it’s not necessary for you to dislike Kelly Osbourne just because I do.
The good thing is that the CR-V is lavishly equipped, and you get all the features you can think of – such as a sunroof, dual-zone aircon, Bluetooth telephony, satellite navigation, steering mounted controls and cruise control. You also get ABS with EBD, airbags, and, in the automatics, hill start assist. The interior isn’t particularly trendy, but it has a high sense of practicality about it. There are cubbies and cupholders everywhere, and the glass area makes it feel quite airy too. However, it’s not what’s in the cabin that I was after – it’s what was under the bonnet.
It’s not a secret that I prefer manual gearboxes (yes, even in typical Indian city traffic conditions), and though the 2.4L engine brings brisk performance along with it, I found the 2.0 litre manual to be much more involving. Both the engines are familiar units, but there’ve been some alterations done in a bid to improve fuel economy and reduce emissions. Honda has gone great lengths to help you drive economically. There’s a round, green economy button that remaps the engine and readjusts the aircon unit to provide the most efficient performance. There’s more stress on eco driving inside – the curved bars along the speedo glow green if you’re driving with a relaxed foot and white if you have the pedal pinned all the way down.
I like it pushed well into the carpet, and the 6-speed manual gearbox worked like a polished butler while I was at it – precise and always clinically perfect. The specs of the engine wouldn’t get your pulse racing, but the power delivery is quite linear and working the manual gearbox to harness the 154bhp and 190Nm is a joy. Surprisingly, the 2.4 litre 187bhp motor didn’t impress me as much though. The 5-speed automatic gearbox is a lazy child, and though the paddles do allow you to hold gears till the redline, it’s still not as much fun or as responsive as the more modern dual-clutch ‘boxes.
The CR-V was always a very accomplished crossover in the ride-and-handling department, but things have softened down here – which isn’t such great news for the corner-hunting child in you. The suspension does soak up bumps fairly well, but the chassis exhibits slight hesitation when throwing the car into a corner. The party pooper, though, is the steering, which has become virtually lifeless and doesn’t communicate anything that the tyres are doing back to the driver. Don’t get me wrong, it’s pretty direct, but there’s just no feel – something that the previous CR-V offered bucket loads of. But these are issues that only the diehard CR-V fans or mental petrol-heads would notice. If you were a first-time CR-V buyer, what you’ll find is an automobile that’s a great solution for every application. It’s got the snob value of a Honda too. Plus, it’s got reasonably good ground clearance and impressive ride & handling. Then there are the goodies in the cabin.
In a perfect world, the CR-V would be at the top of the sales charts. But the world isn’t perfect – and thankfully so, because if it were, all the character and charm would be lost. That’s why we love certain motors that come loaded with attitude and temperament. The Mitusbishi Pajero, for example, is a bit flawed, but we love it for its personality. The CR-V may be a bit restrained in comparison, but it does most things very capably. If the CR-V were a movie, it would be The Good Shepherd – not the best drama you’ve ever seen, but with stars like Angelina Jolie, Matt Damon and Robert De Niro, it’s difficult not to consider watching it.