Carmakers, as we know, routinely misuse the phrase ‘all-new’ but when it comes to the 2018 Honda CR-V, it’s quite appropriate. This new model has a completely new look and under the evolutionary skin you will find a more premium cabin, a new platform and for the first time, a diesel powertrain. It is safe to say that the 2018 CR-V is Honda’s best bet yet to compete in the small yet significant premium SUV market, led as ever by the Toyota Fortuner and now the Ford Endeavour. The segment also has the impressive Skoda Kodiaq and the Hyundai Tucson which means the 2018 CR-V ought to be really good to cement its position next to these bigwigs.
Naturally, Honda has given it all to make the CR-V more viable in the premium SUV space. Slightly longer, wider and taller than the previous generation car, this new version has what it takes to be visually appealing. Firstly, there’s the crisp front-end with the all-LED headlights and fog lights that we absolutely love – they look smashing when lit. The aggressively styled headlamp units with the wing-shaped daytime running lights and the flared wheel arches give the CR-V a grand road presence. The 2018 model looks noticeably wider than the old car and that’s because of the strong shoulder line that tapers upwards towards the rear. At the back, you no longer get a split-tailgate arrangement, however, we are glad the CR-V still maintain its low loading lip.
If you think it doesn’t look that good in the photos, wait until you see the new CR-V in person. It’s striking, fairly big (though not as big as ladder-frame SUVs like the Fortuner or the Endeavour) and thoroughly contemporary – and it needs to be, for its going to compete with well-established rivals.
Much like the latest-generation Accord, the 2018 CR-V’s cabin is a soothing place to be in. The build quality is right on the money and nothing in here feels cheap (apart from the platicky steering mounted buttons) or badly put together. In fact, the cabin design and layout is a big highlight of this car, given its in here the owners will spend time, it’s a big draw card for choosing it over the rivals. Compared to the previous generation model, the design is much more upmarket, with a good mix of materials used cleverly. The dash for instance is all black with shiny gloss black trim pieces whereas the door pads are a mix of beige, wooden inserts and gloss black trim pieces. Somehow, this amalgamation of materials works well to create a soothing ambience.
Unfortunately, the 2018 CR-V suffers from Honda’s inability to offer a user-friendly infotainment system. While the 7-inch display looks rather premium, it doesn’t perform as well as the ones in rival models – the whole UI looks aftermarket and switching between the menus takes a while. What’s more, the graphics aren’t what you would expect to see in a car of this segment. Similarly, the fully digital instrument cluster isn’t that impressive under sunlight as the screen looks dull and not as crisp as we would have liked. That said, it does make for a visual treat at night, standing out from the rest of the interior bits.
Let’s face it, a big chunk of CR-V buyers would purely look for the levels of space and comfort it has to offer. It comes as no surprise, then, that the 2018 model leaves a mighty good impression when you set yourself into the seats. The space in here is massive for a mid-size SUV. When guys over at Honda say it’s spacious, they really mean it. The front seats are snug and supportive and foot well is generous as well (despite the wide centre console). Visibility, too, is excellent with a huge glass area and slim A-pillars. What also helps is this unique camera-based system which enhances driver’s view of side traffic. Using a camera on the passenger-side mirror, the driver can have a live feed on the infotainment screen, of the traffic or pedestrians in the car’s blind spot.
Space in the second row is equally impressive as there’s loads of legroom and the rear seat itself is nicely contoured and offers adequate thigh support. What’s not so impressive is the third row accommodation – there is simply no legroom for adults when the sliding second row is set far back. Also, the rear most occupants (presumably kids) are forced to sit in the knees-up position due to the high floor and the low seat height although to be fair the CR-V isn’t a proper 7-seater. It’s more of a 5+2 offering where the third row is ideal only for short distances. We would like to add that the 7-seater configuration is available only in the diesel version (the petrol version seats five, if you are wondering).
With a 1.6-litre diesel motor under the hood, the CR-V probably has nothing on all its rivals when it comes to engine displacement. With 120bhp and 300Nm, you might even call it underpowered and deem it rather slow comparatively. Honestly, though, it gets the job done most of the time. The noise insulation is superb and you don’t hear the engine clattering under normal driving, but there is no getting away from the fact that it’s a modest engine at best, offering adequate punch around town but lacking mid-range oomph and that relentless surge when going flat out or in situations that call for heavy throttle inputs. The 9-speed automatic, on the other hand, is more impressive. It’s super smooth and quite engaging to use. The only gripe we have is that the difference in performance in D and S mode is insignificant - it’s just that the latter allows for some engine braking whereas in D, the CR-V begins to coast as soon as you get off the throttle. One might be wondering if they really need 9 gears and in the city, the answer is no. However, when you have modest power outputs, the short gear ratios actually allow the engine to spin at the meat of its torque band more often than you would imagine, which does help in real world performance.
The 2018 CR-V also comes with the familiar 2-litre petrol motor that makes 154bhp of power and 189Nm of torque. Now the petrol powered model, at 1545kg, is a lightweight compared to the diesel which weighs in at 1735kg and its power figures might have you believe that it ought to be fun behind the wheel, but what really takes the zing out of the whole driving experience is the CVT, which is unobtrusive around town, but dulls the throttle response heavily. It has been tuned in line with the relaxed nature of the car. As a result, it is a little slow to react and hardly engaging when you are up for some fun behind the wheel. That being said, the rubber-band effect usually present with CVTs isn’t as obvious in this car. All in all, the CVT, although silky smooth, somewhat dampens the effect of the 2-litre petrol motor which as always, is quite refined and free revving.
That is a shame because the 2018 CR-V’s steering and chassis has so much to give. Unlike most of its rivals which cannot really mask their weight at speed, the CR-V feels like a car, ducking into corners eagerly and staying flat mid-corner. The body control is fantastic though what’s even better is the steering feel – it’s light, direct and offers just the right amount of resistance as you go off centre. Modest drivetrain aside, the CR-V is genuinely fun to drive and as such deserves more powerful engines.
Our first drive was mostly restricted to the smooth and windy tarmac of Jaipur’s highways. Even so, we managed to find some bad patches wherein we found the ride quality to be on the firmer side. The highlight here are the trick dampers which comes with two different sizes of tubes, one for small vertical movements and the other one which is engaged when it senses longer suspension travel. It does work on the road as we noticed the car absorbs and isolates sharp undulations effectively and the damper’s resistance calibration means the body remains settled, too, with none of the jolts that you get from larger rivals.
If the all-new diesel engine/9-speed auto doesn’t appeal to you, the top-notch cabin and the sorted dynamics certainly would. The comfortable interiors and the smooth drivetrains mean the Honda CR-V is more enticing than ever. As an alternative to the Skoda Kodiaq or even the ladder-frame SUVs like the Fortuner and the Endeavour, it is an intriguing proposition, one that ticks a lot of right boxes.
The much awaited diesel power will certainly help the CR-V appeal to a larger chunk of audience. If priced right, this 2018 model has the potential to cease the dry sales run and perhaps finally attain the numbers the CR-V has always deserved. We expect it to be priced between Rs 34-38 lakhs to take on the likes of Skoda Kodiaq, Toyota Fortuner and the Ford Endeavour.
Photos By Kaustubh Gandhi.