Honda CR-V RS made for our roads

The CR-V is Honda’s sales rock star in North America where United States buyers have a long...
The CR-V is Honda’s sales rock star in North America where United States buyers have a long-running love affair with this model. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Honda has entered rarefied territory with a premium hybrid version of its new CR-V SUV, complete with its breathtaking $67,000 price sticker.

The CR-V is Honda’s sales rock star in North America where United States buyers have a long-running love affair with this model that shows little signs of abating.

While comfortably outsold here by the diminutive and thrifty mini-sized Jazz, its popularity is reflected in the strong prices it commands on our used-vehicle market. Once people sign up for a CR-V it tends to develop into a long-term partnership and that isn’t surprising, when you consider what this vehicle brings to the relationship. It’s methodically designed and engineered, versatile, roomy, offers unflagging reliability, and feels like it’s made for our roads and unique driving environment.

Both here and overseas this is a highly regarded Japanese SUV. The sixth generation iteration launched here last October, good enough to take its sales to the next level.

Honda has trawled through its current crop of models including the Civic, Jazz and ZR-V and picked the plum design elements of these vehicles, where it made sense, and used them in the CR-V. There is nothing like keeping it the family and Honda has done this expertly to create one of its best SUVs yet.

Two of the three models on offer here are fitted with the energised 140kw 1.5-litre turbocharged petrol engine from the previous CR-V. It delivers cameo performances in the price-leading $53,000 five-seat AWD, and Sport seven-seat $57,000, 2WD we road tested earlier this year.

The undoubted jewel in the CR-V crown is a 2WD 2.0-litre four-cylinder hybrid reserved for the range-topping $67,000 RS being reviewed here. Its only direct rival on our market is the range-topping Nissan X-Trail Ti-L e-power, using much the same sort of hybrid tech that’s on board the CR-V. They also eye-ball each other on price, with only a few dollars separating them, although the Nissan offers better value for money with AWD as standard equipment.

This two-motor CR-V hybrid offers deep reserves of torque, creating the ideal stage to showcase its effortless all-round driving capabilities. The CR-V hybrid system comprises two compact electric motors connected to a 1.5-litre turbo petrol engine, and a lithium-ion battery for a combined power output of 135kw and 315nm of torque at just 2000rpm.

In EV Drive the battery supplies power directly to the electric motor; use Hybrid Drive and the engine supplies power to the electric generator motor.

Finally there’s Engine Drive. Here the petrol engine is connected directly to the wheels via a lock-up clutch and the drive force transmitted straight from motor to the wheels.

As a result the driving experience feels smoother, stronger and more refined, although this tapers off fairly sharply on the open road, when the vehicle is working harder. The hybrid system has plenty of appeal with its deft balance between power and torque to master our undulating roads.

Around town there is plenty to like about its nippy performance and fuel economy.

A much-improved constant variable transmission features Normal and Eco driving modes and a user-selectable Sport mode. It’s a transmission that’s a good fit with the hybrid powertrain.

This sixth generation CR-V is longer and wider than the old one with more cabin and load-carrying real estate. One of the more impressive improvements is the extra 16mm worth of legroom. Wider door openings make it easier to enter and leave the vehicle — another major benefit of the new model’s lengthened body. A rear-seat slide function is available to expand the load storage compartment.

The RS carries its newly anointed luxury SUV status with ease, underlined by the extensive use of quality materials and plastics throughout the cabin, and a big focus on creating a premium look and feel to the switchgear. They nail this empathically with clever but subtle use of big buttons and digital controls, that blends perfectly with a ventilation system that is spread across the full length of the dashboard.

Heading an exhaustive manifesto of luxury features is leather seating and a power-operated sunroof, wireless Apple CarPlay/Android Auto viewed on a nine-inch display, and wireless charging.

There are a couple of glaring omissions from the features list. One is the absence of a head-up display and the other retracting exterior mirrors.

The CR-V uses the latest version of Honda’s excellent sensing safety system. Torso airbags have been added to complement the rear curtain airbags. This sixth generation CR-V also scores a smarter AWD systems with the ability to split the drive torque 50:50 between the front and rear wheels, and 60:40 depending on the driving situation the vehicle is grappling with.

Like the 7-seat CRV we put through its paces recently, the RS runs with the same comfort-orientated suspension tuning. Generally body roll is well managed, helped along by the new CRV’s extended length and increased width. To its credit the suspension reacts decisively to effectively counter sudden and unexpected deviations in the road and oozes competence and composure.

As commendable as those attributes are, it’s never going to cement the CR-V a place alongside the very top ride and road-holding luminaires in the mid-sized SUV class. However it’s not that far off, and with further suspension fettering and finessing it could break into this elite group.

Honda CR-V RS

Rating out of 10:

Performance 7

Handling 7

Build quality 8

Comfort 7

Passenger and load space 8

Fuel economy On-road test average consumption 7.1/100km 

Value for money 6

Safety Ancap rating not tested yet

Overall points out of 10: 7.