Honda CR-V VTi X 2021 road test review

Silver Honda CRV SUV

Tim Nicholson

Posted May 03, 2021


Tim Nicholson puts Honda's best-selling model, the CR-V, to the test.

The first Honda CR-V went on sale in Australia in 1997 and won a legion of fans for its space, practicality, and ride height. It was one of the pioneers in the so-called soft-roader brigade along with Toyota’s RAV4. It’s now Honda’s bestselling model, but it’s been overshadowed in recent years by newer fare like the RAV4, Mazda CX-5 and Hyundai Tucson. A week with the updated CR-V provided a timely reminder that it’s an underrated family hauler deserving of more attention.  

Thumbs up: 

  • Spacious
  • Flexible cabin
  • Big boot
  • Good visibility
  • Loads of storage
  • surprisingly agile

Thumbs down

  • Dated interior design
  • Average infotainment
  • Unnecessary analogue/digital climate controls. 
Silver Honda CRV side view on the road

The Honda CR-V is perfect for growing families that spend a lot of time on the road.


How much does a Honda CR-V cost?

The current CR-V, which landed in mid-2017, marked an improvement over its middling predecessor, but it’s never managed to hit the sales highs of the RAV4 or Tucson.  

Honda Australia lobbed a mid-life facelift for the fifth-generation CR-V in December 2020. Changes include styling tweaks to the front and rear bumpers, a fresh grille and tail-light treatment, new wheel designs and two new paint colours – Ignite Red and Cosmic Blue.  

Pricing for the CR-V ranges from $31,300 before on-road costs for the base Vi to $48,500 for the VTi LX. Two of the seven CR-V variants have seven seats. 

The entry grade is powered by Honda’s ageing 2.0-litre naturally aspirated petrol engine, but all other variants are paired with a 1.5-litre turbocharged petrol unit. 

Honda added a new mid-grade variant as part of the update – the five-seat VTi X tested here. Priced from $37,000, the VTi X is offered with a decent level of standard gear that’s mostly on par with equivalent variants of the Mazda CX-5 and Toyota RAV4, although it is missing a digital radio. 

 


What safety features does it have? 

The current CR-V was awarded a 5-star ANCAP rating in 2017. As part of the 2020 update, the Honda Sensing suite of active safety features is now standard on all turbo CR-V variants, so the entry-level Vi misses out. The suite doesn’t include a blind spot monitor, but the VTi X comes with Honda’s handy Lane Watch passenger side rear-view camera. Newer models like the Hyundai Tucson get more safety kit than the CR-V. The lane-eeping aid functioned without fault, as did the smooth adaptive cruise control. 

 

Honda CRV driver seat interior

Honda CR-V Interior

The CR-V has a flexible interior that feels larger than the dimensions suggest.


 

What's the space like inside?

The CR-V is roughly the same length and height as its rivals, but its wheelbase can’t match the RAV4, Tucson and CX-5. And the CR-V lacks the clever ‘Magic Seats’ found in the smaller HR-V that allow you to flip up the rear cushions to load tall items across the rear floor. Nevertheless, it has a flexible interior that feels larger than the dimensions suggest. 

Compared with the ultra-modern new Tucson, the CR-V’s dash layout is dated. The gear shifter sits high on the console, and while it’s not visually appealing, it makes space in the console for storage nooks and USB ports. That useful central area also includes two cup holders and a massive, covered storage bin. Door storage is fine for narrow items, but large bottles won’t fit. 

The steering wheel controls are easy to identify, and the digital instrument cluster has clear graphics and the ability to adjust the layout. 

As with most Japanese brands, Honda’s infotainment setup is fine and functional but has dated graphics and isn’t a patch on the systems used by Hyundai and Mazda. The climate control function is both digital and analogue. Hit the Climate button and some controls will appear on the central display, but the temperature is still changed via dials on the dash. Why not have it all analogue or all digital? It seems confusing.  

It has excellent forward and rearward visibility and the front seats are firm, yet comfortable, with the right amount of under thigh and side bolstering. We appreciated the nice cloth trim but those wanting leather will have to step up to the pricier VTi L.  

Second-row occupants will find a generous amount of space, with loads of head and legroom. It feels as spacious as an SUV the next size up. The second row also features map pockets, knee-level air vents, two USB ports, decent door storage and excellent visibility.  

Open the power tailgate and you’ll find a sizable cargo area of 522 litres with all seats in place, expanding to 1717L with the second row folded. Not bad considering it has a full-size spare wheel. It has nooks on both sides of the boot and handles to lower the rear seats. It’s not quite as big as the boots in the RAV4 (580L) and Tucson (539L) but is much bigger than the CX-5 (422L). 

 


How does it drive?

The aforementioned rivals all perform well on the road, but the CR-V should not be discounted in this area. It feels rock-solid, well-built and it’s enjoyable to drive. 

The 1.5-litre turbocharged petrol engine is also found in the Civic small hatch/sedan, but the CR-V gets higher outputs of 140kW and 240Nm. It’s not as sprightly from a standing start as the Civic – it carries nearly 200kg more weight – but it offers plenty of poke for driving enthusiasts.  

Honda no longer sells a diesel CR-V and the hybrid version offered elsewhere is not available here. However, the next-generation CR-V due in a few years will almost certainly have hybrid power.  

On the road, the CR-V maintains its composure thanks to a balanced chassis and well-calibrated suspension tune. It doesn’t feel top-heavy like some SUVs do when cornering, instead remaining planted to the road. The tyres tend to skip when accelerating hard, but it holds corners (even on unsealed roads) remarkably well. It’s much more fun to drive than you’d think for a sensible family SUV.  

The continuously variable transmission driving the front wheels ensures smooth power and torque delivery and lacks the drone of similar transmissions. The steering feels dull and overly mechanical. 

The cabin is well insulated from outside noise, even on coarse chip roads, but the engine is noisy when pushed hard.  

We handed the CR-V back with a fuel use figure of 9.8 litres per 100 kilometres, up on Honda’s claim of 7.3L/100km.  

 


The verdict

Honda’s CR-V is a solid, reliable and spacious SUV. It’s not as fresh as some rivals, but it’s an excellent family car and deserves to be on more shopping lists. 

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Pricing

List price: $37,000 before on-road costs.

Price as tested: $37,000 before on-road costs.

Model range: $31,300-$48,500 before on-road costs.

Drivetrain

1.5-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine, continuously variable transmission, front-wheel drive.

Power: 140kW@5600rpm.

Torque: 240Nm@2000-5000rpm.

Wheels: 235/60 R18.

Fuel

91 RON ULP, 57-litre tank. 

Consumption: 7.3/100km (government test), 9.8L/100km (RACV test).

Emissions: 166g/km CO2 emissions..

Standard safety

Five-star ANCAP rating, autonomous emergency braking, adaptive cruise control with low-speed follow function, forward collision warning, lane keep assist, lane departure warning, driver attention monitor, tyre pressure monitor.

Standard features

Keyless entry and start, power tailgate, cargo blind, seven-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, Bluetooth, Garmin satellite navigation, four USB ports, leather-wrapped steering wheel, two-tone fabric seat trim.

Warranty

Five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty. Five-year/100,000km capped-price servicing. Servicing schedule every 12 months or 10,000km.  

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