First Drive

2018 Honda CR-V review – price, specs and release date

We’ve had an early drive of the new Honda CR-V, which is the first to feature the option of seven seats. Could it be the best large SUV of them all?

Words By John Howell

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Price from Β£25,000 (est) Release date September 2018

Take a peek at Honda’s website and, atop the list of things it makes, there’s a statement: β€˜Dream machines to make you smile.’ Absolutely, if you’re thinking of a new superbike, a thumping great outboard for your slinky new speedboat or a Civic Type R, which is the most smile-inducing hot hatchback of the moment. Yet, let’s face facts: does that statement feel as pertinent for lawn mowers, generators or the CR-V featured here?

Maybe, because there’s a new CR-V in town. Well, sort of. It’s almost in town (UK deliveries are scheduled for September) and almost new (this fifth-generation CR-V has actually been on sale in the US for a year or so now).

And, yes, it looks remarkably similar to the outgoing car. But it's bigger, especially the gap between its front and rear wheels – this should generate more space inside. Also, for the first time, Honda’s large SUV has the option of seven seats, so watch out Skoda Kodiaq, Peugeot 5008 and Volkswagen Tiguan Allspace: the CR-V is just as versatile. Well, on paper, at least.

There’s also a lot more safety kit; considering we’re discussing an SUV capable of carrying your whole family, this can only be a good thing. We don’t know the full specifications yet – these are pre-production vehicles and Honda isn't ready to release all the juicy details – but expect automatic emergency braking, lane-keeping assistance and adaptive cruise control to be standard, with blindspot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert available as options.

Prices haven’t been confirmed, either, but we’ve been given a heads-up that they should be incrementally higher than the current car, starting at around Β£25,000. That’ll be for the entry-level trim, with two-wheel drive and a 171bhp 1.5-litre turbocharged petrol engine, coupled to a six-speed manual gearbox.

If you want an auto 'box with the same engine, it comes with a power boost to 190bhp plus a little extra torque, and will cost roughly Β£2000 more than the equivalent manual. Four-wheel drive will be available, too, commanding an estimated Β£2000 premium over the comparable two-wheel drive model.

β€œAnd what about the diesels,” you ask. Err… there aren’t any. Yep, that’s the big news, folks: Honda has taken the brave step of launching its new large SUV as an unleaded-drinker only, although a petrol-electric hybrid will be joining the range in early 2019.

2018 Honda CR-V on the road

It’s an interesting decision, going petrol only – and a small petrol at that. Yet, with the manual gearbox, it’ll pull you along reasonably well, even in forth and fifth gears if you keep the revs above 2000rpm. Between 3000rpm and the limiter, speed builds steadily and feels relatively lively at the top end; ultimate pace is roughly on a par with a 1.4 TSI 150 Kodiaq or Tiguan Allspace.

That said, this was mainly on flat roads with a maximum of two people in the car. There’s every chance that, with seven on board and a hill to climb, you’ll be cursing the lack of added mid-range whoosh that a diesel option would’ve offered.

Swapping into the automatic version proved that a CVT gearbox isn’t always a terrible thing. You see, CVT 'boxes don’t offer a defined number of gears, like regular autos do; instead, they have one variable gear that works the engine hard and continuously when you demand some accelerative welly. This feature can be jolly annoying, causing the engine to scream away for prolonged periods under load. But, in the CR-V, that extra shove the auto version gets seems enough to keep the revs low for all but the most lead-footed moments.

Admittedly, when it is revving hard, it sounds like you’ve trodden on a dog’s tail; it’s both harsh at points in the rev range and possessed a bark more befitting of a sports car than a wafty SUV. The same applies when you rev the manual version, of course, and you have to put up with its notchy gearchange, too. At least its clutch operates innately, while the brakes on all versions are strong yet progressive. Sadly, road noise is also strong, even at moderate speeds, while wind noise picks up when you hit the motorway.

The ride quality of our pre-production cars is a mixed bag. The two-wheel-drive model, featuring 18in alloy wheels, lacks body composure over small undulations and, as a result, wobbles from side to side annoyingly. It isn't particularly smooth over more abrupt indentations, either. But whether this is a trait of the CR-V or a specific problem with our car, we’ll have to wait and see, because the four-wheel-drive version, with exactly the same wheels and supposedly the same suspension settings, feels better. Firmer, yes, but not noticeably harsher over the sharper stuff, yet demonstrably better damped and therefore calmer the rest of the time. On this evidence, though, the CR-V feels unlikely to match a Tiguan for ride comfort.

And the same is true for handling. Where a Tiguan feels eager to tuck into turns (for a large SUV), the CR-V – with its initially slow steering off centre and conspicuous body lean – is less lithe and keen to change direction. It’s grippy, mind, and the steering improves as you apply more lock, getting quicker as well as heftier.

2018 Honda CR-V interior

If you’re the owner of an old CR-V, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the new model’s uplift in quality. There are more soft-touch surfaces and every car we tried had stitched leather on its door trims, gloss black panels and silver highlights. That said, the number of different materials used, including the naff-looking fake wood veneers, makes it feel like the stylists just couldn’t stop styling. Arguably, the Germans rivals’ more harmonious interior designs are more fetching.

The driving position is very good, though. In left-hand-drive form, the pedals line up nicely with the steering wheel, which itself has a good range of height and reach adjustment. The driver’s seat of the cars we drove comes with height and four-way lumbar adjustment, although it's a pain that the lever that adjusts the backrest angle has only a set number of positions, of which none seems to be the ideal one.

Honda’s 7.0in infotainment system remains an enigma. The haphazard menus are the main cause of befuddlement, although compared with the Civic, which uses a similar unit, there are improvements; rather than having to use touch-sensitive buttons to increase or decrease the stereo's volume, you get a physical control that's far easier to find on the move. Sometimes, old-school methods are the best.

The CR-V is a large SUV and feels typically sizeable up front, in every direction. But what’s most impressive is the amount of space in the rear of the five-seat versions. The doors open wide, so it’s easy to get in and out, and head room, even with a panoramic roof fitted, is superb. Meanwhile, leg room is so good that a six-footer can stretch out; there’s loads of space under the front seats for your feet. And the (almost) flat floor and ample interior width make the CR-V great for seating three abreast.

The seven-seat model is less virtuous. Yes, you get sliding and reclining rear seats, but these sit higher, reducing head room. And the two rearmost seats are only suitable for small kids – a 5008’s third row can seat adults – and when the third row is folded it sits on top of the boot floor. As a result, the boot is much smaller than that of other seven-seat rivals and features an awkward step when the height-adjustable boot floor is at its lowest setting. Again, the five-seat model is better; its boot is a more uniform shape and, while not class-leading, similarly accommodating as a Kodiaq’s.

Next: 2018 Honda CR-V verdict >

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