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Honda CR-V 2WD 2.0 SE review (2013 onwards)
The first two-wheel-drive CR-V ticks all the right boxes - and is more affordable for those who don't need the expense of a 4x4.
We like - Space, fluid drive, sense of quality
We don't like - Performance could be marginal when loaded up, rather plain inside.
Here's the thing. The CR-V, in Honda's own words, is "a car that looks like an off-road vehicle but has virtually no off-road ability". You can't get more honest than that. Yet the CR-V is far from alone. There are at least a dozen others out there with similar credentials.
So what better idea than to bring out a version that fully acknowledges that context, with front-wheel-drive instead of the four-wheel-drive of every previous CR-V?
The new 2013 CR-V thus manages to keep close to £20k for the entry model. Not as low as the equivalent Kia, Hyundai or Ssangyong, but then the CR-V has always been slightly more of a car than these.
The fourth generation CR-V will reach customers towards the tail end of 2012, with a style echoing previous model, though lower, sleeker and crucially, more efficient.
As well as the front-wheel-drive petrol model tested here there is a full range of 4x4s, and by the middle of 2013, a new 1.6-litre diesel model that will also sell as a 2WD.
In recent years the big seller has been the 2.2-litre diesel. But the CR-V started life as a petrol model and Honda's fine range of petrol power units means they too take a significant share of the sales.
The cost saving will more than compensate
This 2.0-litre has 155hp, which gives the CR-V a spring in its step if you are prepared to make generous use of the engine rev range. It's very pleasant too, extremely smooth and refined.
The entertainment value of this petrol engine is put into perspective by the diesel though, which offers far great pulling power without the need to change gear as often.
There's a sense that, with a full complement of passengers and luggage, the performance of this version of the CR-V would drop back to being rather pedestrian.
Still, for some that won't be too important, and the saving in purchase price will more than compensate. Instead revel in the quiet nature of the petrol engine, and the car in general, at any speed.
Ride and handling
So how does the loss for four-wheel-drive affect the driving experience? On a tarmac road, you're very unlikely to notice any difference at all. The electric power steering is light and accurate, and the CR-V simply goes where you point it without any fuss whatsoever.
There's an argument that four-wheel-drive will provide better traction in the wet. In extremis that's probably true, though there was no opportunity to evaluate this on the Munich drive.
As good as any normal family hatchback
On the plus side, this CR-V has traction and stability control systems that help make it as good as any normal family hatchback, so we don't reckon there's anything to worry about.
Of course, even though this is no off-roader, if you need to pull a caravan or horsebox out of a muddy field, there will be no substitute for the diesel 4x4.
The ride on any of the new CR-Vs is comfortable. Combined with the low noise levels, it makes the Honda a particularly relaxing car to drive and travel in.
With a lower roofline to give it a sleeker profile, there's the risk that interior space will suffer. Yet Honda says not, because the rear seat cushion has been lowered to compensate.
The side windows are a little lower too, so children should still be able to see out, although they won't peer over the front seats quiet as easily.
Seat comfort is of a high order, soft enough to feel enveloping, but still providing generally good support in all the right places, even on that lower rear seat.
The new CR-V has class-leading space. That's especially true for luggage, where the boot capacity with the rear seats in place is simply enormous. That's helped by the low loading sill and great depth under the parcel shelf.
Seat folding is delightfully simple. One light tug of a lever, in the boot or by a back door, drops the rear headrest, lifts the cushion and folds the backrest down to give an (almost) completely flat floor.
There are a host of options like a three-quarter length non-opening glass roof, leather, power tailgate, satnav, radar cruise control and so on. If you want the full package you'll need to specify a 4x4 version, as the 4x2 is likely to be available only in S and SE specification.
So the CR-V covers all the bases very well. What it doesn't do, as indeed has never done, is give you any sense of a wow factor from the inside. It's all pretty plain and uninspired.
Economy and safety
The official figures for this CR-V promise an average of 39.2mpg. That's 5mpg better than the previous model, helped by improved aerodynamics and by the ECON button on the dashboard.
This optimises the throttle and engine programming for fuel efficiency - it restricts the performance a bit to give you better mpg. It also puts the air conditioning into a less powerful mode.
The same ECON button is available on the diesel versions but it only adjusts that aircon - the rest of the diesel package is already focused on maximum efficiency, reasons Honda.
Yanks the driver's safety belt as a warning
All versions of the CR-V have "Idle Stop" which switches off the engine when the Honda is stationary in traffic then restarts instantly when the accelerator is pressed. It's said to save as much as 5g/km of CO2, bringing the average down to 168 g/km.
There are some clever safety features, including radar that detects you are about it hit the car in front, yanks the driver's safety belt as a warning and then applies the brakes.
It's part of a package that will be standard only on high-level CR-Vs. But reckon on a full five stars in the EuroNCAP safety tests even for this model.
The MSN Cars verdict
The new Honda CR-V could well be a five star car, but not in this form. The performance is left wanting at times and some key features will not be available on these lower specification front-wheel-drive models.
Yet it is still a remarkably good car, sure to appeal greatly to existing CR-V owners as well those considering rival models from BMW and even Range Rover. With a 1.6 diesel due in 2013, there will surely be an answer to the performance issue too.
Need to know
Engine, petrol: 2.0 litre, four cylinder
Engine, diesel: 2.0 litre, four cylinder
Power, hp: 150 - 155
Torque, lb: ft 144 - 262
0-62 mph, secs: 9.7 - 12.3
Top speed, mph: 113 - 118
Mpg, combined: 36.7 - 50.4
CO2, g/km / Tax: 149 - 179 / 23 - 26%
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