The public gets what the public wants

January 31 2020
The public gets what the public wants

Second-hand Style, with Richard Cooke

NO, I’m not referring to Brexit or another Tory government (although you’ve got both of them), but instead endless variants on the compact SUV theme. And it was Honda that started it all when they released the CRV back in 1995.

Look around, and you’ll notice that although SUVs are everywhere, they typically aren’t Range Rovers or hulking Audis and BMWs. Instead, what people want and buy in ever-increasing volumes are Japanese and Korean compact facsimiles of more expensive European models.

When we bought our Mazda CX-5, we took a look at the 4th generation CRV that was made at the time in Swindon. Oh dear. I had to check my notes to remember the details of the drive, it was that forgettable. The 2.0 petrol engine was boring, the build quality was no doubt excellent but felt lightweight and the interior…actually, I don’t really remember. Honda had managed to produce a car so anodyne that I’ve wiped it from my mind. So can this 5th generation petrol hybrid model, released in 2017, stick in the brain?

First impressions are that Honda have made the CRV much bigger and, whilst they have, we’re only talking 6cm of length and 4cm of width. The styling is much better than before, with a more vertical and higher grille at the front and a rakish line to the boot that manages to look sleek but remain square set and practical. It looks more American, and I mean that as a compliment.

The CRV is no longer made in Swindon (the plant closes next year), although this is entirely coincidental to the significantly increased perception of quality. Honda have spent serious cash to make the CRV look and feel premium inside, and it works. I’ve sat in SUVs costing twice as much with a cheaper feeling interior.

It also seems like there is lots of room in the back, although this is partly an illusion generated by the acres of headroom. The boot is a really good size, with a very low and convenient load height. Fold the rear seats down and you could fit a washing machine and a tumble dryer in there, should you wish.

Under the bonnet, Honda have fitted their venerable 150hp 2.0 VTEC engine. This motor has consistently failed to impress me in whatever car Honda put it in. Yes, it is utterly reliable, but it lacks torque, character, power and efficiency. So I was pleasantly surprised to find that hooking it up to a couple of batteries has transformed this engineering dullard into a respectable and smooth performer. 0-60 takes about 9 seconds, in-gear pickup is impressive (and, as importantly, quiet) and fuel consumption around 40mpg. This, remember, from a heavy family-orientated SUV with an automatic gearbox.

So far, so good, but what impressed me most about the CRV was the ride. Maybe it was the sheer weight of the beast (1.6 tons!), helped by an engine that felt capable, but more likely it was the excellent suspension. The CRV is simply lovely to cruise around in. The seats are wide but supportive. The handling is on the soft side but never wallows. Whilst you know you’ve been over a pot hole, you don’t actually feel any impact. Remarkable and relaxing.

And the bad news? This CRV has been on sale for just over two years, and the hybrid is the expensive pick. My test car was a 68 plate ‘SE’ model, which sits in the middle of the range and when new would have been around £32k. That means that on the used market, the price of entry is still high. Despite this, don’t be tempted by the previous generation. You’ll forget you own it and it’ll get towed away or, worse still, you’ll drift off at the wheel. Instead, congratulate Honda for putting the original compact SUV back near the top of the pile.

As the old saying goes: "People who like this sort of thing will find that this is just the sort of thing they like." 

What to pay

Honda CRV Hybrid: £25k for a 2018 model with 5k miles