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Honda CR-V Sport NT

 

The CR-V is an old favourite that’s gained some very new driver-assistance technology. We put its new tricks to the test.

Base price: $54,900.

Powertrain and performance: 2.4-litre petrol four, 140kW/222Nm, 5-speed automatic, four-wheel drive, ADR economy 8.7 litres per 100km.

Vital statistics: 4624mm long, 1429mm high, 000mm wheelbase, luggage capacity 495-1500 litres, fuel tank 57 litres, 19-inch alloy wheels on 000/00 tyres.

We like: High-tech active safety features, outstanding interior packaging.

We don’t like: Turgid powertrain, chrome-tastic exterior won’t appeal to all.

How it rates: 7/10

WHAT DO I NEED TO KNOW? Talk about a fall from grace. Honda pioneered the compact-crossover segment 20 years ago with the CR-V and it’s now arguably the most important automotive and well-populated automotive genre in New Zealand.

But a distinct lack of development in the last few years has meant the CR-V has failed to keep pace with an ever-expanding group of rivals. Generations one through three were groundbreaking in their own ways, but the fourth-gen version was already behind the game when it was launched in 2012 – not surprising given that the platform was a clever revamp of the previous car, rather than all-new.

This 2015 upgrade for the CR-V is an attempt to claw back some of that lost ground. Never mind the mild styling changes: the real news is the cutting-edge driver-assistance technology fitted to the flagship CR-V Sport NT.

WHAT’S IT LIKE TO DRIVE? There are no major changes to the CR-V powertrain and the engine/transmission combination remains the car’s weakest point. Even with the 2.4-litre powerplant fitted to the 4WD model (front-drive versions get a 2.0-litre) it’s an underwhelming performer, partly due to a paucity of torque and partly due to the five-speed automatic gearbox, which is well out of step with the six-speed transmissions used by most rivals.

The chassis is still a strong point, especially with changes made to give the steering more substance in the upgraded model. The four-wheel drive system is an on-demand affair which only sends torque to the rear when the front wheels start to slip, but it’s quick to react and provides a good balance between the fuel economy of a pure front-driver (which it is in normal circumstances) and the traction of an all-wheel drive machine on loose surfaces.

The Sport NT is absolutely loaded with driver-assistance technology (borrowed from the Accord sedan), which finally gives Honda a unique selling proposition in this segment. All models have the novel Lane Watch camera, which puts a fisheye view of the left-hand lane in the central screen whenever you indicate to change lanes or turn: sounds odd, but in practice it’s a really useful system.

The NT also features navigation (that’s the ‘N’) and extra technology (yep, the ‘T’) including adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning and Lane Keep Assist System (LKAS), which includes a self-steering function that can help keep you within the white lines.

Continuous development of these systems must be happening because the adaptive cruise is noticeably smoother in the CR-V than the Accord: the tendency to accelerate too hard and/or brake too sharply while the system is active have been greatly reduced. It’s still not as smooth as similar technology by Mercedes-Benz, but it’s getting better.

However, it’s a shame that the adaptive cruise highlights the shortcomings of the powertrain: when the car automatically slows for traffic ahead and then has to accelerate again, particularly from low speed or up hills, the engine and five-speed transmission can struggle to find the right gear to build up momentum again.

The CR-V also has a collision warning system, which can detect when you’re approaching another vehicle too fast: it will provide a visual warning first, then an audible one, and finally put a vibration through the driver’s seat before applying emergency braking.

IS IT EASY TO LIVE WITH? The amount of hard plastic in the cabin confirms that this car was developed at a time when Honda was keeping a painfully close eye on the budget. But still, it’s beautifully put together and the controls are nicely intuitive.

The dashboard is dominated by a central speedometer, but with a neat digital display in the middle that switches between a number of real-time functions, including LKAS operation.

The central touch screen is the conduit for the major cabin features and it’s easy to use once you figure out that the menu shortcut operates different functions depending on what’s up on the main screen. There’s a secondary screen higher up on the centre console that can be cycled through audio, trip computer and clock functions.

Luxury touches abound in the Sport NT, which has leather upholstery, heated power-adjustable front chairs with two-position memory for the driver, full-auto operation for all four windows and an auto-diming rearvision mirror.

Some of the attention to detail is impressive. The side mirrors dip when reverse is selected and the rear parking camera can be set to three different views.

Packaging remains Honda’s forte. The interior is spacious for passengers but its real party trick is the folding rear-seat mechanism. The squabs are hinged with very solid looking struts and linked to the backrest, so that when you release the former the latter is ready to fold. The CR-V’s flat floor means there is a truly cavernous loadspace available: up to 1800 litres, with a low lip and tall roof.

SHOULD I BUY ONE? The CR-V is still a disappointing drive: a decent chassis hampered by an average powertrain, and still no diesel-engine option to take up the torque challenge.

But the extra equipment of the Sport NT has improved the CR-V’s prospects as an ownership experience. There is no shortage of choice in this segment and a great many talented competitors, but the Honda can now at least lay claim to the latest active safety technology – not to mention a few luxury touches to sweeten the deal.

EQUIPMENT CHECKLIST

  • Blind spot warning: Left-side camera display
  • Lane guidance: Yes
  • Cruise control: Adaptive with switchable steering assist
  • Automatic lights/wipers: Yes/yes
  • Parking radar: Front and rear with camera
  • Self-parking technology: No
  • Head-up display: No
  • Satellite navigation: Yes
  • Keyless entry/start: Yes/Yes
  • Stop-start: No
  • Air conditioning: Dual climate
  • Heated/ventilated seats: Yes/No
  • Power seat adjustment/memory: Yes/Yes
  • Leather upholstery: Yes
  • Power boot or tailgate: No
  • Split/folding rear seats: 60/40

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