Blame Toyota for the CR-V. The world’s third largest car maker understood exactly what urbanites wanted when they created the RAV-4. A monocoque, all-wheel drive machine that looked like an off-roader and drove like a car. The world refused to call the RAV-4 a poseur; instead people bought it in huge numbers, forcing many other car makers, including Honda, to follow suit.
Who doesn’t like to have an SUV image? Isn’t it nice to be labelled an outdoors person who loves to drive up mountains on Sunday mornings? The guy who loves to defy death by doing silly things like jumping from planes and bridges – trusting small chutes and chords to save his life? The man who has encountered his share of waterfalls while rafting down rapids? So what if in reality you are a workaholic who drinks so much on Saturday nights that the first thing you do on a Sunday morning is try and find home? In all probability, the only thing you jump are queues, and rapids to you are an even more insane form of chess that V Anand plays when he is bored.
Motoring journalists around the world have a nice word for 4X4 and AWD machines that have more car chromosomes than SUV genes. Machines that prefer tarmac to slush and supermarket parking lots to jungle lodges are ‘soft roaders.’ True, to their credit, their all-wheel drive machinery make them a better bet through rough weather and on gravel roads, but trying stunts like crossing deserts and riverbeds will be asking for trouble.
While you are at it, is it necessary to haul around a two ton Hummer or lesser 4X4s that offer a rough ride even on billiards
table-smooth tarmac? Like the original RAV 4, the Honda CR-V is a handsome and even practical lifestyle accessory. Let us get closer.
The most important thing about the way the new CR-V looks is that it does not put on airs. Yes, it does wear the spare wheel on its tailgate, but that is all the SUV talk it does. It is a whole lot of sheet metal and glass and looks even bigger when painted brilliant white. The creased-down bonnet, the smart, Honda corporate grille and the tall headlamp fixtures give it a suave look. There is enough matte black plastic running around the car to give relief from the painted mass – below the doors and around wheel arches, they do a good job of preventing paint from chipping. The signature CR-V touch is tail lamps that run the length of the D-pillars – some like it, some, like me, detest the idea of carrying x-mass trees around, however safe they make the car. Polished alloys wear touring rubber, and clearly state the CR-Vs preference for tarmac toast over mud sandwich.
At your CRVice
The CR-V is a big seller in the American markets and I have enough reason to believe they designed it with the help of, you guessed it, Americans. In all probability by young students who passed out of design colleges and are not scared to do things a bit differently. For example, the autobox lever on the fascia is er... different, and so is the oddball position for the hand brake (take a look at the pic). Then are those oh-so-modern looking push dials for air-con settings (like in the Grand Vitara) that work well, but may not stand abuse. The rest of the fare is traditional, with large, easy to read dials and a proper four spoke steering wheel. Compared to say, the interior treatment of the Chevrolet Forester, the CR-V is a bit gimmicky and cramped (it is a perfect four seater and thankfully, there are no jump seats planned) and hence a disappointment, but it gets full marks for fit and finish and the quality of materials used.
Jacques Villeneuve may not agree, but Honda makes some of the best engines in the world and the 1972 CC DOHC I-VTEC unit, with the now famous PGM-F1 fuel injection system, that delivers 142 bhp is as brilliant as the bigger (but only as powerful) motor that propels the new Indian-built Accord (see first drive elsewhere in this issue). It is silent, and revs its heart out when pushed and returns 11 kpl (we are yet to subject the CR-V to a complete road test) which means decent fuel savings too. I drove the car on a fast, straight road and that helped me push the speedo-needle to the other side of 150 kph once. The refinement of this four cylinder unit is soon going to be lore amongst SUV owners in India. It can accelerate in a hurry (0-60 in 6 seconds and 100 kph in 11.5 seconds) for an SUV and its overall light build ensures that it feels nimble and agile all the way. There is virtually no engine noise intruding the acoustically brilliant cabin, and as far as wind and tyre noise go, the CR-V might just beat its more civilian cousin, the Accord, in its own game. Remember, most of the time the I-VTEC motor sends power to the front wheels via the ‘Real time 4WD,’ and the result is, on smooth roads, the CR-V behaves more like a car than anything else. Yup, Honda engineers might just have worked that much harder in civilising the CR-V and they might just have created an SUV that is more refined than many cars that we know.
In the brief drive that I managed, I couldn’t subject the CR-V through a slalom run, or for that matter, any serious corners, but it does seem like Honda has dialled in sedan-like handling into this machine. The precisely weighted steering urges you to push the car into corners and fast sweepers are dismissed with the accelerator nailed all the way down. If you are used to body on chassis SUVs that require a detailed lift-off, shed speed, and accelerate regimen to go around anything more bent than a banana, you will appreciate the CR-V even more. The all-independent suspension works around double wishbones and coil springs all around, with wheel articu-lation limited to handle the occasional pothole rather than the Norongoro crater. Don’t worry, ride height is clear enough to handle the deadliest of speed-breakers and even when you hit one at speed, the CR-V regains composure quickly to set you back on course. Progressive, sure-footed braking, despite its 1531 kg bulk is another impressive feature of this machine.
The CR-V, apart from the BMW X5, is arguably is the most refined SUV I have driven in a long, long time. What it isn’t capable of is real mud-plugging. The sophisticated all-wheel drive system will take you through rain, snow, gravel, bad and rocky terrain but it wouldn’t be of much use when you get stuck in slush or sand. The CR-V lacks low ratio gears and that makes it a less capable off-roader than even the Chevrolet Forester. We did try getting the car out of some serious rubble and check whether the torque split can handle such situations, only to find the wheels spinning hard. This Honda loves tarmac a bit too much and that is where it belongs. Makes stupendous sense if you want the SUV image but would never risk a Rs 15 lakh-plus automobile in quick sand or slush. Look at it this way, those who have spent much more money on serious sofa-cum-off-roaders are never going to do any off-roading in any case, and will struggle with those ill-mannered beasts on normal roads. While with the CR-V, you have the dynamics and hence the safety of a road car. And that makes it a thinking man’s D-segment choice, over all those big, boring sedans around.
Sure, the image is good and car companies have understood man’s obsession for that added inch. Like denim, the good old working-class truck has made the transformation to a fashion statement. A brilliant way to lie to the world.