David Motton
Tow Car Editor

See other tow car reviews written by David Motton

Has ditching diesel compromised the Honda CR-V as a tow car? We find out in our comprehensive tow car test.

Overview

This is the fifth-generation of the Honda CR-V - the world's best-selling SUV, according to Honda. There are some big changes with the new car, including the decision to abandon diesel power altogether. That leaves buyers with the choice of a 1.5-litre turbocharged petrol or a petrol electric hybrid. Both are offered with front- or four-wheel drive.

The other big news is the availability of a seven-seat CR-V for the first time.

The question is, has ditching diesel compromised the CR-V as a tow car? Honda argues that it hasn't, and our test car's 2000kg towing limit shows the company has faith in the CR-V's towing ability. But is that faith justified?

Towing

For an SUV of this size, the CR-V is light - Honda quotes a kerb weight ranging from 1501kg to 1523kg for the 1.5T 2WD manual, depending on the exact specification. Working from the lower weight gives an 85% match figure of 1276kg.

We matched the Honda to a Sprite Major 4SB with a Mass in Running Order of 1281kg, and drove an extensive test route of country roads and motorways.

From a standing start the CR-V pulls away quite smartly, but it's soon clear that performance is steady at best. Anyone switching to petrol power will miss the mid-range shove of a good turbodiesel.

There's 162lb ft of torque across a broad spread of the rev range, but that's not a lot when you're pulling 2.8 tonnes of car and caravan. You'll need to ensure the accelerator is close to the floor to build speed with anything approaching urgency.

On the motorway, we often found it necessary to drop to fifth gear to maintain our pace on even slight gradients. On hilly country roads frequent gearshifts are required to stop momentum ebbing away.

The relative weakness of the engine is also apparent when making hill starts. The electronic parking brake held car and caravan still and released without hesitation when pulling away, but on slightly damp Tarmac it was difficult to move off without spinning the front wheels. Once the wheelspin stopped the engine nearly bogged down and acceleration was very slow.

The four-wheel-drive model only costs another £1100 and would surely be a better choice for regular towing, putting its power down more effectively.

After patiently waiting for the Honda to tow up to speed, the car felt stable enough on country roads, taking rough surfaces in its stride. On the motorway, the CR-V was composed in still air, but overtaking high-sided vehicles often caused a nervous side-to-side wobble. The Honda didn't inspire the same confidence at speed as a Mazda CX-5 or a Volkswagen Tiguan.

We stopped off at a campsite during our test and manoeuvred on damp grass. From this we deduced that as long as the driver is gentle and smooth with the controls, the CR-V handles low-speed manoeuvres well. Hitching up was straightforward, helped by the rear-view camera, which gives a clear view of the towball.

The towball on our test car was fixed, with the 13-pin electric socket tucked a little way under the bumper and close enough to make attaching the electrics easy.

We understand that the car market is moving away from diesel power, but we can't help thinking that - for a few more years at least - diesel is still the best choice for caravanners. So, from our perspective, it's a shame there isn't a diesel CR-V, especially as the petrol-electric hybrid can tow only 750kg, ruling it out for pulling all but the lightest micro-caravans.

If you must have a petrol SUV, we've found the likes of the VW Tiguan to be more stable than the Honda.

Everyday driving

We got on better with the CR-V in everyday driving than we did when towing. Without the weight of a caravan to pull, the 1.5-litre petrol's performance is perfectly acceptable. The engine can be a little noisy when worked hard, but it settles into the background once cruising. At 70mph the cabin is reasonably quiet, although less road noise would be welcome.

It's clear that the CR-V has been developed for drivers who value comfort over a sporting drive. If you want sharp steering and nimble handling, look to the BMW X1 or Mazda CX-5. But if you'd rather have a ride that takes the edge off all but the sharpest bumps, and controls that are light and easy to use, the CR-V is for you.

All-round visibility is mostly good, although the thick rear pillars do hinder your view when reversing. That's where the rear-view camera and parking sensors come into play.

Space

This is where the CR-V really starts to make sense. It's an exceptionally roomy car.

In the front, the driver and front seat passenger have plenty of head-and legroom. There's enough adjustment to the seat and steering wheel for drivers of most shapes and sizes to find a supportive and comfortable driving position.

There's a real sense of quality and solidity in the cabin, but the finish of the plastics could be better and, to our eyes, the fake-wood trim does the interior no favours.

You really notice how well packaged the CR-V is when you sit in the second row. The back doors open extremely wide, making it easy to climb in and out or lean in to strap a child in. Head- and legroom are extremely generous, so a passenger of well over six feet tall can sit behind an equally tall driver with room to spare. The transmission tunnel is little more than a bump, which helps accommodate three in the back.

There are two USB ports between the front seats for charging phones or tablets, as well as air vents to guarantee a generous flow of chilled air.

The boot floor can be set to two heights, the higher of which has it flush with the tailgate. With the rear seats upright, the capacity is then 561 litres. That compares well with a Mazda CX-5's 503 litres, although it's less than the VW Tiguan's 615 litres. Dropping the floor to the lower setting increases the total capacity to 1756 litres.

As well as the five-seat model we've tested, there's now a seven-seat CR-V. It's a welcome addition to the range, although it's worth noting that the third row decreases boot space, even when folded away.

Running costs

The CR-V range costs from £25,995. Our two-wheel-drive SE test car is the second-most-affordable model in the range, with a price of £27,855. That compares with £26,320 for the equivalent VW Tiguan, although the Honda has more power and passenger space than the VW.

By petrol standards, the CR-V promises good economy: the official combined figure is 44.8mpg. In everyday driving we hovered around 40mpg and were pleasantly surprised to achieve 27.7mpg on our test route.

SE spec is the second of four trim levels, and comes with satellite navigation, a seven-inch touchscreen, dual-zone climate control, rain-sensing wipers, 18-inch alloy wheels and an automatically dimming rear-view mirror. Safety kit includes front and rear curtain airbags, four front airbags, autonomous emergency braking and a trailer stability assistance system.

When the time comes to sell the car on, resale values should prove reasonable. What Car? predicts the CR-V will be worth 44% of its original price after three years and 36,000 miles. That's broadly in line with predictions for the Skoda Kodiaq and VW Tiguan, but some way off the 54% retained value What Car? predicts for the equivalent Mazda CX-5.

Technical specs

Engine size1498 cc
Kerbweight1501 kg
85% KW1276 kg
Towball limit100 kg
Maximum towing limit2000 kg
Power171.0 bhp
Torque162.0 lb ft
Official MPG44.8 mpg
Towing MPG27.7 mpg
CO2143 g/km

Verdict

As a family SUV, the Honda CR-V sets high standards. There's lots of space inside for passengers and their luggage, plenty of storage space and a host of clever touches that make the car easy to use and simple to live with.

Rear seat space in particular is exceptional, and makes the CR-V a fine choice for tall families. What's more, the generous boot space means there's no need to travel light.

From the driver's seat, the CR-V is easygoing. It's simple to drive, has enough performance to suit most tastes and offers a comfortable ride. It just gets on with the job without causing a frown. If you want an engaging drive, look elsewhere, but you have to admire the CR-V's understated efficiency.

Given the space and practicality the CR-V offers, we think the price is reasonable, and our colleagues on What Car? have found Honda dealers willing to discount if you ask. The official fuel economy figures are reasonable, and we're impressed by the engine's modest thirst while towing.

And yet, in other respects, the CR-V disappoints as a tow car. We don't expect a petrol to pull with the vigour of the best turbo diesel, but even so we found the Honda's performance to be pedestrian at best. The need for frequent gear changes to hold speed becomes tedious after a while. In still air the CR-V is stable, but the car felt a little nervous when passing lorries and coaches.

So, the Honda is a very fine family car, but for regular towing you can buy better.

Conclusion

Pros

  • Pulls away smartly from a standing start
  • Rear-view camera assists with hitching up
  • Excellent legroom

Cons

  • Frequent gearshifts required to stop momentum ebbing away
  • Engine noisy
  • Lacking stability when passing high-sided vehicles