David Motton

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It's reliable, roomy and well specced, but now we want to see what tow car talent this four-wheel drive Honda CR-V has – read our expert's review

Overview

Here we are testing the 158bhp version of the 1.6 fitted to Honda CR-V 4x4s in place of the old 2.2-litre engine.

It promises enough punch for towing duties without pushing up fuel consumption too much. In SR spec (one down from the top model), this CR-V costs £30,625.

We want to find out what tow car ability this CR-V variant has, and if it can comfortably tow a mid-sized family caravan. We’re looking for a turn of speed and the stability to go with it. As well as good towing manners, we’re expecting the Honda to underline its credentials as an extremely practical family SUV, with lots of space.

Towing

Honda quotes a range of kerbweights for this model. Taking the higher end of the range and adding 75kg for the driver, which isn’t included in Honda’s published figures, gives a weight of 1793kg. That gives an 85% match figure, as usually recommended for safe and stable towing, of 1524kg.

Both major caravanning clubs advise that matches of up to 100% of the kerbweight are acceptable for experienced tow car drivers. Anyone who does want to tow close to the kerbweight will still be well within the 2000kg legal towing limit; cars fitted with an automatic gearbox have a much lower legal maximum of just 1500kg.

We matched the Honda to a Swift Elegance 570 with a Mass in Running Order of 1544kg. Towing a caravan weighing more than 1.5 tonnes with a 1.6-litre engine may seem like asking for trouble, but Honda’s i-DTEC has outputs to rival most 2.0-litre diesels. There’s 160PS (158bhp) at the top of the rev range, but it’s torque that really matters when towing. The Honda has 258lb ft delivered at 2000rpm, enough to pull a mid-sized tourer confidently as long as you don’t let the revs drop too low.

Accelerating from 30-60mph, as you might when joining the motorway, took 15.4 seconds. Some more powerful rivals, such as the 175PS Mazda CX-5, will pull more strongly and overtake more decisively, but there’s enough poke to comfortably keep up with the ebb and flow of traffic while towing.

Once up to speed, stability is good. On calm days, the Honda CR-V simply goes where the driver points it with the van following. If the wind picks up, though, the CR-V isn’t as composed as the very best SUVs. Ride comfort suffers a bit with a caravan in tow, because the extra weight compresses the rear suspension so the springs don’t have much left to cope with road bumps.

The last time we drove a CR-V was at the Tow Car Awards, when it struggled with the lane-change test on a dry test track. Wet weather meant that we tackled the same manoeuvre at lower speeds this time around. Although there was some pushing and shoving from the caravan, we were impressed by how well the Honda’s Michelin tyres cleared water from the road surface and found grip in such miserable conditions.

The Honda’s 30-0mph stopping distance of 12m is acceptable given the wet road. We never had cause to doubt the CR-V’s brakes in normal towing.

Unlike some rivals, the Honda CR-V still has a conventional handbrake. It held car and caravan still on a 1-in-10 slope with no need to yank the lever hard. The CR-V pulled to the top of the slope without fuss, although tackling the same gradient in reverse did cause a slight hot smell from the clutch.

The CR-V is competent, but one or two rivals offer extra punch or feel that bit more stable at speed.

Everyday driving

‘Competent’ is a good word to describe the CR-V as a solo drive as well. It does little wrong, but it has no outstanding strengths.

The 1.6-litre engine provides determined acceleration, although it doesn’t have the punch of the 2.2-litre in the Mazda CX-5. It’s clattery when you start and can sound strained at high revs, but it settles into the background once cruising.

The ride is composed on smooth roads, but the CR-V can fidget and fuss over rough ones.

On twisting roads the Honda claws the surface and handles tidily. The steering is numb, though, and the driving experience is short on involvement. That’s fine if you just want it to get you from A to B without fuss but, if you enjoy driving, a BMW X3 or Mazda CX-5 has more to offer.

The high back and thick rear pillars restrict the driver’s view for reverse parking, but the SR has a rear-view camera and front and rear parking sensors as standard. The controls are all light and smooth enough to make low-speed manoeuvres easy.

There’s nothing annoying about the CR-V solo, but there’s nothing very exciting either.

Space

This is where the Honda really starts to shine. We’d struggle to name a more practical five-seat family SUV.

The driver and front seat passenger have plenty of space, and the wide range of adjustment for the seat and steering wheel let the driver get comfortable.

The strip of polished metal stretching across the dashboard is a nice touch, but the cabin design majors on function rather than style. The gear lever sprouts from the dashboard, putting it close to hand and freeing up space between the front seats for cupholders and storage. The door bins are a generous size, too.

It’s the rear of the cabin that really shows how well Honda understands the demands of family motoring. The rear doors open to almost 90 degrees, which gives parents the room to lift a child in or out of a car seat. There’s loads of head and legroom, too, and the window line doesn’t slope upwards much, so large windows give a clear view out.

Air vents between the front seats blow chilled air at those in the back, and the almost flat floor means there’s ample room for everyone’s feet, even when there are three in the rear.

Boot space is also impressive. Despite this CR-V being a 4x4, the floor sits low to the ground, so loading heavy bags shouldn’t be a strain. Levers on either side of the tailgate make folding the seats a breeze. The mechanism springs the seat base forward and out of the way, then folds the back down. This leaves only a slight slope to the floor.

The Honda doesn’t offer the option of seven seats as the Nissan X-Trail does, but otherwise there’s little to complain about.

Running costs

In SR trim, the CR-V costs £30,625. That’s not cheap, but according to What Car?’s research, gentle persuasion should drop that to £28,438.

Your money buys a long list of standard equipment: leather-and-Alcantara upholstery, dual-zone climate control, cruise control, front and rear parking sensors, a rear-view camera, a 7in touch screen with sat-nav, a DAB digital radio and Bluetooth connectivity.

Safety kit includes Vehicle Stability Assist, Trailer Stability Assist, Hill Start Assist, a Tyre-Deflation Warning System, and a City-Brake Active System, which warns the driver when there’s a risk of a low-speed collision and can apply the brakes if needed. Driver, passenger, side and curtain airbags are fitted, and the CR-V scored five out of five for overall safety when it was tested by Euro NCAP in 2013.

Reliability should be a given, thanks to Honda’s well-deserved reputation for building durable, niggle-free cars. If anything does go wrong, the CR-V has a three-year, 90,000-mile mechanical warranty. If you keep your cars for longer than three years, the cover can be extended at extra cost, but the likes of Hyundai, Kia and Toyota all offer longer warranties as standard.

It is affordable to run, with an official combined fuel economy figure of 55.4mpg. We saw 26.9mpg towing on a mix of A-roads and motorways.

When the time comes to sell on the CR-V, it should be worth 48% of the original price. That’s a respectable return for a car with a mainstream badge.

Reliability, healthy resale values and a long kit list make the CR-V a very sensible buy.

Technical specs

Engine size1597 cc
Kerbweight1793 kg
85% KW1524 kg
Towball limit100 kg
Maximum towing limit2000 kg
Power158.0 bhp
Torque258.0 lb ft
Official MPG55.4 mpg
CO2133 g/km
30-60mph15.4 seconds
30-0mph12 m

Verdict

The Honda CR-V may not be easy to get excited about, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t buy one because it has a lot going for it as a family car.

Its biggest strength is the cabin. There’s lots of space and it is packed with useful features. We love the way the doors open unusually wide, the large glass area, and the generous rear legroom. There’s ample storage space for odds and ends, too.

The boot space puts most rivals’ to shame. There’s more room for bags in the CR-V than in some estate cars. Extending it is easy, too, thanks to a clever mechanism for folding the seats.

It’s a sensible car as well as a practical one. The 1.6-litre engine is more fuel-efficient than the old 2.2. Honda being Honda, there’s little chance of anything going wrong, and, after three years, it should be worth almost half the original price.

As a driving machine, though, the CR-V is OK but not great. The ride is acceptable but you wouldn’t call it supple; cornering is tidy but you wouldn’t call it fun. It just gets on with the job without being exceptional.

It’s a similar story when towing. We’d be content to tow long distances with the CR-V, but it wouldn’t be our first choice. It’s solid and secure in still air but not as stable as the best mid-sized SUVs on a breezy day. The 1.6-litre engine is strong enough to pull a suitably matched tourer, but rivals offer more decisive overtaking.

Still, if space, practicality and reliability are your top priorities, the CR-V is for you.

Conclusion

Pros

  • A competent car, with or without a caravan
  • Rear seat accommodation is impressive
  • Boot space is generous
  • The CR-V comes with a good level of kit

Cons

  • Rivals are more stable when towing
  • The ride suffers when you're towing
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