Honda’s renowned CR-V is nothing new to the South African market, so you may be wondering why you’re reading about it here, now. Well, the CR-V went for some minor cosmetic surgery at the end of 2009, and the results have been spectacular. It was the new 2.2 i-DTEC Automatic we were given to sample, and it really was superb!

First you might be wondering where this surgery took place, because it’s really difficult (in typical Honda tradition) to spot the changes. A more aerodynamic front bumper and reptilian face combination make the 2010 CR-V a lot more aggressive, and add to a sense of “just move out of my way” when driving. At the rear, you’d be a hard pressed to spot the changes, but with full colour-coding on petrol and diesel Executive models, the CR-V now appears more classy and upmarket. Inside, Honda presents a new centre console layout, with a fresh design for the audio controls.

Thankfully a rudimentary on-board computer display has been upgraded to a stylish full LCD display, with the usual figures for speed, fuel consumption, fuel range and trip time being available, alongside two trip odometers, an economy gauge and all-round seatbelt usage indicators. The addition of a satellite information and selection button set on the steering wheel makes scrolling through the various screens easy.

As one has become accustomed to with the Hondas of today, there is an unbelievable amount of kit available in the CR-V, all of which is standard, and in the case of the i-DTEC diesel I drove, there is not one single option on any sort of list (okay, the petrol Executive models have an 18-inch wheel option – but that’s it).

Giving the CR-V something of an edge over competitors, standard features include (take a deep breath):

Parking sensors front and rear; light-sensing xenon headlights with washers; rain-sensing wipers with auto-on for the rear wiper when in reverse; an auto-tilting reverse mirror (the passenger side mirror tilts down when in reverse); an auto-dimming rear-view mirror; cruise control; satellite audio controls; a six-CD in-dash changer coupled to six speakers and a subwoofer; a USB and iPod connection; heated front seats; an electrically adjustable driver’s seat; a sunglasses holder with “conversation mirror”; eight cup holders; a sunroof; and a double-deck cargo shelf and a full leather interior.

Whew! Couple all that to reclining, sliding and two-way folding rear seats and six airbags, and the only thing left for you to ask is “how much”?

With high-riding butch off-roader looks, you might wonder how the CR-V will fare off road. And perhaps this is the car’s best-hidden talent. Sporting fully automated real-time four-wheel drive (rather than a set of buttons and mechanical wizardry like the Suzuki Jimny featured last month), the CR-V is a soft-roader rather than something you would consider to tackle the Dakar. You can’t switch between 2- and 4-wheel drive modes, and locking differentials of any sort are nowhere to be seen.

But the way CR-V handles steep inclines, sand, mud and the twistiest of the axle-twisters, is incredible. Coupled to Honda’s VSA (Vehicle Stability Assist) system, which can be manually deactivated when necessary, it’s simply a case of knowing how to navigate a serious off-road course, putting the car into Drive and showing off to those friends of yours who thought you’d get stuck! Honda offers a free half-day training course with every new CR-V, and I highly recommend it. It’s one way to find out what your car can do and, at the end of the day, it’s only a little mud.

Back on bituminised tarmac, the CR-V is not your average fat-tyred, roly-poly SUV. Ride comfort is excellent, with a great balance between comfort and sure-footed handling. Thick sidewalls on the standard Continental tyres aid in shock absorption, and damper rebound is just enough – not too much that a bumpy road loosens your teeth, and not too little that you forget you’re in a car.

High-speed cornering is something most people shy away from in SUVs like the CR-V. The thought of rolling a car is of course a very valid concern, but not with this one. I had the rare opportunity to drive the CR-V around a purpose-built handling test track to see just how well it tackles a racy environment, and even though the tyres were under-pressured pukka off-road Yokohamas and the CR-V in question was riding higher than usual thanks to longer springs, it felt solid, never once making me feel nervous during full-bore cornering. With a top speed of just under 200 km/h, it’s nice to know you’ll be safe at any speed.

Engines in the revised range remain largely unchanged, with the same 2.4-litre 4-cylinder i-VTEC petrol engine (122 kW and 220 Nm) reporting for duty in Elegance and Executive models. Diesel Executive models are now bestowed with the award-winning 2.2-litre 4-cylinder i-DTEC motor (110 kW and 350 Nm, all of which is available from 2000 rpm), which amazes in many ways – the best bits being that it is unbelievably quiet for a diesel, and not a single puff of black smoke comes out the back. The introduction of a 5-speed automatic gearbox to diesel models now means you can enjoy all that torque through seamless shifts and absolute driving comfort. Couple this to average fuel consumption of only 7.5 l/100km and you’ll be saving money long-term.

At R435 400 for the range-topping i-DTEC Executive automatic, the CR-V appears a bit heavy on the wallet, but once all the standard features are taken into account, it shines as an extremely good value-for-money package, and definitely a vehicle you should consider if you’re in the market for a soft-roader with personality. And it’s a Honda, which if you know anything about cars, means reliability and satisfaction – a long list of various accolades is testament to Honda’s seemingly unbeatable reputation. Does the CR-V put a smile on my face? Yes. One of those sly little grins you get when you know you’ve just out-smarted your neighbours…

Thanks to Honda Auto Melrose for supplying the test vehicle.

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