Honda gets back in the SUV game


As Honda New Zealand launches its latest version of the CRV, it may be singing Simple Minds' Don't You Forget About Me.

When the company first launched the light SUV here in the mid-90s, its only competitors were Toyota's RAV4, the Daihatsu Feroza and Suzuki's Vitara.

Now there are nearly 40 similar vehicles in an ever-increasing segment.

Honda HQ also faced production nightmares in the past year - Japan's tsunami halted output and then its Thai factory was flooded, sitting under 2m of water, and had to be rebuilt.

For nearly 12 months the company hasn't had any stock to sell here but, according to Honda NZ's head of marketing, Graeme Meyer, CRV owners are a patient bunch and instead of heading to the opposition, have waited for the fourth generation of the SUV. There are two models currently available - the 2-litre, 2WD CRV S (priced at $39,900) and the luxury 2.4-litre, 4WD CRV Sport ($48,900), both with five-speed auto transmission.

The company is aiming for 700 sales in the next 12 months (with equal parts 2WD and 4WD sales), and 60 per cent of CRVs are purchased for fleet use, so expect to see them being driven by tourists as rental companies nab them.

The new version remains faithful to its DNA - with the main noticeable exterior change being the pointed, aggressive rear with the brake lights started at the rear spoiler and following the bodyline at a strong angle.

Inside, the vehicle gains a muted, more sophisticated feel plus increased technology in the form of its iMiD system that controls the audio display and your phone with integrated steering wheel commands.

Under the bonnet, the CRV Sport's 2.4-litre engine has been redeveloped and, according to Honda, delivers a 12 per cent improvement in power - a total of 140kW and 222Nm torque. The engine gives you 13 per cent improvement in fuel economy, achieving 8.7 litres per 100km.

The new 2-litre engine delivers power of 11kW and 190Nm of toque with fuel economy of 7.3l/100km - around the same as a mid-size hatchback.

The fuel economy across the two models is due in part to Honda's ECON mode - as the letters suggest, an economy drive switch.

This new CRV sits lower to the ground than previous models, giving a more car-like drive, which was noticeable at the New Zealand launch last week. It handles corners at speed with ease and stability while, thanks to the slimmer A-pillar, driver vision is clearer.

Honda has added fancy fold-away seats for both models. With one touch, via either a button in the boot or a tab by the side of the squabs, the seats fold down and back to give a huge, flat space. It provides 1669 litres of cargo space - enough room for two mountain bikes to stand upright.

The Sport version has a sunroof, leather seats and gear paddles on the steering wheel, while both CRVs have reversing cameras.

As a former CRV owner I have to admit that although this latest model has a more sophisticated feel, I do miss dinky features of previous models: the boot base that turned into a table, and the fold-down table between the front seats.

- Hamilton News

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