The suggestion of a 1.6-litre engine in an SUV would have been greeted with a serious frown by most people just a few short years ago.

Honda’s new small 1.6 i-DTEC diesel, launched earlier this year in the Civic, is the first engine to come from the company’s Earth Dreams Technology programme.

The engine itself weighs 47kg less than the 2.2-litre unit and uses a number of measures, such as exceptionally thin cylinder walls and light-weight pistons and connecting rods, to achieve its goals of low internal friction and increased efficiency.

Banking on most people’s interest in the smaller diesel engine coinciding with a focus on economy and lower road tax, the 1.6 i-DTEC is only offered in the CR-V in two-wheel drive form.  The removal of the 4WD drive-train reduces frictional forces and also saves weight, with the 1.6 CR-V coming in at around 116kg lighter than the 4WD 2.2.

The result is a combined cycle economy figure of 62.8 mpg and CO2 emissions from 119 g/km, placing it in VED Band C with a £30 annual road tax bill, although it’s free for the first year.  That makes it cheaper to run than many family hatchbacks, and even during our real-world tests we found an average around the 55 mpg mark easily achievable.

Of course, this economy focus does have a trade-off, with the 1.6 i-DTEC’s 118bhp asking for 1.5 seconds longer to hit 62mph than its larger-engined brother (11.2 seconds vs. 9.7).

In normal driving, however, it’s the engine’s 300Nm of torque that makes the greatest impact.  Below 2,000rpm there’s a modicum of lag, although this is swiftly supplanted by a surge of torque that wouldn’t feel out of place if delivered by a much larger engine.

Around town the little diesel continues to punch above its weight, its smaller capacity really only becoming evident as both speedo and rev counter head towards their outer reaches, while the six-speed manual gearbox – shared with the Civic – always shifts cleanly and smoothly through its ratios.

Engine noise is perhaps a little more noticeable at low revs than it is in the 2.2, with some oil-burning clatter making its way into the cabin, but this quickly dies down when up to speed.

The smaller-engined CR-V is surprisingly comfortable at a high-speed cruise, its ample torque reserves and quiet cabin making it feel flexible and refined.  The suspension quietly goes about its job of smoothing out imperfections, too, and this only adds to its relaxed nature.

In fact, there’s little about the 1.6 CR-V in normal driving to make drivers feel short-changed versus a 2.2.

That said, some buyers will consider four-wheel drive a prerequisite in an SUV, and we’d have liked to have seen it made available at least as an option.  Not only does it provide all-weather surefootedness and a real sense of security, but with some of the engine’s torque distributed to the rear wheels, the steering is less burdened and feel through the wheel improves.  We found it relatively easy to overwhelm the traction control on damp surfaces in low gears, for instance, something that’s less likely to happen in the 4WD models.

However, the typical CR-V hallmarks continue: excellent visibility, good manoeuvrability, and practicality to die for.  Not only does the CR-V feature Honda’s famous Magic Seats – pull a handle mounted in the boot and the rear seat base flips up, the headrest tucks in, and the seat back folds forward, all in one swift movement – but numerous other little touches have been added that make life aboard a CR-V that much easier.

For instance, the doors incorporate not only a slot to hold a bottle of water, but also an extra little cubby hole for change or a mobile phone, while the sunglasses holder in the ceiling doubles-up as a mirror so parents can keep a beady eye on their rear-seat charges.

While features like these might not jump out at you from the pages of a brochure, after spending time living with a CR-V you’ll wonder why all SUVs aren’t like this.

Prices for the new CR-V 1.6 i-DTEC start from £22,800 with even the entry-level S model benefitting from alloy wheels, climate control, cruise control, and DAB digital radio.  The SE adds front and rear parking sensors, rear-view camera, Bluetooth connectivity, and automatic headlights and wipers, while the SR includes HID headlights, part-leather heated seats, bigger 18-inch alloy wheels and privacy glass.

So does that make the 1.6 i-DTEC CR-V the new pick of the range?  If two-wheel drive is realistically all you need, absolutely.

A surprising statement for an SUV with a ‘lowly’ 1.6-litres, perhaps.  But then, this is an engine that punches well above its weight.

Prefer a little more horsepower?  Read our Honda CR-V 2.2 i-DTEC Review.

Base Price £22,800 Price as tested £27,380
Engine 4-cylinder, turbodiesel, 1597cc Transmission Six-speed manual
Power 120ps @ 4,000rpm Torque 300Nm @ 2,000rpm
0-62 11.2 secs Top speed 113 mph
Economy 62.8 mpg CO2 119 g/km
Dimensions 4570 x 2095 x 1650 (LWH) Kerb Weight 1541 kg