The original Honda CR-V was introduced in 1995 with a novel mix of SUV practicality and car-like road manners. While those of a camo-wearing disposition may have sneered at its lack of solid axles and cart springs, those with interests that lie away from spending their weekends up to their waist in mud could see the CR-V for what it was: practical, year-round family transport from a company with a strong engineering background, and it went on to sell more than five million units.

With demand in today’s market for ever more efficient vehicles, Honda responded with the fourth generation CR-V, with a more aerodynamic shape, CO2 emissions reductions of up to 12%, and even the option of two wheel-drive.

The new shape loses the somewhat snouty appearance of the previous model and gains a more rugged look, particularly with the new front grille and headlights. CR-V staples such as the rufty-tufty wheel-arch extensions and the vertical tail lights remain.

The CR-V’s interior has taken a step or two upmarket, with many of the materials chosen specifically for the European market. It’s more spacious, too, with increased headroom and a greater range of adjustment for both seats and steering wheel.

Light floods the interior on top spec models through the panoramic roof, revealing a clean and simple layout to the dashboard. There’s a welcome absence of buttons in here, with easy-to-understand controls for the dual-zone climate system, and a restrained, perhaps even elegant design for the instrumentation.

Honda have managed to do away with the transmission tunnel in the rear of the CR-V, and this creates plenty of foot-room for all three rear-seat passengers.

There’s plenty of boot space, too, and with the rear seats in place, there’s 589 litres to fill with family-related gubbins, rising to 1,648 litres with the seats folded.

The CR-V’s party trick is in the way those rear seats fold. Tug a lever mounted in the boot, and the seats perform a ballet all of their own: the seat base lifts up, the headrest tucks in, and the seat back folds flat in one, swift movement. There’s even a space to stow the cargo cover when it’s not in use. Clever.

Top-spec models benefit from the always-fun-to-play-with power tailgate, while all CR-Vs have a low boot lip and a wide opening to make cramming it with a fortnight’s luggage a doddle.

It’s equally simple to drive, too, with light steering at low speeds and good all-round visibility through the large windows.

Honda say the CR-V’s suspension has been specifically tuned for European markets, with a focus on high-speed stability and refinement. And it is – stable and refined. There are times when body control is sacrificed in the quest for smoothing out surface imperfections, and it’s perhaps not as engaging as it used to be, but that’s more an indication of this new model’s grown-up character. On a long journey, with a child in every seat and a drink in every cup-holder, there are few more willing participants in the act of getting everyone to their destination in a calm and unruffled manner.

A new 1.6-litre diesel engine has recently been launched, and you can read our review of that here: Honda CR-V 1.6 i-DTEC Review.

The rest of the range consists of a 2.0-litre petrol with 155PS and 192Nm and – the pick of the bunch – a 2.2-litre diesel with an almost identical 150PS but a more useful 350Nm of torque. Both are available with either a six-speed manual or a five-speed automatic transmission. The 2.0-litre can be ordered in two wheel-drive form, but with its CO2 emissions of 168 g/km versus the diesel’s 149 g/km, there’s little reason to choose it over its oil-burning counterpart.

Indeed, the diesel-fired CR-V is faster and more economical, sprinting to 62mph in 9.7 seconds (10.0s for the petrol) while recording 50.4mpg on the combined cycle, beating the petrol model’s 39.2mpg.

The 2.2 keeps its dieselness largely confined to the engine bay, with only a slight gruffness under load to give the game away when on the move, although the trademark high-pitched whistle that all Honda 2.2-litre units seem to emit is evident with the window open.

Peak torque arrives at 2,000rpm with a definite shove and, this being a Honda unit, you can rev it if you want to. However, there’s little to be gained by doing so – better to change up early and surf the wave of torque.

The gearbox is a happy participant in this as a driving style, and although the dash-mounted lever can issue a few clunking noises, the movement through the gate remains smooth. The ratios are well-chosen, too.

A shift indicator in the instrument pack politely coaches you in the art of driving economically, and doing so causes the outer rim of the speedo to glow a subtle green colour as a reward.

Further environmental friendliness can be engaged with the Econ Mode, which recalibrates the throttle response for a softer power delivery, and allows the climate control to exercise a degree of flexibility as to when to run the air conditioning compressor in order to save fuel.

All manual models have start/stop to cut the engine when waiting at traffic lights.

If you’re heading away from suburbia and into the wilderness, you won’t need to press any buttons or fiddle with any levers. The CR-V’s four wheel-drive system is entirely automatic, and uses an electronically-controlled multi-plate clutch to engage drive to the rear axle when necessary. The system replaces the hydraulically-activated system of the previous generation, and is now much faster to react to slippery conditions. It’s intelligent enough to deploy traction to the rear wheels when setting off on a slope, and works in conjunction with the Hill Start Assist to avoid any embarrassing rearward slides.

While you might not see many CR-V’s leaping over boulders or descending down a cliff-face, if you’ve parked in the middle of a soggy field at a festival immediately prior to a monsoon, you should have no difficulty driving back out.

The Honda CR-V range is split into four trim levels – S, SE, SR and EX. The entry-level S features 17-inch alloy wheels, cruise control, climate control, 4-speaker stereo with USB/iPod ports and the requisite number of electro-safety toys such as ABS, Hill Start Assist, Vehicle Stability Assist, etc.

The SE adds automatic headlights, wipers and dipping rear-view mirror, front and rear parking sensors plus a rear-view parking camera, electrically folding door mirrors, front fog-lights, Bluetooth, a couple of extra speakers and an alarm.

SR models get a further stereo upgrade, plus part-leather heated front seats with lumbar adjustment, ambient lighting, privacy glass, HID headlights, and 18-inch alloy wheels.

The top-of-the-range EX adds keyless entry, electric driver’s seat with memory, full leather interior, power tailgate, panoramic glass roof and satellite navigation.

Prices start at £21,735 for the 2.0-litre 2WD S and rise to £31,555 for the 2.2-litre EX.

The CR-V has been something of a success story, both for Honda, having recorded five million sales, but also for Britain, where it’s now built. The new CR-V takes the formula proven by its forebears and adds a new string to its bow – efficiency – while at the same time, maturing the overall package into something that’s likely to appeal to a wider audience.

If you’ve got a family and a penchant for long-distance touring and camping holidays, there are few vehicles that offer such a broad spread of versatility. Perhaps that’s what the ‘V’ stands for in CR-V.

Alex Kefford

Editor

Freelance journalist, ex-offroad driving instructor and long distance road-tripper. If you have any questions about this piece, feel free to hit me up on Twitter.