Buyers instinctively look to a diesel model with small 4x4s and the improved fourth generation Honda CR-V is at its best with the economical 1.6 i-DTEC diesel. Jonathan Crouch reports
Ten Second Review
A Honda SUV with a small and efficient diesel engine? It doesn't seem the likeliest thing but here it is; the CR-V 1.6 i-DTEC. The fourth generation CR-V is proving popular with British buyers and a lightweight diesel that can emit as little as 115g/km could prove even more popular still. There's now the option of a pokier 160PS unit with AWD too.
Let's face it, diesel was a dirty word for a long time at Honda. Initially, the brand was convinced that variable valve timing and petrol engines were a combination that was too good to ignore. But people still wanted the economy of diesel, especially those looking at the company's compact SUV CR-V 'soft-roader'. Rather grudgingly, the Japanese maker inserted a 2.2-litre diesel into this model's line-up, but this engine was never clean, economical or refined enough to really cut the mustard. It's only in recent years that Honda has belatedly got with the program. Still, this being Honda, when the corporate brain power is put to work in a committed fashion, the results can be very special indeed.
We saw the results of this thinking shortly after the current fourth generation CR-V arrived on the market with the introduction of the 1.6-litre i-DTEC unit in 120PS form for CR-V buyers. It was - and still is - perfect for this car, clean, economical and with just the right power and torque figures. Unfortunately though, you couldn't have it with the auto gearbox and 4WD options that many customers wanted, these at the launch of the MK model still provided by the thirsty, dirty old 2.2-litre i-DTEC unit. When the time came to substantially improve this generation CR-V in early 2015, Honda moved o rectify this oversight. Out went the older engine and in its place, for buyers needing all-wheel traction and the option of a self-shifter, came the option of a pokier 160PS version of the 1.6 i-DTEC unit. So, there's a straight choice now if you want to fuel this car from the black pump: 120PS and 2WD. Or 160PS and 4WD. How does it all stack up? Let's find out.
If you've got a nagging feeling of deja vu about the 120PS version of this engine, it's because it's already available plugged into the front of a Civic and very good it is too. True, the output doesn't sound a lot to move such a sizeable vehicle but perhaps more relevant is a torque figure of 300Nm which should be more than adequate to get the job done. This entry-level diesel comes only with 2WD in this car and makes 62mph from rest in 11.2s en route to 113mph. You can't have an automatic gearbox at this level.
Previously, that 120PS i-DTEC 1.6 powerplant slotted into the CR-V range below a more powerful 2.2-litre 150PS diesel unit that was set aside for 4WD variants. That bigger engine though, simply couldn't pull its weight when it came to efficiency, so Honda has replaced it with a 160PS version of the 1.6 we're looking at here. This pokier unit comes only with 4WD and a decent slug of pulling power - 350NM of torque. There's also an auto transmission option.
On the move, one of the most impressive things about all diesel CR-V models is the refinement you get, with great care having been taken to achieve a significant reduction in the engine and road noise entering the cabin.
Design and Build
The changes to this improved MK4 model could best be described as a facelift, although Honda has gone further than the usual grille, bumpers and lights. Having said that, this enhanced CR-V does have a revised front grille, smarter bumpers and sleeker lights, the latter featuring LED daytime running lamps. At the rear, the LED combination lamps have been restyled. There are revised 17 and 18-inch alloy wheels designs on offer as well.
The cabin has been tweaked courtesy of a reshaped chrome-effect inlay running the width of the dashboard, and through the use of higher quality materials on key surfaces. The dashboard has been redesigned to allow better visibility and access to the seven-inch touchscreen displaying the Honda Connect system. This CR-V also features a one action fold down rear seat system, with the rear seats featuring a 60/40 split function. With the seats in place you get an excellent 589-litres of luggage space which transforms to 1,648-litres with the seats folded. The load length is up to 1,570 mm, allowing the CR-V to easily swallow two adult mountain bikes (without having to remove the front wheels) or four sets of golf clubs.
Market and Model
There are two main options for CR-V 1.6 i-DTEC diesel buyers - a 120PS powerplant mated to 2WD - that's the one most will choose. Or, for a £2,000 model-for-model premium, a pokier 160PS unit mated to 4WD. The lower-powered variant looks much cheaper because it alone can be ordered with entry-level 'S' trim. Otherwise with both engines, buyers select between 'SE', 'SR' or 'EX' trim levels. At 'SE' grade, you can specify satellite navigation for around £1,200 more if you want it. Otherwise, further up the trim hierarchy, sat nav comes included.
As before, you'll pay a premium of around £1,000 to own a diesel CR-V rather than the equivalent 2.0-litre petrol version. Prices for this 1.6-litre diesel variant have been kept quite competitive, starting at around £23,500 for the 120PS 2WD model in base 'S' trim. This variant is reasonably well equipped, featuring an Intelligent 'i-MID' Multi Info Display, power lumbar support for the driver's seat, Dual Zone Climate Control, cruise control, 17-inch alloy wheels, steering wheel stereo controls, power windows and heated power mirrors, plus daytime running lights, an alarm and immobiliser, USB and iPod auxiliary inputs and one touch folding rear seats. You also get a CD tuner and 4 speaker stereo, Vehicle Stability Assist (VSA), a anti-lock braking system, Electronic Brakeforce Distribution, Brake Assist, Trailer Stability Assist and Hill Start assist to stop you from drifting backwards on uphill junctions.
Cost of Ownership
Let's start with the 120PS 2WD version of this 1.6 i-DTEC CR-V - the one most will probably want. This manages 62.8mpg on the combined cycle and 119g/km of CO2 thanks to standard features like Idle Stop technology that cuts the engine when you don't need it, stuck in traffic or waiting at the lights. The driver can also do their part thanks to Honda's ECON mode (which helps to minimise fuel consumption) and the Eco Assist system (which advises drivers on how their driving style is impacting on fuel economy).
Now let's move further up the range. Getting rid of the old 2.2-litre diesel engine has made 4WD versions of this car look much more efficient. The 160PS 1.6 i-DTEC unit that you'll now find in your CR-V manages 51.4mpg on the combined cycle and 129g/km of CO2 - which is a big improvement of the 153g/km figure that the old 2.2 managed. The fuel economy gives the car a range of around 800 miles on a single tank, while the CO2 figure enables this CR-V to qualify for £0 road tax in year one of ownership, then just £30 a year thereafter. Residual values look set to stack up very well if the last CR-V was anything to go by.
Honda needed this CR-V's 1.6 i-DTEC diesel engine to pull its weight more widely across the range - and in this revised fourth generation model range, it now does. The pokier 160PS version means that this car is now worth another look if you were put off by the poor efficiency figures of the 2.2-litre diesel Honda originally fitted into this MK4 design.
The only slight downside is that buyers of the volume 120PS version of this unit can't get the 4WD and automatic gearbox options that many of them might like. Ultimately, the entry-level version of this car represents an exercise in pragmatism above all. You probably don't actually really need a self-shifter and all-wheel drive in this sector of the market. Plus Honda is banking on the fact that you don't need seven seats either. What you do need is something really well built and desirable but which won't cost the earth. That's exactly the formula the CR-V 1.6 i-DTEC sticks to.