BY ANDY ENRIGHT
There's a healthy dose of pragmatism about the Honda CR-V. Honda President Nobuhiko Kawamoto observed that many four-wheel drive vehicles were laden down with off road paraphernalia that most owners never bothered to exploit. Knowing that most 4x4 drivers just appreciated an elevated driving position and chunky good looks, Honda developed the CR-V and launched it to an initially bemused British public in 1997.
Although it is equipped with a proper four wheel drive system, the CR-V sets out to be as car-like as possible to drive and packs in the sort of practical ideas and sheer common sense that was previously the preserve of MPV drivers. The key word here is 'lifestyle'. The CR-V was designed to appeal to those who need a car with the space to accommodate their leisure activities without the geriatric image of an MPV or estate. In a swelling market sector, it seems to have scored a direct hit in this respect.
The CR-V was launched in June 1997 at a time when the 'lifestyle 4x4' sector comprised the Toyota RAV4, Suzuki Vitara, Ford Maverick and Vauxhall Frontera. Since such cars were destined to spend at least 95% of their lives on tarmac, success in this sector was more reliant on looks and image than any rock hopping ability. Originally launched in two guises, the LS and ES automatics, five speed manual gearboxes became available on the cars in October 1997.
Somewhat confusingly, an SE model was introduced in November 1997 only to be withdrawn three months later. An ES Executive model was subsequently launched in 1999 to top the CR-V range. A special edition Camel model was introduced in mid-2000 at the same time as the first British-built CRVs were rolling off the Swindon production lines. The second generation CRV was launched in Spring 2002.
What You Get
The appeal of the CR-V was its versatility, not so much as an axle-deep mud plugger, more in its ability to iron out the occasional gravel track whilst offering car-like amenity on the road. To cater for these diverse needs, the CR-V is equipped with a correspondingly wide range of equipment. All models are fitted with standard air conditioning, power steering, removable picnic table, an accessory socket in the boot and a stereo RDS radio cassette unit. Electric windows, sunroof and mirrors are also standard across the range, as is an immobiliser and a split rear tailgate.
Being mechanically similar the three CR-V models dealt with here, the LS, ES and ES Executive, differ only in levels of equipment fitted. The ES distinguished itself from the base LS by the fitment of alloy wheels, body colour bumpers and mirrors, and hard spare wheel carrier. Roof rails were also standard, as was a micro antenna for the upgraded stereo system.
The ES Executive justified its extra expense with the addition of a 6 disc CD auto-changer and leather upholstery.
What You Pay
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What to Look For
If the rest of the Honda range is anything to judge by, expect the CR-V to be extremely reliable. Check the service book for main dealer service stamps and the CR-V should be a sound buy. One note of caution, however. Despite its rugged appearance and four-wheel drive underpinnings, the CR-V is not geared up for serious off road work. The front and rear overhangs are sufficiently long to ground out if the going gets rough, and the exhaust box is mounted low, so it may be worthwhile to have a good look at the underside to try to ascertain whether the car in question is sporting any unwanted battle scars.
(approx based on a CR-V LS) If you take your CR-V into the grit and end up with a stone flicked through the front headlamp, prepare to fork out £105. A radiator retails for £129 whilst an alternator is £295 and a replacement starter motor will require £203 to obtain. Front brake pads are £50 for a pair and a replacement, whilst an exhaust system costs £324. A replacement catalyst is £390.
On the Road
With its 2.0 litre engine fitted with Honda's VTEC valve technology, the CR-V is reasonably brisk, and reverts to normal front wheel drive operation in normal use, automatically switching to four wheel drive when the going demands it. Specify the car to the hilt with optional showers, fridges and so on, and the edge is taken off the performance, but the CR-V feels lively, if slightly unhappy, when asked to change direction quickly.
Honda's stylists have managed to make what is essentially a rebodied Civic look much larger than it is, and the CR-V shrinks around the driver, leaving only the lofty driving position to betray its off road pretensions. With the emphasis on convenience and ingenuity, Honda have dispensed with the awkward differential locks or second gearsticks that adorn many 4x4s, and have instead included shopping bag hooks, waterproof underfloor compartments. Expect to see around 24mpg at the pumps, a small sacrifice for that additional amenity.
The Honda CR-V cuts through the macho pretension that surrounds many off road vehicles and attempts to make sense of a market sector which is fundamentally nonsensical. Four-wheel drive vehicles which never venture off road may seem a waste of time, but a drive in the CR-V has the ability to convert many a cynic.
It's definitely more of a car than an off-roader, and cuts a trendier dash than most. If a Land Rover Freelander is too ubiquitous and the Toyota RAV-4 a touch Ibiza for your tastes, a Honda CR-V could be right up your lightly rutted street.