Occupying a prominent spot in the highly competitive mid-range SUV market, the Honda CR-V has been a stalwart in showrooms for more than twenty years.
First launched way back in 1997, it has been through a number of reincarnations before the 2021 version was launched. As Honda's best-selling model, there's a lot riding on the design of the new CR-V in terms of ensuring it continues to appeal to a notoriously tricky customer base.
SUV-owners tend to be price-conscious and want a considerable amount of value for every hard-earned dollar they invest in a new car.
As a jack-of-all-trades, an SUV must satisfy the driver's need for comfort, convenience and excellent handling, at the same time as prioritising passenger comfort, a high degree of storage space, and competitive running costs. No pressure there, then!
In order to capture this demanding demographic, the new Honda CR-V needs to compete successfully with prestigious models such as the Mazda CX 5, the Hyundai Tucson, and the indomitable RAV-4.
Here we take a look at the repackaged 2021 CR-V, determining if its fresh add-ons and updates will be sufficient to fend off the competition, or whether this is a dog that might just have had its day.
Initially, many commentators were curious to see whether the Honda CR-V was going to be redesigned, or whether the 2020 version was going to carry on selling, largely unchanged.
What Honda has done is provide some updates and fresh features for 2021, without actually straying that far from the 2020 design. A cynic might argue that the biggest change to the 2021 model is the price hike, and with an additional $2,200 added onto the base model in comparison with the 2020 offering, they may just have a point.
There has been some significant reinvention of the various CR-V models on offer, including the reduction of available models from 2020's seven options, down to six.
Aside from the base model (which benefits from a 2l, 4-cylinder motor), all the others in the series are powered using the impressive 1.5l VTEC turbo. The 2020 1.6l turbo diesel has disappeared.
A seven-seater variant is available for the first time in 2021. The third row of seats aren't the most spacious but are certainly more-than-adequate for shorter journeys.
Minor changes to the bodywork result in a moodier, more sporty vibe, which is likely to appeal to owners who like a car with presence.
The comprehensive suite of Honda sensing driver safety features, once the preserve of only the top models in the series, is now an integral part of all specifications except the base one.
Interior and Exterior Design
As indicated earlier, the exterior of the CR-V has been subtly redefined and updated. Some of the metallic chrome detailing has been swapped up for a more sombre chrome hue. A darker palette adds sophistication and gives the vehicle a slightly meaner, more powerful look. A fresh fin on the rear gives added sportiness, adding curb appeal.
Fresh LED headlights and fog lights don't just update the exterior, they also provide an important safety feature that's a great aid to good driving. Whilst not world's away from the 2020 version, there's enough difference to ensure the 2021 version is as chic and up-to-date as its contemporary counterparts.
Aside from a fresh, 18cm infotainment screen and the option of leather-accented seats in some of the higher-spec models, the CR-V's interior remains largely unchanged from last year: which isn't actually a bad thing!
Honda has a strong reputation for creating high-end interiors for its vehicles, and the CR-V is no exception. A tidy, minimalist layout, coupled with vast amounts of space and a fair degree of comfort (dual-zone climate control, for example), results in a cabin that's a comfortable, appealing place to spend time in.
Drivers comment that acoustic insulation is excellent, with little noise penetrating from the exterior or engine, even when the vehicle is working hard.
The comfort of the seating may be a problem for some - one or two commentators indicated problems after driving over long distances, but this reaction was by no means universal.
Of particular note for larger families, or those that simply want to transport vast amounts of stuff, is the humongous luggage space. Not only can the boot be altered so that it's either easy to load or has an enhanced volume, the back row seats can also be moved forward to increase space without compromising on height.
This results in one of the largest boots that any mid-range SUV possesses. Add in the fact that the back doors open up to ninety degrees (an absolute boon for parents that have to wrestle children into their car seats), and it becomes clear why the CR-V is a firm, family favourite.
The engine used in six out of the seven variants is the advanced, VTEC Turbo 1.5l. Packing plenty of power (140kw) and respectable torque (240Nm), this is a motor that can deliver when it needs to. The base spec (the VTi) uses a 2l 4-cylinder engine, that generates 114kw of power/ 190Nm of torque.
Test drive feedback suggests that whatever is beneath the bonnet is more than enough to cope with both urban driving and packing in the mileage on longer trips.
Purists suggest that it can be a little slow to take off, and, like most other engines, pushing it towards the top of the range can require effort. The middle ranges (which are, after all, where most mileage is put in), benefited from more-than-adequate, sustained power.
Honda has tweaked the handling, adding redesigned rear and front stabiliser bars. This has definitely made an impact on performance, resulting in a vehicle that can be thrown into corners with few ill effects.
Fuel consumption rests at a respectable 7.3l/100km for the petrol turbo engine variant (both 2WD and AWD are quoted as this figure), and 7.6l/100km for the base spec model. Given how important fuel costs are to the average car owner (particularly SUV owners, who tend to really put in some kilometres), the fuel economy this vehicle displays is a powerful selling point.
It's hard to fault the Honda, but if there is an area of relative weakness in this model, the tech is probably it. That's not to say that the tech is sub-standard in any way, but rather that it doesn't stand out in the same way that the car's other features (fuel economy, interior space, handling, for example), do.
The central 17cm infotainment screen is quite small compared with other mid-size SUVs, and the graphics are adequate, rather than overwhelming.
Android Auto and Apple Carplay ensure excellent connectivity, and options such as wireless charging provide a convenient solution for keeping devices live on longer trips. Overall, the tech is good, and certainly more than adequate for the needs of most drivers. That said, if tech is your passion, you may find the CR-V's offering a little pedestrian.
As you would expect from a family-orientated car, the CR-V benefits from a solid, 5-star ANCAP rating. Plenty of fixed safety measures, including ISOFIX anchors for car seats and airbags.
An important improvement from last year (2020) is that the driver sense package, which was originally confined to the higher specs in the series, has now been rolled out across all variations, except the base spec.
The Honda driver sense package consists of a wide variety of electronic safety measures, predominantly aimed at providing advance warning to prevent a collision. Features include: lane keep assist; adoptive cruise control; forward collision warning; lane departure assistance; and autonomous emergency braking (AEB).
All this sounds pretty impressive, but it's important to remember that the average motorist probably won't use any of these features, as they only kick in if abnormal driving habits and/or an imminent threat is detected.
Nice to have, but it's debatable whether they offer significant additional safety for the increase in the purchase price that having these features results in.
The 2021 base spec model (the VTi) starts off at $30,490. In comparison, the top-spec (the VTi-LX) comes in at $47, 490.
Pros and Cons
There's no denying that the Honda CR-V is an extremely strong choice in many respects. Vehicle users have reported no major problems, which is why, perhaps, the differences between the 2020 and the 2021 models are fairly minimal.
Less popular engine choices have been withdrawn, replaced by the 1.6l turbo that does an admirable job. Add-ons which were previously open only to higher spec owners (such as the Honda sense package, or the LED headlights) are now available in all variations except the base spec.
The addition of two extra seats in the third tier of seating enables the CR-V to carry seven, for the first time. A seven-seater SUV is a popular choice - even if the seats aren't used every day (and the third-row seats probably aren't spacious enough for regular, longer journeys to be an attractive proposition), the fact they're there greatly increases the versatility of the vehicle.
Storage is nothing short of exceptional, and care has been taken to consider the SUV audience: the addition of a foot sensor to operate the tailgate, for example, is a fantastic detail that makes the vehicle much more usable. Wide-opening rear doors and the inclusion of a full-size spare wheel are other features that really do add value to the utility of the CR-V, ideal for families that like to camp or travel, and need plenty of kit to do so.
Overall the CR-V really is a very good SUV: a purist might niggle over the relative lack of tech or have a qualm about the poor quality of the rear-view camera. But finding fault with these trivial issues is really missing the point. This is a good, all-round SUV that is great to drive and also benefits from enticingly low road costs.
Probably the main issue with the CR-V is whether the significantly increased price compared with 2020 is really justified. The base model has gone up by more than $2,000. Whilst the top-spec retails at $3,200 more than its 2020 counterpart.
That is a significant increase for what, in totality, are fairly small improvements compared with last year's model. If you are a cost-conscious buyer who wants to extract the most value from every cent of the purchase price that you pay, it may be difficult to justify stumping up the extra dollars for the 2021 CR-V.
Does a fresh bumper and redesigned headlights really justify such a steep rise in cost?
The 2021 Honda CR-V is arguably the strongest mid-size SUV in its class, providing an exceptional level of all-around performance. Whether that makes it worth paying 2021 prices for really comes down to individual preference and priorities.