Road test: 2017 Honda CR-V

The unit-shifting compact SUV is designed to please, not wow.

The fifth-generation Honda CR-V on the road in Ras Al Khaimah. Courtesy Honda
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Unless you own a Honda CR-V or are in the market for a similarly sized vehicle, you have likely never given a second thought to the polite Japanese compact SUV. It's no head-turner, but there are frankly countless examples toddling around the UAE's roads – rarely driven at speeds that would make them stand out from the anonymous crowds.

On a global level, the figures are impressive: Honda claims that the CR-V is the world’s best-selling SUV of the past five years, delivering 3.5 million cars in that time, with 738,000 sold last year alone. The latter figure is a sizeable proportion of the 5.1 million new Hondas that left forecourts in 2016, making it the carmaker’s top unit-shifter. All of which explains why, for Honda at least, the fifth-generation CR-V is seen as a big deal.

Now, millions of people buy Ed Sheeran records. Millions more vote globally for offensive politicians. People, as a sheep-like mass, can’t always be trusted. But in a motoring world obsessed with horsepower, torque and Nürburgring lap times, it’s sometimes easy to inadvertently sidle away from real-world concerns. And if you’re more worried about whether your offspring might lose a digit in slamming tailgates than you are about 0-to-100kph times, you will be glad to know that among the CR-V’s smart technology is a “pinch” sensor to stop the boot from closing if your errant child pokes a hand in there. In the Touring spec that I test drive, the powered tailgate also has programmable settings to open to convenient levels for users of all heights, another small but thoughtful touch.

And that’s largely what the CR-V represents: it strives to make your life easier, rather than in any way more exciting. If anything, its styling has become slightly more generic, planed into a plainer form that evokes a good few Korean rivals. Once again, though, the adjustments make good reading for practical types, with a cargo area that’s 250 millimetres longer, a wheelbase increased by 40mm and increased ground clearance. Its exterior is 30mm longer than the outgoing generation’s.

That practicality extends to one-touch folding rear seats, which can be moved via a button either from the rear seats or tailgate, for totally flat floor space. Honda has listened to customers about the little things, such as adding a physical volume knob to the stereo, which can now sync with your devices via CarPlay and Android Auto. To cancel out road roar, the CR-V employs active noise cancellation – similar to the innovation used in headphones – that works with or without the stereo on.

The driver-attention monitor, based on steering inputs and torque applications, begins its analysis after 30 minutes of driving. Display any telltale signs of fatigue, and your CR-V will gently warn that, hey, you might want to stop for a break. If things get really dangerous, the steering wheel will vibrate.

The 2.4L engine pushes out 184hp, which strangely looks better on paper than it actually feels in practice – it takes a fair bit of encouraging to get beyond the pace of a sleepy afternoon drive. Its continuously variable transmission, with “G-Shift Control”, aimed at getting more responsive acceleration, feels like it might need a shot in the arm – or perhaps a nudge from that driver-attention system. The Touring and EX specs are afforded all-wheel drive, while lower-level DX and LX are two-wheel drive only.

There are two interior colour choices: black or beige. That sums things up, rather: this isn’t a vehicle with which to impress Jeff next door with the spangly sports car, but such concerns couldn’t be further from the point. The CR-V does the simple things competently, upsets nobody and, at a starting price of Dh89,000, will doubtless once again prove very popular on the Emirates’ highways and byways.

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