The beauty of the Honda CR-V is in the eye of the driver

Road Test It may not be the most stunning small SUV, but if you're looking for a small family hauler with good cargo room, the 2011 CR-V has the space and sufficient power.

The Honda CR-V is not meant for heavy off-road use, but is a good family vehicle. There is more than 2,000L of space when the second row of seats is folded flat. Andrew Henderson / The National
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Honda has a history of building some exciting cars; its Civics have been a favourite with the tuner crowd for decades, and its current Civic Type-R is one of the hottest hatches on the road. And who could forget the racy S2000 roadster or the NSX supercar?

The CR-V is not one of those exciting cars. Funny how an automaker can offer up such a wide variety of products in its showrooms. But the measure of a car is not necessarily how fast it goes, but how well it does the job it was built for. And in that, the CR-V may surprise a few people.

There certainly are more exciting-looking small SUVs on the road; the exterior shape is a little odd, especially from the front. Its long snout, with a sort of extended jawbone, and the sloping rear window are distinctive, but not in a very attractive way. I'd rather put my eyeballs on the muscular-looking Kia Sportage, or even the utilitarian and boxy Nissan X-Trail; let me put it this way: I wouldn't be buying a CR-V on looks alone.

But if you can get past the awkward design, you've got a pretty good little car on your hands.

There's only one engine offered; the little 2.4L four cylinder gets decent - though not exactly great - fuel economy with, again, decent performance. Other companies offer a V6 for more towing power, but if you're not planning on pulling a boat or driving up the Moreeb Dune, it should be enough. No, it's not exactly exciting to drive, but it doesn't have to be; it gets you, your family and your cargo there with no fuss. The 168hp doesn't seem like much these days, but I never really wanted for more power; it's spritely darting around in traffic and more than sufficient on the motorway.

Likewise with the transmission: five gears is on the low end of modern gearboxes, but it was surprisingly smooth and seemed to be in the right gear most times; it's when you want to thrash the car that its limitations appear, but, really, who's going to want to thrash a CR-V? The only major drawback with the transmission is the fact you can't shift gears yourself, part of the reason why this Honda isn't meant for heavy off-road use.

But if you're looking for performance, look a little further inside the Honda showroom at its Type-R; if you're looking for a small family hauler with good cargo room, the CR-V will deliver. It carries five adults (not even a pretense of a third row of seats, like other SUVs, which is a good thing - have you ever crammed yourself into one of those?), and with more than 2,000L of space with the second row seats folded flat, you'll probably not want for space. The full-size spare tyre is magically hidden under the flat cargo floor, and a removable cargo shelf handily splits the rear area behind the seats to double the capacity for carrying smaller stuff, such as grocery bags. Very thoughtful.

The rear passengers have plenty of leg and headroom, too, ensuring that the kids won't annoy you by kicking the back of your seat. Up front, the interior is uninspiring but efficiently packaged. There is no sat/nav option here, but everything is clear and well laid out. The fabric seats look and feel of higher quality and offer a high seating position. My only complaint is that it tends to get noisy inside the cabin at higher speeds. But it does have some of the highest scores in crash tests for its class, so you can rest easy that the brood will be safe.

The CR-V has good ground clearance and approach angles, but its all-wheel drive (as opposed to full-time four-wheel drive) means that this SUV is best left off the dunes. It'll do some camping and picknicking off the beaten path, but this is not a hardcore off-roader; better for the school run rather than the Desert Challenge, even though its firm ride might get you thinking otherwise.

It's hard to get excited about the CR-V. It does have its limitations, but there's no denying that it does the job it was intended for with aplomb. Overall it's a nice driver and its convenience, utility and safety will be what win over a buyer who can live with its quirky design.

The Specs

Price, base / as tested Dh99,999 / Dh109,999

Engine 2.4L four cylinder

Gearbox five-speed automatic

Power 168hp @ 5,800 rpm

Torque 220Nm @ 4,200 rpm

Fuel economy, combined 10.2L/100km