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New Car/Review


by Nicholas Frankl -- European Correspondent


SEE ALSO: Honda Buyer's Guide

What a peculiar thing having a lifestyle is. "The particular way of life of a person or group" says the Oxford English dictionary. Honda meanwhile says that if you are to fully enjoy exploiting your lifestyle and all it foibles, whether singularly or grouped, you must acquire the correct transport- namely their new compact recreational vehicle or CR-V. How many of the 25-45 year olds who are 'active' and 'extrovert' actually mountain bike and monoski? Who knows, just I suppose, as long as they aspire too and consequently to a suitable vehicle.

The CR-V which this week has been introduced with a manual option (the automatic has been around for a few months already) is the latest in a very long and rugged line of off-road based non farming machinery sourced supped-up, jacked-up and specked-up cars that sort to steel away the insurance hit GTI brigade from the early '90's. There isn't a self respecting manufacturer in the world who either doesn't have a "recreational" model or has spent gazillions investigating the mysteries of turning perfectly serviceable tractors into motorway cruisers. By Jove even the mighty three pointed star has a new G-Wagon in disguise coming soon.

The Japanese who rather cleverly (and annoyingly) gave up trying to beat Land Rover at there own game went for the Vogue market instead - with "soft" 4*4's like the Suzuki Vitara and Toyota RAV4. Now Honda, who you may be interested to learn recently posted profits of 1.1b for 1996, have introduced what may well be the only truly driveable "softy" in the market. Designed for the urban jungle and not the Paris-Dakar, the CR-V is a total town compromise and surprisingly non the worst for it.

I must caveat my scribbles by saying I am not a fan and the genre-although I did enjoy the Ford Explorer for it's immenseness and still dream of commuting into London in a Hummer so that I can intimidate truck drivers back. However, if I was looking to spend the thick end of 18,000/$30,000 and had for some peculiar reason decided it was time for prancing my lifestyle around in public, then the Honda might well find favour.

Firstly, like the rest, it has a nice high driving position and excellent visibility. The car has also been designed to run in all but EXTREME ( you know -Bungy Jumping from a plane without the rope kind of thing) conditions in front wheel drive mode. The rear wheels, which are operated automatically by a rather neat dual pump device, of which most drivers will have no interest nor understanding, and fortunately zero input, provide for sure footed deforestation activity when required. Equipped with a new rather compact 2 Litre 130 BHP unit that when pushed delivers 10 sec 0-60 mph and a top speed of 110mph the car is very pleasant to drive, with good NVH characteristics, especially considering the size of the door mirrors (no-doubt supplied from the agriculture division), the sun-roof and the roof rack mounting beams. The exterior on the whole is shapely and very super market friendly, - no steel bull bars and a low loading area with split glass door.

Interior wise however, things are rather Honda like. Loads of cheap plastic that might well be easy to clean and wipe friendly, but look ugly at best and out of place on what is not a cheap car. The steering position is good the controls, as ever, fall easily to hand- par the electric window switches which for some totally unknown reason are mounted on the facia to the left and slightly below the steering wheel. Why can't we have a world-wide agreement to locate key switches in the same place? I found the headroom ample and the seats supportive, a good thing as the launch was held in the Tyrol mountains of Austria which provided not only great empty and demanding roads but also fantastic mountain air and the chance to get SERIOUSLY extreme and very recreational with Austria's Helicopter equivalent to the Red Arrows. We got so close to the Glacier at one stage that I thought he was going to crab a handful of ice to complement the Scotch.

Handling, naturally, is not a highlight in this sector. But in comparison to the RAV4 et-al the CR-V has them licked. The car steers well and is stable at speed and under braking (ABS equipped as standard). Body roll-the scourge of all 4*4's is well checked and within normal car limits, what lets the car down however, is the overly weighted steering wheel and the heavily compromised M+S tyres which are far to soft and jelly like to allow you to exploit what is potentially a fine chassis. Larger diameter wheels combined with lower profile road tyres and a sweat V6 engine for lugging the family + bikes + skis + luggage up the mountains and you'd have a pretty fine automobile. Maybe Honda is planning to do a special after sales up-grade kit?

Whilst they are at it they might also seek to do a deal with Vidal Sassoon. Why? Because not only does the CR-V have a water proof compartment under the rear plastic cover (which incidentally also doubles as a picnic table) the boot also comes with a 12v outlet to power an optional fridge and even a high pressure cold water shower. I inquired whether or not a supply could be rigged up off the windscreen washer reservoir and the radiator to give instant hot foamy water - but they looked at me like I was a creature out of Men in Black.

The CR-V is clearly a step forward in recky vehicles, it's current opposition are older, less well specked, over priced and over powered by the new contender. Honda best make the hay whilst the coast is clear, as both Land Rover with the Freelander and Mercedes are coming soon and although a very competent and complete package I doubt the CR-V will win any rumble in the jungle when the new batch arrive.

2.0i ES automatic
103 mph
0-60sec  12.5secs
27.7 mpg

2.0I LS Manual
17,995 - prices to be announced
110 mph
0-60 10secs
30 mpg