Suburban mothers love them and they are the required mode of transport for young and trendy lifestyle couples, but for most people the driving experience offered in a sport utility vehicle (SUV) has put them off.
In a recent group test (see the Roadtest archive) we pitted a Land Rover Freelander against a Nissan X-trail and Subaru Forester. All three impressed in their own right, but it was the Subaru which won out on the day because of its more car-like handling.
However, had Honda's CR-V 2.0 iVTEC SE been included in the test, things might have been different. The CR-V is in the same mould as the X-trail and Freelander in being a 'proper' 4x4, rather than a jacked-up estate. This means it has more ground clearance than conventional cars, although this also means a higher centre of gravity. And this is where most SUVs fall down. Because the centre of gravity is so high in comparison to normal cars, the ride and handling on-road suffer.
But this is not the case with the CR-V. Granted, it doesn't handle as well as a conventional saloon, but the gap is far less pronounced than with the X-trail and Freelander.
And in many ways this is no surprise because we are talking about a Honda product here. This is a company which takes its engineering very seriously. It is obvious a lot of thought has gone into the CR-V. It features a 148bhp 2.0-litre engine which utilises Honda's clever VTEC valve technology to increase performance, while keeping fuel economy and carbon dioxide emissions in check.
Although a car such as this is never going to be classed as quick, the CR-V feels lively on the road and, thanks to a slick five-speed manual gearbox, swift progress can be made.
When it comes to cornering, you simply have to remember you are driving a high SUV and make allowances, although body roll is far less pronounced in this car than in its rivals. And the Honda also outdoes its rivals (Toyota RAV4 excepted) in terms of economy and emissions. It returns 31.0mpg on the combined cycle – pretty impressive for a car of this weight and aerodynamic inefficiency.
It also offers the lowest CO2 emissions of every car in this class, barring the Toyota RAV4. At 216g/km, the CR-V offers drivers the chance to drive an SUV without the penalty of high benefit-in-kind tax bills.
Styling-wise, the CR-V goes along with the sector norm, which means a slabby look and the obligatory spare wheel mounted on the rear door. The front aspect is the worst, with the revised grille, lights and front bumper giving the general impression of a dog with a pronounced under-bite (a longer bottom jaw than top).
And the wheels and tyres look very weedy – the CR-V needs some fatter wheels and tyres to fill out the arches more.
Inside, it is typical Honda fare which means a quality cabin that has been well thought-out, if a little sombre. But these are small chinks in the CR-V's armour. It is the best to drive in this sector, is competitively priced and the facts and figures stack up in its favour. It has also managed to knock the Land Rover Freelander off the top of the year-to-date sales charts for SUVs during January and February – a feat indeed.
Delivered price, standard car (P11D value): £16,515
CO2 emissions (g/km): 216
BIK % of P11D in 2003/04: 27%
Graduated VED rate: £155
Insurance group: 11
Combined mpg: 31.0
CAP Monitor residual value: £7,475/45%
Depreciation (13.62 pence per mile x 60,000): £8,172
Maintenance (2.50 pence per mile x 60,000): £1,500
Fuel (12.31 pence per mile x 60,000): £7,386
Wholelife cost (28.43 pence per mile x 60,000): £17,058
Typical contract hire rate: £330 per month
Three rivals to consider
ALL of our models are entry-level cars and all are priced pretty evenly. The Toyota is the cheapest with a P11d value of £16,315, undercutting the Honda by £200 with the Nissan and Mazda following. But it is worth bearing in mind that the Toyota is the smallest car in this test – the Honda, Nissan and, in particular, the Mazda offer more room inside for passengers and their luggage. Specification levels for our quartet are also pretty similar.
THIS is another close affair, with all four closely matched on servicing, maintenance and repair costs. Once again the Toyota comes out ahead, costing 2.37 pence per mile – reflecting the work it has been putting in to reduce SMR costs. What is surprising is the Honda's performance, especially as it is the only one to come with a three-year/ 90,000-mile warranty as opposed to the industry norm 60,000-mile cover.
THE Toyota once again wins out, thanks to having the highest combined fuel economy figure. It returns an average of 32.1mpg, which translates into a running cost of 11.89ppm. That figure is pretty impressive for a vehicle such as this and is not far behind 2.0-litre petrol-engined upper-medium cars. Second place goes to the Honda on 12.31ppm, returning 31.0mpg. The Nissan is close behind, offering 30.4mpg, while the Mazda brings up the rear on 29.1mpg.
NO matter how well cars perform in the other sectors of this road test, this is the area which makes or breaks a car's challenge. Despite the Toyota winning every section up until now, the Honda takes victory on depreciation costs. CAP predicts it will retain 45% of its price new after three-years/60,000-miles, a cost of 13.62ppm. That puts it a penny per mile ahead of the Toyota (14.67ppm), which CAP predicts will retain 41% of cost new. The Nissan (35%) and Mazda (36%) fall well behind in this sector on 16.49ppm and 16.52ppm respectively.
THE Honda takes the narrowest of victories here, costing 28.43ppm to run over three-years/60,000-miles. The importance of residual value is borne out in this test by the fact that Honda only wins one category – depreciation. However, the Toyota is only a fraction behind on 28.93ppm – reward for topping the tables in front-end price, SMR and fuel costs. There is quite a gap back to the Nissan in third place on 31.84ppm, while the Mazda just creeps over the 32ppm mark.
Emissions and bik tax rates
DRIVERS looking for tax-cheating vehicles turn away now. These cars are bound to suffer on CO2 emissions, but it is the Toyota that leads the way again, emitting a relatively low 211g/km. That translates to a monthly benefit-in-kind tax bill for a 22% tax-payer of £77.80 per month. The Honda, on 216g/km, will cost the same driver £81.70 per month. The Nissan and Mazda fall into the 28% and 30% BIK bandings respectively.
THERE is one clear winner here – the Honda CR-V. It is the best car to drive on the road, is the most cost-effective from a fleet manager's point of view and offers drivers relatively affordable benefit-in-kind tax payments. It also benefits from Honda's reputation for quality and is well-equipped. The Toyota RAV4 runs it close, and offers the cheapest BIK bills, but its size marks it down in comparison to the larger CR-V.