REVIEW | Why the over-priced Honda CR-V is a tough sell

24 April 2024 - 16:00
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There's no denying that the model is visually attractive.
There's no denying that the model is visually attractive.
Image: Supplied

Once upon a time Honda was among contenders pushing respectable volumes in South Africa.

In earlier days, under the Mercedes-Benz umbrella locally, the Japanese brand benefited from a premium alignment.

And the momentum was sustained when it became a wholly-owned subsidiary of Honda directly, with appealing products in the 2000s, such as the S2000 roadster, reinvented Civic, European-flavoured Accord, sensible Jazz and family-friendly FR-V.

The CR-V was another mainstay not to be forgotten, having made a favourable impression to soft-roader buyers since release in 1998.

Today Honda is a much smaller player in Mzansi. In March, for example, it sold just more than 260 new vehicles. And that was despite the February release of the Elevate, a competent compact SUV, as we reported after sampling the model at launch.

The brand still has a solid cachet with a perception of excellent reliability and durability across the board.

But more affordable alternatives in the mass market, including increasing rivalry from Chinese firms, has seen Honda fall into the background of consumers' collective psych.

The latest CR-V was added to the range recently and we just wrapped up our customary weeklong evaluation.

Two grades are on offer, the Executive trim costs R961,300. Go for the grander Exclusive and you’ll end up paying R1,041,300.

The CR-V's cabin is fair, but not spectacular.
The CR-V's cabin is fair, but not spectacular.
Image: Supplied

Both are powered by a 1.5l turbocharged petrol engine with four cylinders, linked to a continuously-variable transmission driving the front wheels.

The all-wheel drive and hybrid models on offer in other markets are not in the plan for our region.

Three-row seating is standard in Executive and Exclusive versions.

Given the pricing, expectations were set for a plush cabin experience.

While the CR-V delivers a reasonable veneer, with soft-touch surfaces and faux wood trim, it falls short in crucial tactile areas.

There are many touchpoints that fail to deliver on the impression that this Honda is as upmarket as the manufacturer claims.

For example, our tester had a vent controller that seemed to have sunk into its housing. The quality of the materials used for the sun visors and headliner gave a distinctively budget-type sense. Little details such as the indicator stalks, clearly shared with the cheaper Honda models, looked out of place in a R1m environment.

Honda's digital interface is a nine” affair which ticks the boxes in functionality but has a grainy display, prominent when the exterior camera views are engaged.

From a features perspective, the Exclusive we sampled leaves no room for criticism, boasting everything from heated seats to a panoramic sunroof, leather upholstery and the suite of Honda Sensing driver assistance features.

Rear design has a Teutonic flavour.
Rear design has a Teutonic flavour.
Image: Supplied

Positives can also be heaped on its road manners. The platform of the CR-V has been significantly revised vs the previous vehicle, with a 40mm longer wheelbase, 10mm wider track and a body construction purported to be 15% stiffer.

Behind the wheel you can feel the under-skin enhancements with the Honda serving a well-resolved ride character and planted feel. Cabin insulation is also superb. Perhaps these are the areas in which the manufacturer splurged on the research and development budget.

Though the drivetrain may not win awards for zesty performance, the 140kW/240Nm output is sufficient for daily requirements, encouraging a relaxed driving character. On the freeway we managed to get consumption down to about 8l/100km. That becomes more like 10l/100km in urban settings.

While the CR-V is handsome, expectedly spacious and plush from a ride and handling point of view, the fact remains it is priced significantly higher than direct rivals.

The top-grade versions of the seven-seater Mitsubishi Outlander, the Nissan X-Trail and the Volkswagen Tiguan Allspace all come in at under R900,000.

At the pricing point of the Honda, buyers would be able to have larger options such as the Hyundai Santa Fe and Kia Sorento, both of which offer all-wheel drive and stronger diesel power sources.

You could also not overlook contenders in the ladder-frame SUV space, such as the Toyota Fortuner and Ford Everest, which fall into the same price band.

We asked Honda the reason for the pricing position, whether it was due to exchange rate difficulties or the intentional shift towards a more upmarket audience.

“The new CR-V has been re-engineered from the ground up using the highest quality materials our loyal customers have come to know and appreciate,” said marketing and public relations manager Letitia Herold.

“Our loyalists value the CR-V for its durability, quality and reliability, which comes at a cost.”

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