Honda CR-V DTi-L

Updated SUV scores a limited-run turbo-diesel

NATHAN PONCHARD

FIRST AUSSIE DRIVE

HONDAíS fourth-gen CR-V has never been a favourite of ours. Developed during a GFC-rocked economy and lacking the dynamic and mechanical sparkle that once signified every Honda, this 2013 debutant demonstrated the depressingly low priority the Japanese brand placed on engineering prowess during that period.

But things are changing, slowly. Last yearís Series II update brought some much-needed, though minor, suspension and steering improvements to the current CR-V, but itís the Ďlimited editioní turbo-diesel version that provides an encouraging glimpse of a brighter Honda future.

The new CR-V diesel centres around the debut of an ĎEarth Dreamsí 1.6-litre turbo-diesel four, replacing the previous i-DTEC 2.2.

Backed by Hondaís all-new nine-speed automatic, the little 1.6 diesel defies its midget status.

Despite a sizeable capacity drop, it produces more power (118kW, up 8kW) and the same torque (350Nm) as the old 2.2 diesel, with the added benefit of improved refinement and less thirst (down from 6.9 to just 5.9L/100km).

Even though the transmission possesses a seemingly ludicrous number of ratios, youíd really never know. Smooth, intuitive and efficient, the nine-speed gives the CR-V diesel a real kick off the line, and the legs to extract the greatest efficiency from highway running.

Itís a pity the dieselís new space-age gear selector is such a fiddly, gimmicky and plasticky piece of tat. Itís a classic case of form over function compared to a traditional, leather-topped lever.

Then thereís the dynamics.

Improved they may be, but thatís very faint praise. Instead of overly light and vague steering, the CR-V dieselís is almost heavy, feeling like itís turning through treacle, yet still vague. Itís a textbook case of how adding steering weight does not Ďcreateí feel.

The old CR-Vís nauseating ride is now less sickly, with improved body control and damping effectiveness. Yet the sense that the CR-Vís heavy wheels are out of phase with its suspension tune still exists. So does its ponderous front-end, which rolls more than the rear, detracting from its handling poise. In most situations, CR-Vís chassis still lacks cohesion.

Unlike the old diesel, the 2016 version is a top-spec-only proposition available in very limited supply. Just 90 will be imported from the UK (the petrols hail from Thailand), restricted by an increasingly unfavourable exchange rate, yet loaded with more kit than any CR-V in the catalogue. And as I write this, 74 have already been sold.

Thankfully, its talented diesel drivetrain will resurface in the much tastier HR-V later this year. ght

Holding fort

Given the excellence of Hondaís new diesel drivetrain, weíd ignore the CR-V and wait until it lands in the HR-V in the last quarter of 2016. Tied to both a six-speed manual (yay!) and the new nine-speed auto, the diesel HR-V is likely to be the pick of Hondaís small- SUV line-up. If we get the same tune as the Europeans, expect 88kW/300Nm and a 0-100km/h time of 10-dead.

Significantly less weight also means the HR-V diesel can achieve a combined fuel economy number as low as 4.0L/100km.

PLUS & MINUS

Heavy and vague steering; heavy-footed ride; lacks handling poise Gutsy, refined and efficient diesel; nine-speed auto; nicely packaged