THE art of "people-watching" played a major role in the latest Honda CR-V.
Head designer of the fourth generation sports utility vehicle went to an IKEA, sat, waited and watched.
Observing families, singles and couples struggling with the placement of children and boxes provided the inspiration for the latest update to Honda's line-up.
Combing practicality with good looks, Honda has delivered a new formula which will find favour with an Australian motoring fraternity gripped by SUV fever.
Not only has the performance and specification improved, it's also cheaper. Now armed with a two-wheel drive version it becomes the cheapest version of the Japanese brand's compact SUV yet.
Starting at $27,490 for the two-wheel drive VTi, the new CR-V is poised to bring Honda back into the sales game after a disastrous recent past where supply was interrupted by a tsunami, earthquakes and floods.
Despite being shorter and lower than its predecessor, the CR-V has improved space with excellent allowances for head, knee and leg room both front and back.
Even with a tall driver or passenger, those in the back have ample space to find comfortable accommodation. Rear seat passengers now also have air vents.
The interior has received a much-needed makeover, borrowing some of the features from the Civic hatch. And that's a good thing - we rate the Civic as having one of the best interiors going around.
With 3D styling, the odometer takes pride of place and is flanked by your tachometer, fuel and temperature gauges. It's crisp and clear, much like the labelling and buttons which are simple to operate.
The dash, doors and console are adorned with hard plastics even in the range-topping VTi-L but it's not a deal-breaker.
On the road
Our introduction to the new CR-V was in the all-wheel drive derivative, and it remains a capable offering.
Improvements have been made with cabin ambience and it's a capable partner in varying conditions. Acceleration is strong up to the redline, while you can cruise at 100kmh below 2000rpm. The four-wheel drive has paddle shifters and you can take control for manual-style shifts but unless you are really working the CR-V hard the five-speed auto does the job well.
Steering feedback is reliable and helps promote a confident on-road feel. Push hard into a bend and there is some predictable roll, but that takes more effort with the lower ride height when compared to the previous model.
What do you get?
Prices are cheaper at both ends, with the entry-level the lowest ever for a CR-V while the range-topper is down slightly but with more gear.
All come standard with alloys, reversing camera, automatic-off headlights, cruise control with steering wheel controls, USB input and Bluetooth hands free phone connectivity.
The mid-range 4WD VTi-S version also gains auto lights, rain-sensing wipers, foglights, dual-zone climate control, sat nav, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror and rear parking sensors.
Extra additions for the range-topping VTi-L are HID headlights with cornering function, an electric sunroof, smart key with push button start, electric front seats, front parking sensors, leather seats and 18-inch alloys.
This genre is about as competitive as it gets, with keys players such as the Mazda CX-5 (from $27,800), just refreshed Mitsubishi Outlander (from $28,990), Nissan X-Trail (from $28,490), Kia Sportage (from $26,990), the soon-to-be replaced Subaru Forester (from $30,990) and the Toyota RAV4 (from $28,990).
Having a smaller and more svelte frame has cut fuel use by 15% to 8.7 litres/100km, while the two-wheel drive version has an official average of under eight/100km.
Hondas have a good resale reputation, while servicing and insurance remains in the affordable realm.
They don't come much better than the CR-V in this area. The boot is massive, up from 443 litres to a hefty 556.
But the trump card comes when you pull the levers in the boot. Like the Jazz and Civic, the "magic" rear seat bases fold vertically and the backs drop into the floor to provide a brilliant cargo carrying space. You can also collapse them by pulling a strap on the back seats.
Up front there are some handy storage areas, including three bottle holders in the middle, but the console (which also carries the rear air-conditioning vents) replaces the space which was perfect for handbags in the old model.
Clean-cut styling remains for the CR-V. It's attractive without being polarising, but it's the interior which will win hearts of buyers.
After difficult times, Honda is back in the game with the CR-V.
Many SUV buyers don't step off the bitumen so the two-wheel drive version meets their needs in terms of ride height and cabin space, but with cheaper running costs.
Styling tweaks are nice, but it's the internal flexibility and the brilliant "magic" seats will woo many back behind the CR-V steering wheel.
Model: Honda CR-V.
Details: Five-door compact two-wheel drive sports utility vehicle.
Engine: 2.0-litre i-VTEC generating maximum power of 114kW @ 6500rpm or peak torque of 190Nm @ 4300rpm.
Transmission: Six-speed manual or five-speed automatic.
Consumption: 7.7 litres/100km.
Bottom line: VTi (m) $27,490; VTI (a) $29,790; VTi (a) with nav $31,790 (plus on road costs).
Model: Honda CR-V 4WD. Details: Five-door compact four-wheel drive sports utility vehicle. Engine: 2.4-litre four-cylinder generating maximum power of 140kW @ 7000rpm and peak torque of 222Nm @ 4400rpm. Transmission: Five-speed automatic with paddle shifters. Consumption: 8.7 litres/100km. CO2: 201g/km. Bottom line: VTi $32,790; VTi-S $36,290; VTi-L $42,290 (plus on-road costs).
WHAT MATTERS MOST
The good stuff: Brilliant back seating fold function, interior space.
What we'd like to see: Soft-touch internal finishes, diesel engine option.
Warranty: Three years or 100,000km, with servicing at 10,000km or every six months.