For me, the medium-SUV class can go one of two ways when you head out of the urban confines. Vehicles in this segment can either shine brightly with proper duality of purpose, or wear their city chic a little too proudly, thus rendering them less than useful for the great Aussie road trip. This segment is one where buyers often have only one family car, too – and in those situations families need their SUV to be flexible.
I had driven plenty of CR-V country miles in older versions over the years, but my hopes were high as I cruised out of Sydney the first time in our long-term CR-V.
I'll get to the highway stint in a second, but when you think country driving, think the following: long sections of coarse-chip bitumen, washouts and ruts, potholes, surfaces littered with loose stones and poor repairs, long sweeping bends, hills and dips, and even some occasional stretches of dirt. Head more than an hour or so out of any major city and you could potentially see all of the above.
Space is also a feature when it comes to longer drives – both second-row space and luggage space. The Honda does well on both counts with a comfortable second row that delivers plenty of visibility, and decent seat squabs that aren't too hard or too short for adults. While you're unlikely to have adult passengers in the back for hours and thousands of kilometres on end, you could if you wanted to in a CR-V and they wouldn't be begging for mercy. It's a flexible cabin space that is airy and comfortable.
Likewise, the luggage area, which can easily accommodate four adults on a road trip. The segment-leading Mazda CX-5 offers 442L with the second row in use. The CR-V beats that by a fair margin with 522L if you're using the second row. The CR-V's luggage space is usable, too, and easy to load/unload with a broad floor and tall roof line making it simple to transport larger items, rather than simply the kids' sporting gear on a weekend.
My first stretch out of Sydney included almost 100km of freeway cruising. In short, the CR-V eats that kind of discipline up effortlessly. The CVT settles down to work, and doesn't feel like it's slurring when you increase speed, or need to slow down to then accelerate to match the speed limit.
Road noise is nicely insulated at 110km/h, too, even on sharper surfaces that aren't the smooth hot mix you might find closer to the city. There isn't much wind noise to speak of at highway speed either – another positive for longer, family trips. This helps out in regard to cabin acoustics when you've got your road trip music playing, too.
The visibility is excellent, the seats comfortable, and the general ambience of the cabin nicely suited to longer, more relaxed driving. You assess a vehicle slightly differently when you leave the frenetic confines of the CBD, and the Honda settles into a relaxed cruise really effortlessly.
I reckon the seats and seating position deserve special mention here, in that they don't fatigue you after long stretches behind the wheel. It's easy to find a comfortable driving position – something I noted around town as well, of course – and stay comfortable for a few hours before pulling over for a coffee or fuel stop.
Despite the CR-V not being a powerhouse by any means, it doesn't feel underdone on the open road either. It rolls nicely from 80km/h up to 100km/h, and has more than enough power in reserve if you need to slow down behind a slow-moving vehicle, then accelerate past as soon as you find a safe overtaking opportunity. While outright power isn't really a feature in this segment from any of the main players, I still think it's important that you don't feel like you're flogging a dead horse to maintain speed for hours on end.
That's reflected in the fuel use, with the ADR combined 7.4L/100km claim easily matched by the real-world figure on the open road, and once you settle into a speed and keep it there, it can drop into the low sixes on flat stretches of road, too. What the engine and gearbox do well is make best use of the 140kW and 240Nm on offer out on the open road. In fact, most of the strong points we noted around town also remain relevant out in the country.
Once upon a time, a 1.5-litre four-cylinder wouldn't have positioned itself as a long-range touring option, but the times have definitely changed in that regard. With a 57L fuel tank, and working on that ADR claim, you can factor in a 720km cruising range – with a 50km safety margin.
For me, the other factor that is important, the longer your planned touring drive runs for, is ride comfort. And it's an area where a lot of modern SUVs confound. Some are so stiffly sprung or damped that they ride more like a sports car might than an SUV. Not so the Honda CR-V. It soaks up poor surfaces with ease, deals with coarse-chip sections without any fuss, and rides effortlessly over potholes and ruts.
The rebound especially is worth mentioning here, in that it settles quickly after dealing with the initial impact of sharper bumps. The steering is likewise solid, too, not dead or weightless at higher speeds, and feeling right at home on the motorway.
Even on a few sections of dirt leading in to and out of country properties, the CR-V rode beautifully. No dust enters the cabin either (with the windows up and the AC on recirculation, of course), with the CR-V properly insulated against ingress. If you do have access to a country property at the end of a decent dirt road, the tyres have enough sidewall not to be overly prone to sidewall punctures.
All in all, the Honda CR-V easily deals with the kind of driving the average Australian likes to be able to undertake. The reasons we like it around town also relate well to some of the reasons it's a good thing out of the city also. It's big, it's comfortable, and it's efficient transport for the family. If you intend to tow a trailer with a bit of weight in it, it's probably not the SUV for you, but if you head out of town once or twice a month for some exploring with your better half or the family, it's a good thing.
2019 Honda CR-V VTi-S AWD
First odometer reading: 981km
Current odometer reading: 5367km
Distance travelled so far: 4386km
Average fuel use: 7.3L/100km
Read the full report on the CarAdvice website here.
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