In the world of motoring journalism there are certain words that journalists use that readers should take note of. For this article there are two words I am going to begin with that I urge you to remember when shopping for a car – one is the “taxi spec” and the other is a common word in the world of product marketing; “market skimming”.
Lets begin with market skimming – this happens when a new product is introduced to a market. Because of the excitement created by the new product, it could basically sell itself provided that the brand is strong. Take a BMW or a Mercedes-Benz for example, the 3-Series and the C-Class are hugely popular models. Whenever BMW or Mercedes introduces a new 3-Series or C-Class, the cars almost sell themselves, leaving very little for the sales man to do. And because Malaysians love their cars, and many are hugely particular about being seen in the latest models.
And because everyone is so concerned about having the latest models, the interior specification of the car does not quite matter anymore. Not if the cars came with thinly padded seats, aluminium or plastic dashboard inserts, tiny engines with negligible output figures, and were devoid of such technologies like memory seats, automatic booth lid and even such basic things like keyless entry. None of that matters to the early adopters. This is called market skimming; manufacturers rely on the brand power to sell the new model and people will buy them simply because they want to be seen in the latest model.
“Taxi spec” is a term motoring journalists use to refer to such cars that have been deliberately de-specified, only to slowly add-on to the standard options list later on as the model goes through its product life cycle. They call it a mid-life refresh or even a facelift, which is fine, but I argue that buyers should be free to choose their own options, especially when we are already paying so much for cars thanks to the tax structure of this country. In actual fact, Malaysian buyers shouldn’t be deprived of all the fantastic technology car makers are offering. Buyers should be able to choose what they want in their cars, they should be able to choose what kind of dash inserts they want, what type of leather and the colour of the leather, whether they want a standard 8-speaker audio system, or a banging 16-speaker Bang & Olufsen system. Why deprive buyers of the amazing technology car makers have to offer? But that is a different discussion altogether.
And that is why I want to praise Honda Malaysia for the fantastic job they have done with the new CR-V. A few weeks ago we were invited to test drive the new Honda CR-V on a media drive to Johor Bahru and back. We drove the top of the line CR-V 1.5 TC-P, which costs about RM167,700 and is a bargain really.
The reason why Honda Malaysia deserves high praise is because they have packed so much technology into the new CR-V that manufacturers like BMW and Mercedes-Benz could learn a thing or two about product management and pricing from the team at Honda Malaysia.
Lets begin with the car itself – there are four different models to chose from, the most basic is the 2.0L that runs on the old engine and still has a load of features but costs just RM142,400, which is really good because the size of the CR-V is perfect for a family and it drives beautifully. Then there is the 1.5L TC 2WD that costs RM155,700, and the 1.5L TC 4WD at RM161,600. So what sets these models apart from the top of the line 1.5L TC-P? A lot actually – like the automatic high beam, active cornering lights, programmable power tailgate, automatic wipers, the now infamous Honda LaneWatch camera and the Honda Sensing suite of technologies. But the only model we drove during the test drive was the 1.5L TC-P, so this review will focus on that model.
Powered by Honda’s latest 1.5-litre turbocharged engine, the top-of-the-line CR-V produces an impressive 190hp and 243Nm of torque, which in case you were wondering is three horsepower and 21Nm more than the previous range topping model, the 2.4L. In the TC-P model, power is transferred to the front wheels via a CVT gearbox. Opt for the 1.5L TC model and you get Honda’s Realtime 4WD system which calculates traction in real world conditions and sends power to the wheel that needs it the most. But you never feel it working and that is why the 2WD version is actually good enough. The CVT gearbox however maintains its harsh, unrefined whine which still intrudes into the cabin, which is sad because there is little else that is heard in there, i.e., wind, traffic and road noise.
The leather seats are comfortable, supportive and are electronically adjustable, though they lack the now commonplace memory function. Overall fit and finish is also excellent while the wood garnish gives the interior an upmarket feel, only the base model comes with silver finishing but even that is decent. The seven-inch touchscreen entertainment system features eight speakers, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto Connectivity and is simple and easy to use. The system also offers twin USB and HDMI ports, comes with hands-free telephone connectivity together with voice recognition. Honda has even designed the centre console in such a way that it complements daily life on the road, for instance there is a deep cubby hole near the arm rest which is big enough to store a lady’s handbag or even a laptop bag. There are also plenty of other cubby holes conveniently located all around the cabin that makes life behind the wheel a lot more pleasant.
Moving on, I would like to take your attention to the programmable power tailgate, a feature not available in any other SUV of its class, or a class above it. The issue with tailgates on SUVs is that they open top wards, which is fine if you are tall, but an issue if you are not so tall. The problem with most SUVs is that the button that opens and closes the tailgate is located on the tailgate itself, which is rather pointless if you are short. Some car makers have even gone to the extent of dangling a piece of rope so you could pull the tailgate down, but it’s a crude design and seems like an after thought. Some European car makers have smartened up and placed the open/close button inside the booth area. But Honda has gone a step further. The programmable power tailgate of the CR-V lets you decide how high up the tailgate opens, all you have to do is press and hold the button, manually adjust the height of the tailgate, and the system picks up on this and confirms the opening height. Which is perfect and very well thought out for people of all heights. Didn’t I say the CR-V is perfectly suited to everyday life?
Honda has thought of simple things that makes ownership a lot more pleasant. Then there is the Honda Sensing suite, which Honda defines as “the next generation active safety features to assist drivers by providing warnings and aiding drivers to avoid or mitigate the severity of a collision”. The Honda Sensing suite works by using radar and laser systems, and is divided into two categories, systems that aid safety, and systems that aid convenience. Systems like Forward Collision Warning, Collision Mitigation Braking System, Lane Departure Warning and Road Departure Warning all work to keep the car and its occupants safe. Then there is the Adaptive Cruise Control with Low-Speed Follow function as well as the Lane Keep Assist System, features designed for convenience. The Low-Speed Follow basically works with the cruise control system to follow the car in front in heavy traffic, braking and accelerating when necessary. The Lane Keep Assist makes minute steering adjustments to keep the car in the lane so you don’t have to keep making corrections, which makes driving a lot less stressful, though you have to get used to the steering wheel pulling and tugging on its own.
The Honda CR-V 1.5 TC-P is the only model that comes with the Honda Sensing suite which I do not agree with to be honest, because owners shouldn’t be deprived of safety functions. I predict that as the CR-V goes through its life cycle, more models will be offering with the Honda Sensing suite as standard.
However, even the lesser models come with impressive safety functions like six airbags, vehicle stability assist with agile handle assist, ABS, electronic brake distribution, auto brake hold, brake assist, hill start assist and emergency stop signal that flashes the hazard lights when you brake hard.
The first impression of the CR-V during our drive is definitely a positive one. The car has plenty of power and is still surprisingly efficient thanks to the small capacity turbocharged engine. Comfort is amazing in all seats, and the CR-V has the second biggest booth space in its class. And though the car has somewhat shrunk in size compared to the previous CR-V, interior space is bigger than ever. And there is no denying that the new CR-V is a handsome looking car, leaps and bounds better than the car it replaces. So if you want a car that is more than just a mode of transport, one that is a good partner as you go about your everyday life, the new Honda CR-V is definitely the car to have considering the price. And quite honestly, if brand and perception is of no importance to you, it is a much better buy than the Mercedes-Benz C200 or the BMW 318 for now.