Honda CR-V: smooth cruiser

Refined. It’s a word you’d use to describe afternoon tea at the Mount Nelson, a performance by the London Philharmonic, or one of those overly groomed men on the cover of GQ. Despite the recent technological advances, it’s still not really a word you’d even use in the same sentence as “diesel engine”. And yet there’s no better way to sum up Honda’s newly arrived 2.2-litre i-CTDi mill doing duty in the CR-V.

Gently pushing memories of noisy tractors, smoky Golden Arrow buses and smelly generators out of your mind, the oil burner surreptitiously gets on with its job: powering the SUV in such a way that you almost glide along. A refined engine for a refined vehicle.

Taking the diesel CR-V out on the sweeping country roads outside Paarl and Franschhoek that was abundantly clear. There may be a little of the traditional diesel rattle and clatter as you start (or pull off with too much enthusiasm) but slide the manual six-speed gearbox into second and it becomes a whisper — so quiet in fact that before you know it you’re breaking the speed limit while still in fourth gear.

That silence — no need to drown out the engine or road noise by slipping some Slayer into the front-loading CD player — is partly thanks to the vehicle’s solid build quality and acoustic insulation of the cabin. But most of the credit must go to the engine itself.

It features complicated technologies like optimised combustion chambers linked to a continuously variable swirl control valve; a common rail, direct-injection diesel delivery system; a variable nozzle turbocharger; and a water-cooled exhaust gas regulation (EGR) valve. Breathe. Then there are the vibration-reducing technologies, including off-set cylinders; a second-order balancer shaft; pendulum-type engine mountings; an acoustic engine cover; and an under-engine tray. Breathe.

A mouthful, yes, but the proof of the pudding is in the eating, as they say. And the smooth, quiet performance of the 2204cc four-cylinder turbo diesel comes with claimed fuel consumption figures of 8.1 litres/100km in the city, while extra-urban use at a constant 100km/h can see that figure drop to 5.7 litres/100km. That’s 6.5 litres/100km for the combined cycle.

Performance isn’t quite in the Type R league but, with the dreaded turbo lag barely noticeable at the coast, the CRV i-CTDi comfortably pumps out 103kW and 340Nm. Which translates to a 0 to 100km/h sprint time of 10,3 seconds and top speed of 187km/h. Sensible figures for a sensible vehicle.

With dynamic safety features like Vehicle Stability Assist in place, it clings to the tar, it corners without body roll, it maneuvers with little steering effort — it handles like a car on the road. So it’s surprising how well the SUV manages once you go off the black stuff. Ground clearance isn’t spectacular so you won’t be chasing Land Cruisers through river beds but the CR-V felt quite comfortable on the dirt roads of the Paarl Mountain Nature Reserve.

And the Real Time 4WD system, which engages automatically when needed by transferring torque to the rear wheels as soon as they can use the additional grip, certainly helped the RAV4 rival negotiate the muddy tracks on the hills above a Paarl winefarm. Although most won’t get further offroad than the pavement, the CR-V made the little excursion seem as clean and simple as its interior, as safe as the full complement of airbags, as sensible as the parking distance sensors — and, yes, almost as refined as you’d expect.

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