It's been 16 years since Honda began selling the CR-V in Thailand covering three successful generations, if not without flaws on the product side.
This year, it introduced the fourth-gen model, yet there is no real threat from any other brands which also have similarly conceived compact SUVs.
The only credible alternative to the CR-V is the Chevrolet Capitva which, however, is soon approaching its rundown mode and is actually a more cumbersome seven-seat variation.
The Nissan X-Trail and Suzuki Grand Vitara, both five-seaters built and sourced from Indonesia in 2.0-litre and 2WD forms rivaling the CR-V 2.0 (see sidebar), are equally ageing and don't sell in large numbers to match the CR-V.
Sure, mid-size SUVs based on pick-up trucks like the Toyota Fortuner offer great value due to their privileged excise tax and retail prices going head-to-head with the CR-V.
But the Fortuner and its like have cruder driving manners and less opulent interiors due to their vehicle origins. The CR-V, on the other, is a car-based SUV with car-like driving dynamics and soothing interior quality to match.
So, does this mean that the new CR-V is the automatic SUV of choice in the Thai market for those needing some sophistication? The answer, more or less, is yes.
Take the packaging as a start. Although the wheelbase remains the same, the overall length is slightly shorter for a more compact appearance. You can feel this when seeing the CR-V on the road, despite the bulky D-pillar design visually playing down this effect.
And the remarkable thing is that there is no loss of interior space. In fact, Honda's claims of more legroom and a more usable boot seem to be confirmed.
The boot extends further to the rear seats, which can now fold nearly flat at a flick of a lever mounted next to the boot lid. Honda has just made life easier for the user, and no rival is offering such a practical feature yet.
The D-pillars are distinctively designed.
Rear passengers are now treated with ample legroom, while the cushy seats can still recline for more comfort. The front seats are equally good to sit in.
There has never been a problem when it comes to the driving environment. Actually, Honda is good in this particular aspect, hence an ergonomically sound cockpit.
There are also increased cubbie holes in the centre console and the door panels to properly suit the CR-V's lifestyle and family car concept.
But if you'd ask us whether the perceptive quality has attained premium status, as how Honda wishes it to be, then the answer is probably no due to abundance of hard plastics.
Nevertheless, no other rival, be it direct or nearby, can match the CR-V for opulence. And in top-spec form as tested here, the CR-V is generously, if not brilliantly, equipped with safety and convenience features.
For those needing a highly liveable interior with decent spec, the CR-V shouldn't disappoint.
Nor should it on the move, because Honda has just made the CR-V a more comfortable SUV to drive in. Some tweaks in the chassis have given the CR-V a more pampering ride and more effortless steering.
Inevitably, some sharpness in the handling has been eroded, as a result. You can feel this when leaning into corners or when you make sudden lane changes. Yet we believe that the compromise is small and not too irrelevant for real-world use.
Those 18-inch wheels might look good with low-profile tyres, but they tend to generate noise once you gradually build up speed (and are expensive to replace when the time comes).
The 170hp 2.4-litre petrol engine and five-speed automatic transmission have been carried over from the outgoing model, albeit tweaks to suit gasohol ranging from E10 up to E85.
Despite the smaller body and lesser weight by 20kg on the average, performance is basically the same as before: spirited and linear within the legal limit and less so beyond that. Honda insists that the CR-V is roughly 10% more fuel-efficient than before, probably due to the lighter weight and Eco mode the CR-V now gets.
However, our test figures most of the time fell a notch short of Honda's 11.4kpl claim (11.7kpl for the 2WD version). Now, these figures really don't sound impressive in the year 2012. And speaking of numbers, the CR-V is more expensive than before even though it managed to enjoy a further 2% tax reduction from being able to drink the rare E85 fuel.
The 4WD version, recommended if you want the CR-V to be most capable on the move and soothing with a seven-digit price tag, costs 1.524 million baht (up by 11,000 baht).
The 2WD variant, on the other hand, is priced at 1.444 million baht (80,000 baht less than the 4WD and 20,000 baht more than the old model). Fortunately, the sparse competition means that the CR-V still sounds the part for many buyers in Thailand as it now has become more relevant than ever with its ever-improving practical package and comfort-orientated road manners.
If you happen to be disturbed by the CR-V's fuel thirst, then you might have to settle for the pricey diesel alternatives offered in the Captiva or Hyundai Tucson.
Many people might quite rightly question Honda's reluctance of selling a diesel in Thailand because it can plug one of the nagging issues of the petrol-powered CR-V.
Maybe Honda isn't feeling threatened yet by any of the other automakers and that largely explains the state of the Thai car market which dominated by chilled-out marques and gasohol-loving taxmen.
Fit for the concrete jungle
As an SUV with recreation in mind, the four-wheel-drive 2.4 is the ideal choice in the Honda CR-V range.
However, many buyers might be tempted to go for the 2.0 version because of its lower prices: 1.164 and 1.274 million baht for the 2WD and 4WD accordingly. That's cheaper than the 2.4 by a good 250,000 and 280,000 baht.
And since Honda reckons so many people _ especially city-dwellers who hardly go out of town _ will choose the smaller engine, it's the 2.0 model that sees higher prices than before by 26,000 and 30,000 baht for the 2WD and 4WD. Cunning.
Interior features aside, we think the 2.0 FWD is really all most buyers would really need.
True, it has doesn't feel as powerful as the 2.4, but the 2.0 has a smoother engine operation and still goes adequately. Hey, performance was never really a big priority in the CR-V in the first place.
And the good news is that the 2.0 now has 155hp (up by 5hp) whereas the 2.4's power is unchanged.
In the 2.0, Honda claims 12.5kpl for 2WD and 12.1kpl for 4WD. However, we achieved practically the same figure of 10.5kpl in both the 2.0 and 2.4 during a drive to Wang Nam Kiew in Nakhon Ratchasima.
Another good thing with the 2.0 is the quieter ride, possibly due to the smaller 17-inch wheels. But you'll lose a number of safety and comfort-related features of the 2.4 in the 2.0, clearly showing Honda's intention of preserving sales of the range-topper which isn't a necessarily the better one on the move.
AT A GLANCE
Styling ................................. 7/10Exterior design remains bold but controversial. At least the CR-V is distinctive in its own right.
Performance ........................ 7/10
Unchanged engine and transmission yields sufficient, if not exceptional, grunt in the real world.
Handling and ride .................. 7/10
The CR-V now has a more comfortable ride and easier driving manners, if some sharpness has been lost.
Practicality .......................... 9/10
The CR-V has shrunk in length yet interior space is better. Seats fold flat at a flick of a lever.
Safety kit ............................. 8/10
Five three-point seat belts, front and side airbags, stability control system and 4WD come in top-spec form.VERDICT .............................. 7/10
The latest CR-V scores with easy and comfortable driving manners, as well as a spacious and versatile package. Fuel thirst remains a downside.
About the author
- Writer: Richard Leu
Position: Motoring news Editor