Honda CR-V 200i i-VTEC A/T (2003) Driving Impression

Honda CR V 2003

The fact that the second generation Honda CR-V has almost immediately managed to carve itself a sizeable niche in the South African market speaks volumes of how accurately Honda’s product planners were in predicting the evolution of the compact SUV segment. When the segment was born it was though that a reasonable degree of off-road ability would be required, but increasingly the priority has shifted towards offering an interior environment that boasts unmatchable flexibility and comfort, with a modicum of gravel-road ability to enable families to reach their “off-the-beaten-track” destinations. The current Honda CR-V does this better than almost anything else in its class.

Honda CR-V Automatic for the adventurous

This particular model takes another step closer to being the ultimate family leisure vehicle, by offering the convenience of automatic gearshifting. The transmission is a simple four-speed unit, with fourth actually being an overdrive ratio for cruising. A switch allows the ‘box to be locked into the first three gears, to allow for better responsiveness. The transmission – accessible via a lever placed on the facia in a rather old-fashioned style – is mated with Honda’s 2,0-litre four-cylinder that boasts i-VTEC (intelligent variable valve timing). This engine delivers a healthy 110 kW, but the torque output is quite low at 190 Nm, and it is developed at high revs (4 000 rpm), pointing to an engine that will need a lot of revs to get going. Weighing in at over 1,5 tonnes, the Honda CR-V is also quite a heavy vehicle, and the automatic all-wheel drive system saps more power. Resultantly, this is not the swiftest of vehicles in its segment. Expect a leisurely 13,5 seconds to reach 100 km/h from rest, and with the throttle nailed to the floor. That said, it is significantly better at cruising speeds, and overtaking acceleration is not bad.

Clearly, however, performance is certainly not why you would buy the Honda CR-V. And neither is fuel economy – with a consumption figure of close to 14 litres/100 km regular fill-ups will be required – the tank is a relatively small 58 litres.

Where the engine/transmission combination impresses, however, is in the refined cruising ability the Honda CR-V displays. Obviously taller gearing helps in this regard, as the Honda CR-V is a quiet cruiser at the national speed limit.

Superb cabin practicality

The Honda CR-V cabin displays a lot of MPV influences. For example, the mounting of both the gearshift and the handbrake lever on the facia has allowed Honda’s designers to create a flat floor and free space between the front seats, enough for a flip-up tray with cupholders. The sensation of space (which is not an optical illusion) carries through to the rear seats, where there is also a flat floor design and ample rear legroom. In fact, rear seat passengers can not only alter the angles of their seatbacks, but also adjust their legroom by sliding the seats fore/aft. Push the seats as far forward as they can go and you will have what is quite possibly the biggest boot around. As if that is not enough, the seats also fold down to free up even more cargo space. The boot, also accessible through the pop-open rear window, even features a luggage cover that can double as a picnic table… clever! Overall, full marks for practicality in terms of design. Unfortunately, the light beige interior colour is not quite as practical…

Facing the driver is a facia that appears somewhat dated, mostly because of the aftermarket audio system and the use of shiny, hard, brown plastics. Nevertheless, build quality is good, as you’d expect from Honda. The front seats are wide and generally comfortable (especially on longer trips), but lack lateral support. Height adjustment for the driver’s chair is included. Standard equipment is comprehensive and includes even cruise control and a sunroof. Two airbags are fitted, as are ABS with EBD.

And off-road?

This Honda CR-V is certainly not aimed at those folk who need to cross rivers to get to the family destination. The automatic all-wheel drive system is always active, but generally runs in front-wheel drive mode to save fuel, only sending power to the rear wheels once the front wheels are losing traction. The tyres are also very road-biased. So, although the ground clearance is a good 205 mm, the Honda CR-V really is only suitable for the odd gravel road, and for extra security when road conditions deteriorate due to the weather (mud, ice etc).

Honda CR-V - Verdict

One has to wonder how the evolution of the compact SUV to incorporate more MPV elements will impact the long-term potential for stand-alone versions of the latter. After all, SUVs boast far more desirable design, and extra versatility in the form of a measure of off-road ability. The Honda CR-V comes close to achieving a perfect combination of these two types of vehicles, and in automatic form is a very comfortable long-distance family car. The only concerns are the high fuel consumption and lethargic acceleration off the mark, but the latter will not be of much concern to a large proportion of the target market.

We like:

  • Very practical interior
  • Comfort
  • Quality
  • Standard specification
We don’t like:
  • Dated facia design
  • Lethargic performance
  • Heavy fuel consumption
Fast facts

Engine: 2,0-litre, four-cylinder, petrol

Power: 110 kW @ 6 500 rpm

Torque: 190 Nm @ 4 000 rpm

Transmission: Four-speed automatic

Wheels: 15-inch alloy

Top speed: 165 km/h

0-100 km/h: 13,5 seconds

Fuel economy: 13,73 litres/100 km


Also consider:

  • Subaru Forester 2,5 XEL Automatic: This underrated vehicle is one of the market’s best-kept secrets. Its symmetrical permanent all-wheel drive endows it with excellent handling in all conditions and on all surfaces. The interior is practical, comfortable and hard-wearing. And it’s just about bullet proof.
  • Nissan X-Trail 2,5 SE Automatic: One of the most popular compact SUVs on the market and for obvious reasons – the looks are stylish, the ride very good and the interior quirky but practical. Offers significantly more power than the Honda and Subaru.
  • Toyota RAV4 200 5-dr Automatic: Similar to the Honda in overall execution, power and specification, but is of a newer design and could be the best long-term option in this segment. Although its power outputs are almost identical to the Honda’s it feels a fair bit livelier.