Last summer, I spent a whole day driving as much of Honda UK’s heritage fleet as I could possibly squeeze in. Over the following months, I reported back my about the crushing disappointment that was an automatic NSX, my confirmation that yes, the DC2 Integra deserves its heroic status, and finally that the hybrid CR-Z is criminally underrated.
What I never did, however, was talk about the biggest surprise of the day. And that’s something which I’m going to rectify now, but you may well be baffled to learn that it was a first-generation CR-V.
Fear not, though CTzens: I still have full control of all of my faculties because the CR-V is properly lovely to drive.
It rides beautifully, and yet it doesn’t turn into a wallowy mess the first time you show it a corner. The damping is very well judged, going nicely with the surprisingly feelsome steering.
The 2.0-litre B20B produces just 126bhp, this particular CR-V having been born just before Honda updated the car with the 147bhp B20Z. You might expect it to be horribly sluggish, but the CR-V is remarkably light given its size, tipping the scales at around 1500kg. And it’s all down to simplicity.
At the time of the vehicle’s inception, then-Honda CEO Nobuhiko Kawamoto noticed that the CR-V’s intended market was dominated by cars stuffed full of heavy off-road features buyers seldom used. The CR-V would go without, which may not seem dramatic today with our roads dominated by ‘soft-roaders’ like the Nissan Qashqai, but it was radical thinking back then.
0-62mph happens in a thoroughly reasonable 10.5 seconds, and performance is on the whole more than adequate. Crucially, it’s a smooth and satisfying engine to work hard, and it even makes a pretty good noise. With turbocharged engines becoming the norm, you just forget what a joy a simple, low-powered N/A can be, especially when hooked up to a manual gearbox like this one is.
The CR-V is also a genuine lifestyle vehicle. Forget all the ridiculous marketing around today’s luxury crossovers - if you want to actually go camping/canoeing/mountain biking or whatever, an old CR-V is the car to do it in.
This is because it places practicality above pretty much everything else. It has tough black bumpers either end, the interior is disarmingly simple and sturdy, the floor is almost entirely flat throughout, and there’s a handy little fold-out hook in the boot; if you lift the carpet, you’ll find a hidden picnic table, too.
The best part is that these cars are stupidly cheap. A tatty one can be picked up for around £500, and if you increase your budget to more like £1000 - £1500, it’s possible to snag a tidy example. The only issue is there aren’t a whole lot around still - the CR-V isn’t exactly a car people are willing to preserve.
It’s worth persevering, though. The CR-V is an endlessly practical, surprisingly dependable vehicle that’ll surprise you with just how nice it is to drive. I want one. And so should you.