(Source: www.straitstimes.com)

Darwin’s theory of natural selection charts evolutionary changes over several generations. The automotive world is a little faster than the animal world in this respect.

When something is no longer competitive, it is replaced, and rather quickly. So is the case of the MPV, a people mover once as common as sparrows. But before you can spell multi-purpose vehicle, the species is nearly as dead as the dodo.

In its place is the superior SUV. Many have evolved by sprouting two extra seats to compete in the same territory as the MPV.

The new Honda CR-V is the latest SUV to offer this proposition. Unlike its 2.4-litre five-seat predecessor, the latest car is powered by a 1.5-litre turbo engine which churns out significantly more torque.

It is also slightly bigger all round, but remains compact enough not to be daunting in tight carpark ramps.

Space in the third row is surprisingly adequate for small-built adults. Seats are easily manoeuvrable and pose no danger to manicured nails or fragile ligaments.

With the third row in place, stowage capacity is modest. But you can flip the seats flat in a jiffy to free up a sizeable cargo area. Long pull straps are in place to help you get those seats up again. These come with Velcro fasteners to ensure they do not flap about noisily when the car is in motion.

  • SPECS / HONDA CR-V 1.5T (SEVEN-SEAT)

  • Price: $161,999 with COE ($145,999 for five-seater)

    Engine: 1,498cc 16-valve inline-4 turbocharged

    Transmission: Continuously variable with manual select

    Power: 193bhp at 5,000rpm

    Torque: 243Nm at 2,000-5,000rpm

    0-100kmh: 9.4 seconds

    Top speed: 200kmh

    Fuel consumption: 7.3 litres/100km

    Agent: Kah Motor

Other thoughtful features include a panoramic glass roof which brightens up the third row; electrically adjustable driver’s seat (manual for the five-seater version); motorised tailgate; keyless access with walkaway self-lock; electronic parking brake with auto hold; cruise control; hill start assist; and front and rear parking sensors.

In the evolutionary process, the CR-V has shed its urge to go off- road and relies only on its front paws for traction.

At 1.64 tonnes, the seven-seater is 113kg heavier than its five-seat twin (additional heft from extra seats, panoramic roof, third-row air-con and roof rails).

Yet, it acquits itself rather well on the go. Its 1.5-litre turbo heart is punchier than the previous 2.4-litre naturally aspirated unit. So, despite its heft, it outsprints its five-seat predecessor.

Top speed is also higher at 200kmh, up from 190kmh.

Fuel economy has improved 13 per cent to 7.3 litres/100km, thanks to the car’s downsized engine as well as its CVT gearbox, which is clearly more efficient – if more whiney – than the previous five-speed autobox.

The car is not particularly sharp or poised when hurried. But neither is it sloppy or shoddy. It certainly feels more confident and engaging than a full-size MPV.

The best part about its drivetrain is probably its brakes. Electrically assisted for the first time, they are very sensitive yet easily modulated.

But most potential buyers are likely to be drawn to its styling. The CR-V is much better-looking than before, having lost its jutting jaw line. From the rear, it looks more sophisticated. And overall, it is less stiff and chunky.

Build quality is decent, although for something above $160,000, you might expect a bit more.

At this price, you can pick quite a few seven-seaters, including the VW Touran and BMW 216 Active Tourer.

Then again, you wouldn’t be driving an SUV if you did, would you?

Interior space a selling point

What is so special about the new Honda CR-V? The Straits Times corners CR-V chief engineer Koji Hirano for a quick Q&A.

Besides the technical specs, what differentiates this model from the previous one?

Engine, seven-seat option, safety features such as LaneWatch, Driver Attention Monitor – all these differentiate it from the previous generation.

Also, its space-efficient design offers various seating configuration options and a new soft-touch instrument panel makes it more refined.

With so many SUVs/crossovers available today, what is the CR-V’s unique selling point?

Honda strives to minimise the size of the car’s mechanical components so that occupants can have a large and comfortable interior space.

Even from the very first generation, the CR-V allows passengers to get on and off the vehicle easily, especially for the all-new CR-V, which is based on the “Man Maximum Machine Minimum” design concept.

When will we see new powertrains in the model? Will a hybrid version be available in Singapore?

We have already introduced new powertrains in other markets, such as hybrid for the Chinese market and 1.6-litre turbodiesel for Thailand and the Philippines. Unfortunately, as of now, we do not have any official information about whether a hybrid will be available for Singapore.

Why should someone buy this rather than something like the Toyota Harrier?

For someone who requires a seven-seater sport utility vehicle to meet his or her needs and lifestyle, the CR-V offers luxury and comfort.

More Info: www.straitstimes.com

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