First Drive: 2015 Honda CR-V Touring
There’s more than meets the eye in Honda’s refreshed CUV
BLUE MOUNTAIN, Ont. — If you want to know a man, don’t bother walking a mile in his shoes. Never mind J.K. Rowling’s advice of watching “how he treats his inferiors.” And Googling his every post on social media is a complete waste. Facebook and Twitter are increasingly — as Linkedin has always been — just our professional faces digitized, a constantly refreshed curriculum vitae if you will, highlighting only those specific aspects of our personal life that we’re willing to share with people we barely know. Hardly what one would call a window into the soul.
If you really want to know someone, what you really need is their cellphone. In this, the mobile age, the iPhone is that most personal of devices, the one that never leaves our side, the last thing we see before going to sleep and the first thing we check when we wake up. Marshall McLuhan’s message is just as apropos today as it was 50 years ago. And, for our generation, the medium has a four-inch touchscreen.
So, for instance, I know that Hayato Mori is not just another cookie-cuttered, two-dimensional management drone. Oh, Honda Canada’s senior manager of product planning and business development is outwardly the epitome of Japanese efficiency and decorum; no detail of Honda high-techery is beyond his grasp, no market analysis not immediately at his fingertips. But beneath that well-accoutered veneer of corporate respectability beats the heart of a rebel. An aging — he is after all 44 years old — rebel perhaps, but there’s a little of the Marlon Brando somewhere in there.
How do I know? Why, his phone, of course, which you would know, if you were sitting beside Mori in his new CR-V as he patiently describes Honda’s latest “linking” technology, completely chock-a-block with ’90s hip hop and rap. Surf all the channels his Aha app has bookmarked and you’ll find Hip Hop Throwbacks, Hip Hop Resurrection, ’90s Hip Hop and a compendium of seemingly every Internet radio station devoted to Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac. Driving around in a steadfastly mainstream CR-V with the nattily attired Mori listening to the big bass beat of Hypnotize is to have yet one more stereotype demolished.
And the reason for this illumination is that Mori (graciously, considering this intrusion) offered up his phone to showcase one of the new-for-2015 CR-V’s signature technologies, HondaLink. Designed, at least in the CR-V’s case, as a low-cost alternative to onboard computer systems, HondaLink allows the cost conscious CR-V owner to use their cell phone’s computing power in place of a high-priced onboard infotainment system.
Thus, by hooking up Mori’s iPhone 5 — no simple task as it not only requires a typical Apple “lightning” connector but also a speedier HDMI cable for all the data to be transferred — to the centre-console-mounted LED screen, the dashboard becomes an extension of his persona. The most important “app” offered (all are available through iTunes) is, of course, the navigational aid, an option typically costing $1,000 or more and, in the specific case of the CR-V, only available on the top-of-the-line $35,790 Touring edition. Hook up your phone and not only do you have a cheaper directional widget, but considering the power of the modern mobile, probably a more powerful one as well. HondaLink also offers the Aha music app — where I discovered Grand Master H’s secret hip-hop obsession — and a few other apps, but it will be the navigation system that is the biggest benefit to CR-V owners.
As novel and cost-effective as the new HondaLink system is, it is hardly the only high-tech feature ladled into this year’s mid-model-cycle makeover. Indeed, if there’s a theme to the 2015 CR-V — besides styling revisions that make it look less like a wimpy minivan and more like a butch SUV — it’s that Honda is using its remake as a showcase for its new suitcase of high-techery.
Besides HondaLink, the ’15 CR-V features a suite of driver-assisting technology called Honda Sensing. Onboard cameras and radar offer the becoming-commonplace-but-not-at-this-price adaptive cruise control system, which automatically maintains a set distance to the car in front, a Forward Collision Mitigation apparatus which automatically applies brakes in the case of a collision and Lane Keeping Assist which gently guides you back into your lane if the CR-V goes walkabout. The most popular of the new technologies, however, is the LaneWatch system we first saw on the Accord, a camera mounted on the passenger-side mirror expanding the driver’s field of vision from the 20 degrees typical of most mirrors to a whopping 80 degrees. It’s a novel system, extremely useful and my vote for technology of the year.
Less noticeable — especially if you’re just perusing the specification sheet — is that the CR-V’s engine is also all-new for 2015. Oh, it still tops out at 185 horsepower, but dig deeper and you’ll discover that it’s been Earth Dreamed, Honda’s rather pretentious appellation for its eco-friendly internal combustion technologies. So, while yes, the 2.4 litres remains the same, the little four-banger is now direct injected, the compression ratio has been raised to a motorcycle-like 11.1:1 and has some new fangled offset-cylinder technology. It’s enough for Honda to claim, despite the stagnant horsepower, an increase in performance thanks to the 18 pound-feet bump in torque (for a total of 181 lb.-ft.) and 16% better fuel economy (when comparing this year’s five-cycle testing with an estimate from last year’s two-cycle tested model). Honda claims the CR-V will be the most parsimonious sport-cute in its class.
Part of that significant improvement comes from the continuously variable transmission (CVT) that replaces the outdated five-speed automatic. With a 33% wider gear ratio spread, not only does the new CR-V have more jump off the line, but it also revs lower on the highway (contributing to the comparatively frugal 7.2 L/100 km highway rating for the all-wheel-drive Touring edition). Best of all, unlike most such transmissions, Honda’s CVT doesn’t transform the CR-V into a loud rasping rattletrap (when accelerating, typical CVTs keep the engine’s rpm constant which can be extremely annoying, especially on four-bangers). Indeed, below 4,000 rpm, you’d never know the CR-V’s 2.4L is hooked up to anything other a conventional transmission, the highest compliment one can pay to a continuously variable version.
Indeed, like most Hondas, there is precious little about the CR-V to denigrate. It is not a stylistic leader, but the 2015 refresh has minimized the maudlin. The engine, on paper no more powerful than before, feels decidedly peppier and is more frugal to boot. The interior, especially on my Touring model, is vastly upgraded with swaths of leather, a premium audio system, soft-touch materials and, of course, all that high-tech gadgetry. That the Touring edition, the pinnacle at the top of the CR-V lineup, is fully optioned out at $35,790 also represents something of a bargain; some of its competitors — even from supposedly budget-oriented brands like Hyundai and Jeep — regularly top-out over $40,000. And, of course, lesser models such as the $29,970 SE and $31,790 EX offer that cost-effective HondaLink system.
With or without hip hop.
A primer on Honda’s new Earth Dreams Technology
It is, as defined by our often-eccentric French cousins, an internal combustion engine deliberately unbalanced. An engine in which the pistons are, again, deliberately out of line with the crankshaft that they ride on. The technology, désaxé (literally “unbalanced in our other official language), deliberately renders an engine asymmetric, upsetting its natural balance and causing more vibration. And, yes, Honda has incorporated it into the new-for-2015 Honda CR-V’s “Earth Dreams” 2.4-litre inline four.
Along with a new direct-injection system and a higher, 11.1:1 compression ratio, said Earth Dreams — I think I will keep repeating this rather pretentious appellation until even Honda’s MBA’ed marketing mavens realize they’ve over-reached themselves — eng
ine also offsets its pistons some 8.0 millimetres from the crankshaft centreline. However, there is a method for this seeming mechanical madness; beyond the added vibration that results (which the Earth Dreams uses balancing shafts to quell), having piston and crank out of line greatly reduces friction.
Pictures telling a thousand words, it’s rather easy to see that, in the conventional engine to the left, when the piston is being forced downwards by the combustion forces, the connecting rod’s angularity causes some of the resultant force to press the piston sideways against the cylinder wall. More angularity equals more friction and hence poorer fuel economy.
The second orientation has the connecting rod parallel to the piston and cylinder. No side thrust. No friction. Improved fuel economy. Honda says the Earth Dreams version of the 2.4L is some four percent more efficient than the engine it replaces. Overall, Honda Canada says the 2015 CR-V’s fuel economy is improved some 16% thanks to other new technologies like the new continuously variable transmission. The company also expects the AWD version’s 8.3 L/100 km overall fuel economy (in the new 5-cycle rating system) to be best in class.