Cape Town – The fifth-generation Honda CR-V, launched in South Africa this week, is in many ways a triumph of packaging.

It’s actually 10mm shorter overall than its predecessor, on a 40mm longer wheelbase – but it’s also wider across the body, particularly at the shoulders, as well as both front and rear track.

Honda quotes a 90mm increase in rear legroom, as well as more shoulder room front and rear, and a significantly bigger luggage compartment, up to 522 litres with the 60:40 split rear seat backs in place, and 1084 litres with them folded flat.

And we do mean flat - unlike the previous CR-V, with the seats down the floor of the luggage compartment is completely flat from the tailgate sill to the backs of the front seats. It’s also about 250mm longer - long enough, says Honda, to sleep on.

But even without recourse to a tape measure, the new CR-V is noticeably more spacious; with the front seats adjusted quite far back, I could drop a motorcycle crash helmet into the rear foot-well with room to spare.

The cabin is also well packaged in terms of fit and finish; a neat mix of glossy trim and soft-touch surfaces gives a quality feel, and the dashboard displays are up to date without going over the top. The instrument binnacle houses a colour TFT display in place of the previous model’s analogue dials, with a bar-graph rev counter (the most legible one we’ve seen yet) across the top and a huge digital speed readout in the middle.

The odo and tripmeter displays across the bottom, however, are too small for easy reading while on the move - but the only time you really need them is when you’re trying to follow a route schedule, which is normal for a motoring journalist on a launch drive but rare for soccer moms or commuting dads, who usually know where there they’re going.

Standing a little proud of the centre stack is either a 12.5 or 17.5 centimetre colour touchscreen that works exactly like a tablet, so much so that the Honda technicians didn’t even bother to walk us through the menu; it wasn’t necessary, the layout is reassuringly intuitive. Immediately below it is a high-mounted selector for the CVT transmission that’s standard across the range, leaving space in the centre console for a deep storage box with an adjustable floor, a 12 volt outlet, and auxiliary and USB ports, under the centre armrest.

The Range:

The new CR-V is offered in South Africa with a choice of two engines, each with its own drivetrain and two trim specifications, for a four-strong line-up.

The base engine is the bigger of the two (not unusual these days), a refined version of the two-litre iV-Tec petrol four, familiar from the previous CR-V, driving the front wheels only. In this application it’s rated for 113kW at 6500 revs and 189Nm at 4300rpm.

The upscale prime mover is a 1.5-litre, direct-injection turbopetrol four borrowed from the new Civic, but tweaked for more power – in this case 140kW at 5600 revs and 240Nm from 2000-5000rpm. All-wheel drive is standard; the default mode is front-wheel drive, with an intelligent Real Time traction control system that apportions torque to the rear wheels as needed, before the front wheels even start to spin.

The turbo engine is undoubtedly the smoother, quieter and more efficient of the two, but I wasn’t alone in preferring the rougher, gruffer two-litre mill for its noticeably more instant response and (measured strictly by the seat of the pants) stronger mid-mid-range response. Be it noted, however, that the launch drive was at sea level; the situation may well be reversed in the rarefied atmosphere of Gauteng.

The launch drive took us over some of the Cape's most scenic (read: twisty) drives, as well as - inevitably - through some nasty traffic. The CR-V impressed, firstly, with its quiet, refined ride; the CVT transmission is at its best in an urban environment, seamlessly adjusting to suit conditions, feeling relaxed and in control.

Out in the country, the new variable-ratio electric power steering came into its own, taking the car exactly where we pointed it with impressive precision. A little body roll (more apparent watching the CR-V ahead of us in front than it was in the cabin) came into the equation, but that's the flipside of a comfortable ride, and it never became an issue.

Slingshotting past heavy trucks uphill, however, is not the CR-V's forte; with either drivetrain, you need to ensure the transmission is in Sport mode and make judicious use of the paddle shifters, but in particular the 1.5-litre turbo can be heard working hard, and the two-litre gets appreciably gruffer.

What they’ve got:

The base two-litre Comfort model opens the bidding with halogen headlights, low-mounted foglights, LED daytime riding lights and tail-lights, and 17 alloys wearing 235/65 radials.

The cabin is trimmed in fabric, with a 12.5cm centre colour touchscreen controlling the four-speaker audio system, while auxiliary, USB and Bluetooth connectivity allows for music streaming and hands-free telephony.

Standard kit includes dual-zone automatic aircon, rear parking sensors, electric windows all round, automatic headlights and a multifunction steering wheel with satellite controls for audio, phone and cruise control. A driver awareness system - standard across the range - monitors the frequency and severity of your steering inputs and warns you, in four steps of increasing urgency, that it really is time to take a break now.

The Elegance version, also two-litre and front-wheel drive, ups the ante with paddle shift, leather upholstery, power-adjustable and heated front seats, automatic rain-sensing windscreen wipers and parking sensors front and rear.

A larger, 17.5cm centre touchscreen not only controls the eight-speaker sound system (one mid/bass in each door and a pair of tweeters front and rear) but is also Apple CarPlay-capable. There's an HDMI connection and a second USB port in front, as well as two more for rear-seat passengers.

The 1.5-litre Executive is only available in all-wheel drive, rolls on 18 inch rims and 235/60 radials, and lights the way with self-leveling full LED headlights. It also boasts active noise control, a panoramic sunroof, and keyless entry and start.

The only way to tell the flagship Exclusive from less privileged siblings is its three-element LED front fog lamps - but the interior hides a number of extra features, starting with satnav and including a power-operated tailgate with programmable opening height so it doesn't hit the garage roof.

It also has a full suite of driver aids, including collision mitigation braking, road departure mitigation with lane keeping assist, adaptive cruise control, blind spot monitoring and auto high-beam headlights.

What they cost:

2.0 ComfortR422 900
2.0 EleganceR477 900
1.5T Executive AWDR584 900
1.5T Exclusive AWDR626 900

Prices include a five-year or 200 000km warranty, a five-year or 90 000km service plan and three years' roadside assistance. Two-litre CR-Vs need to go home to mama every 15 000km, 1.5-litre turbos every 10 000km.

IOL Motoring
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