Metallic brown is new colour for Europe on 2015 range. Grille is like that introduced with new Fit/Jazz which arrives later this year

Metallic brown is new colour for Europe on 2015 range. Grille is like that introduced with new Fit/Jazz which arrives later this year

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When you already have a vehicle that is a major success (outselling all car models in the US in December) and one of the most popular models in its segment pretty much worldwide, there's not much point in altering the recipe too much.

So Honda's UK built, European specification CR-V will come to market from March with a light update centred around a new, more powerful version of the previously entry level 1.6-litre diesel engine with the option of a nine-speed ZF automatic transmission, some new occupant safety technology, new app-driven connectivity system included as standard, some NVH and handling tweaks and a few exterior nip 'n' tucks only Honda nuts will pick at a glance.

It's always struck me as odd that the CR-V was once planned as a domestic market model only with no manual transmission or left hand drive. Boy, did that change once the foreign distributors set eyes on it. Two years after Japanese launch, LHD and manual having been swiftly developed, it reached Europe and over 750,000 units have since been sold including 50,000 last year.

With just over half a million shifted in the first nine months of last year, the CR-V was the world’s best-selling SUV, Honda claims ,so you can almost imagine the edict to product planning: 'facelift it but don't **** with it'.

Engines

The CR-V is a true global model, built in three locations in North America alone, and doesn't vary much from market to market save for regional regulations and preferences. For Europe, preference is spelled d-i-e-s-e-l, a party that, funnily enough, Honda was quite late to, having had to borrow engines from PSA for its early, late 80s initial foray. But, having built some of the world's best petrol engines, when attention was finally turned to Rudolf's compression ignition motors, they turned out well. Initially, two- to 2.2-litres was the norm but, a couple of years ago, a new 1.6 appeared, initially just the one in 120PS tune, coupled only to manual transmission, available in the CR-V and Civic.

Now, starting with the CR-V, there's a new 160PS unit, replacing the old 2.2 and the automatic transmission option (my choice, natch) goes from five speeds to nine, bringing Honda in line with Range Rover and Jeep. The diesel motor is unique to Europe unit (though some previous UK-built CR-V diesels have escaped to Australia supplementing local region-sourced petrol models) and is a 'i-DTEC' four-cylinder unit from Honda’s Earth Dreams Technology series, first introduced as that 120PS 1.6 in 2013. 

Aided by a new two-stage turbo, it offers higher power output and better power delivery than the worthy but now aged 2.2, as well as superior levels of efficiency and significantly reduced CO2 emissions. Honda claims the best power to consumption ratio in the segment, too. 

A number of innovations reduce frictional energy losses, with the engine friction of the i-DTEC engine now 37% lower than its predecessor and equivalent to that of a petrol unit. The result is fuel economy up to 4.9 l/100km on the EU combined cycle and we had an automatic down to as low as 3.7 while Captain Slow here was driving.

Despite the capacity drop (everyone's doing it; Nissan's core Qashqai petrol engine is now a 1.2 in place of a 1.6), that 160PS is 6% up on the 2.2 (torque is 350Nm) and CO2 emissions are 129g/km (down 11% improvement and claimed a class best) with the standard six-speed manual transmission. 

The new two stage turbo feeds from two exhaust gas inlets, one activated at low pressure and the other at high pressure. The high pressure turbo is responsible for air flow to the engine at low engine speeds while the low pressure turbo operates at high engine speeds. At mid range engine speeds, both turbos work in tandem to optimise air flow to the engine. The high pressure turbo is controlled by a variable geometry turbine (VGT) to ensure optimal throttle response and reduce energy losses at low engine speeds. The low pressure turbo is controlled by a conventional waste gate.

Honda UK officials were quick to quip the new engine is 'Boris proof' in a reference to the London mayor's threat to sweep from the capital's streets anything not Euro 6-compliant within a few years (it was noted in social media how much emissions went down when strikers took his diesel buses off the streets for a day recently). The latest Honda diesel complies with Euro6b using a NOx storage catalyst (NSC) after-treatment system, continuously alternating NOx adsorption and conversion (reduction) processes. The focus of development was set to enable a light-off of the catalyst already at low temperatures in order to sufficiently convert NOx emissions yet maintaining the conversion efficiency at high temperatures. Optimisation on ratio of precious metal amount and effective adsorption surface helped achieve the target.

Nine speed auto

The new nine speed automatic gives a wider spread of gears so the now very low first gear ratio ensures responsive performance while a high top gear ratio results in reduced fuel consumption and noise level at cruising speeds. I gave up trying to pick and count the shifts - it's as smooth as a twin clutch without the overhanging reliability worries that have plagued certain rival automakers.

Depending on driving characteristics the 'box can shift directly down multiple gears, the possible shift patterns include 9-7, 9-5, 7-4, and 6-4. 

The efficient packaging of the new transmission results in a smaller, lighter (by 35 kg) unit, allowing better weight distribution across the vehicle. The new engine and transmission together weigh 65kg less than the previous equivalent powertrain combination, benefiting ride, handling and steering response, as well as efficiency. 

One petrol powertrain carries over in four- and two-wheel drive - the 2.0-litre i-VTEC has a maximum power of 155PS and 192Nm of torque and is also fully Euro6 compliant. Transmissions remain six-speed manual or five-speed automatic. Honda keeps the range fairly simple, the 160PS diesel and all automatic versions are four-wheel drive only, the 120PS diesel is 2WD manual only; with the two-litre petrol manual, the choice of driven wheels is the buyer's.

Insiders hinted a nine-speed automatic would come (eventually) for the petrol models but not till the next redesign which will bring a new generation engine (1.6?) as well.

Chassis/NVH

Upgrades for better handling and a more refined ride include new front suspension bushes, dampers, revised lower arm knuckle geometry and rear tracking arms. Front and rear track have been increased by 15mm, and camber angle is up by half a degree to further aid stability. The new lighter diesel powertrain reduces weight over the front wheels, increasing cornering agility and handling. 

The steering ratio has been increased by 8%, reducing reaction delays of the vehicle when swerving around obstacles in the road at high speed while maintaining precise and quick handling at lower speeds for better manoeuvrability.

NVH management measures include a doubling in the thickness of the door seals, changes to the floor carpet, and optimisation or enlargement of sound absorption materials in the dash, doors and pillars. Sealing of the front end of the hood reduces wind noise, Honda claims the 2015 CR-V’s cabin is 6% quieter than its predecessor.

Safety

Honda now clusters its updated sensor based active safety systems, known as advanced driving assist systems under the name 'Sensing' which now combines both camera and radar technology, allowing for advancements to collision mitigation braking and adaptive cruise control. But Sensing is for top models only with some items a package option lower down the range.

The new collision mitigation braking system combines a camera and radar technology capable of operating over an expanded range, combining high and low speed braking, bringing the car to standstill if required. It can now detect vehicles from further in the distance and their closing rate between the car and the vehicle (car or truck) directly in front of it. Unlike the current CMBS system, it is also possible to recognise objects such as pedestrians or oncoming cars. 

Honda also claims the 2015 CR-V will be the first vehicle in the world equipped with a predictive cruise control system, known as intelligent adaptive cruise control (i-ACC), capable of predicting and automatically reacting to other vehicles 'cutting-in' to the vehicle’s lane.

I-ACC uses a camera and radar to sense the position of other vehicles on the road. It then applies an algorithm to predict the likelihood of vehicles in neighbouring lanes cutting in by evaluating relations between multiple vehicles, enabling the equipped vehicle to react quickly. It complements rather than replaces traditional adaptive cruise control and reacts earlier and less drastically. 

Styling tweaks

Mid-life appearance updates include redesigned headlamps with halogen bulbs, LED daytime running lights and HID projectors, new grille, bumper and skid plate. Rear LED combination lamps are restyled and there are new 17- and 18-inch alloy wheels.

Inside, there's a reshaped chrome-effect inlay running the width of the dashboard, new materials and new seven-inch touchscreen for the Connect telematics system plus a a sliding centre armrest.

The 2015 CR-V also gains a one action fold down rear seat system with 60/40 split function allowing them to be easily folded completely flat with the simple pull of a handle. A space-saver spare wheel is available.

Upholstery choices are black perforated leather, black Alcantara and leather, black emboss smooth fabric or ivory perforated leather and fit and finish inside and our are up to Honda's usual high standard.

Connect

This new infotainment is fitted as on all grades above entry level (Comfort/SE) and runs Android 4.0.4 using the familiar 'pinch, swipe and tap' functionality of a smartphone. So items like rear parking camera, music, Bluetooth, internet access, apps, Honda's App Centre, optional Garmin satellite navigation, DAB/FM/AM and internet radio, phone interface and trip computer are all in one place though, strangely, some displays are duplicated or even 'triplicated' by a smaller central screen and an even smaller one in the instrument cluster. More familiarity is needed but we had no problem sorting out essential nav, phones and fuel consumption displays intuitively.

Connect is also Mirror Link-enabled which enables the user to mirror their smartphone display. My iOS 6 phone refused to lower itself.... Smartphone wifi tethering and mobile wifi router facilities are also available. There are some pre-installed apps - including Aha internet radio - with others available for download from an app centre.

Garmin satellite navigation is standard on top models and optional lower down - maps are pre-loaded to remove dependence on mobile data reception.

Opposition in this sector is heavy and, based on the few competitors I've sampled, all pretty good but Honda obviously has something that keeps it ahead of most of the pack. This update concentrates on the key aspect of the nameplate for the UK and Europe - diesel - and helps fend off newer redesigns like the excellent Qashqai until the all-new CR-V appears in a few years' time.