THE world's biggest selling SUV just got roomier, greener and a lot bolder looking.
As the Honda CR-V hits 23 years old, it has been treated to a top-to-bottom redraw to allow it to compete with the flood of challengers in Europe's fastest growing sector.
It was back in 1995 that the first Comfortable Recreational Vehicle emerged to counter the success of models like the Toyota RAV4 and Land Rover Freelander.
The latest edition - generation five - is new from the ground up including, a fresh engine, longer wheelbase, stronger and lighter platform, and the option, for the first time, of a third row of seats making it a seven-seater.
This is a vitally important model for Honda with the CR-V representing a quarter of sales across Europe last year.
In a U-turn reflecting the current fuel controversy, there will no diesel engines. At first only the new 1.5-litrepetrol VTEC turbo will be offered. Next year a petrol hybrid will join the line up.
Prices are yet to be fixed, but are likely to show a minor increase on the current range. Expect the range to start at around £26,000 and go up to £34,000. First orders will go out to customers at the end of September.
Although the wheelbase is slightly longer and cabin room has been boosted, overall length remains the same. The loading bay is 250mm longer and luggage capacity has increased to a generous 561 litres. The rear seats fold flat to make a step-free platform.
Visually, it's still very much a CR-V...but on steroids with a squatter, more muscular stance. Tail lights extend up the rest pillars in typical Honda style but the effect is more coordinated making the car look a tad sportier and wider.
It has a robust and confident appearance which helps give the new car greater kerb appeal, and makes it stand out from the crowd of crossovers.
Practicality is a key quality in SUVs and Honda engineers have tried to make the new car as user friendly as possible. The rear doors open to almost 90-degrees making access and exit an easy task.
Space in the final row of seats in the seven-seater is obviously restricted but the centre row is made to slide forward at a pull of strap to improve legroom at the back.
There will still be four trim levels, and greatest take up is expected to be for the two top models in UK - the SR and EX. These two versions are most likely to be specked with automatic gearbox.
A six-speed manual is standard issue. Historically buyers here tend to go for 4WD CR-Vs, and Honda marketing people anticipate the split to be 80/20 towards all-paw design.
The cabin is generally a big step up on the previous model with plenty of soft-touch plastic mouldings, spacious footwells and dashes of gloss black strips dissecting the facia.
Less impressive are the plastic ‘wood' panels on the doors and dash. Honda UK is apparently looking at ways of substituting these for the next model year.
My first outing was in a mid-spec manual, front drive version. As before it's an undemanding drive with light controls and decent steering that has more road-feel than most rivals.
The new 1.5-litre engine - producing 171bhp in the six-speed version and 190bhp in the automatic - is lively enough but rather too audible in the manual model, particularly when pulling strongly on full throttle. So those expecting greater refinement in the absence of diesel power may be disappointed.
There's little wind noise and the new platform is stiff and strong enough to ensure the ride compliant and composed. In fact, comfort and ease of driving is a strength in the new CR-V.
The combination of a great visibility, light controls and well-cushioned suspension make for a relaxing mile-eater.
Acceleration is about par for the course with 62mph coming up in 9.3sec for the front drive version and 10 seconds in the 4WD model, reflecting a useful improvement on the previous generation. Top speed is up more than 5mph at 131mph.
The CVT automatic - which has simulated steps to avoid the tendency towards frenetic revving and a ‘rubber band' feel to acceleration - is a noticeably more refined drive with lower noise levels and a more relaxed nature. Steering wheel paddles give the driver further control.
There appears to be a discrepancy in the thirst between the manual and CVT models all of which have 4WD as standard, with the auto having a combined economy 39.8mpg and the manual achieving a more frugal 44.8mpg.
Emissions are 164g/km and 146g/km respectively.
British motorists' love affair with crossovers and SUVs will surely be deepened further by the arrival of new CR-V which broadens its already wide appeal thanks to the option of a seven-seater and sexier looks.