For most of its history, the Honda CR-V has always been at the top of the compact crossover SUV sales chart. This is due to its balance of practicality, spaciousness, reliability, and because it’s a unibody SUV, it also was comfortable and relaxing to drive. What we’re driving today is the top trim diesel-fed 2021 Honda CR-V 1.6 SX AWD, which received a couple of enhancements for this model year. The question is, are the changes enough? Let’s find out.
From the outside, the 2021 Honda CR-V continues to be a conservatively styled SUV. The front and rear bumpers are new, and they now feature a satin silver trim piece for added style. There’s also a new gloss black grille that looks sportier than the previous model’s chrome finish. New 18-inch alloy wheels are also offered on all but the 1.6 V diesel variant, while new sweeping LED turn signals unique to this 1.6 SX diesel variant. Overall, the changes are quite minor, though they’re noticeable nonetheless.
If you think the exterior changes are minor, wait till you see the inside. From an aesthetics standpoint, the interior looks almost exactly the same as before, which means you get a decent amount of soft-touch plastics and faux wood trims. What’s new for 2021 is a redesigned center console storage area, which is still the most flexible in its segment. Unique to this 1.6 SX variant is a new wireless charging pad and power-adjustable driver and front passenger seat. Style-wise, the CX-5’s luxurious interior is hard to beat, but the CR-V is still the class benchmark in terms of practicality.
If there’s one thing that I think is a missed opportunity for Honda, that would be the infotainment system. Back in 2018, its OEM Android-based infotainment system is considered good by class standards. Now though, the software can feel slow to respond due to the unnecessary animations of the system. At least Apple CarPlay and Android Auto come as standard, though we wish this was wireless since the wired smartphone integration tech will almost render the wireless charging pad useless.
That focus on utility is further evident the moment you get to those rear seats. As with past CR-Vs, rear-seat space continues to be its strength. Though believe it or not, the five-seater gasoline-powered 2.0 S variant offers even more second-row space. This is because the seven-seater diesel CR-Vs have a sliding second-row, which consequently reduces head and legroom compared to the five-seater model. Still, it’s one of the best for accommodating three adults. Plus there are even rear aircon vents and two USB ports.
The purpose of the sliding second-row is in order to provide access to the third row (refer to video review). Yes, the CR-V continues to be the only compact crossover to offer seven seats. Nope, I won’t be able to sit there for long periods of time, but the mere fact that I’m able to fit in a pinch means that kids will find the third row perfectly adequate.
The presence of third-row seats, however, has reduced its trunk capacity. With the seats folded down, trunk space drops from 522 liters in the five-seater version to just 472 in this seven-seater CR-V. The difference in space grows even further once you fold down the second-row seats, offering just 967 liters as opposed to the five-seater model’s 1,084.
Powering the 2021 Honda CR-V 1.6 SX AWD variant that we’re driving is a 1.6-liter i-DTEC turbo diesel engine that produces 120 hp at 4,000 rpm and 200 Nm at 2,000 rpm. This drives all four wheels via a 9-speed automatic made by the same German company that makes BMW’s 8-speed automatic for rear-wheel drive (RWD) vehicles.
Why does this part matter? Well, it’s because the transmission of the diesel CR-V is easily one of the nicest in its segment. The nine forward gears are a contributor to its excellent fuel economy of 17.1 km/l. Yes, that figure is astronomically high, and as I mention in my reviews, I live in Sta. Rosa, Laguna, where traffic is almost nonexistent. Under the same circumstances, the diesel-fed Mazda CX-5 boasts a fuel economy figure of around 12 km/l, which is still fuel-efficient, but the CR-V diesel is the fuel-economy champ.
What’s more, the engine is still a gem to drive. Most keyboard warriors are easy to dismiss its 120 hp figure, but what these don’t tell in the real world is how the 300 Nm of torque is delivered in a linear fashion. Okay, so it won’t light up a dragstrip, but its 0-100 kph time of around 10 seconds is on par with every single PPV out there. The diesel engine and 9-speed automatic combination offer linear acceleration and smooth power delivery.
And smoothness is what this car is all about. The steering doesn’t have the quickest on-center response nor the most feel. What it offers is excellent straight-line stability, since you don’t need to make a lot of corrections while going down a highway. Handling-wise, the CR-V has the potential to be sporty, thanks to having loads of grip. And when the CR-V is pushed to its limits, understeer comes in safe and progressively. There’s also not a lot of body roll. If the steering has the same quick reflexes as what you’d find in a Mazda CX-5, then the CR-V will definitely be right up there in terms of sportiness.
Mechanically, the CR-V has remained unchanged, which means while the CR-V is still one of the best in terms of ride quality, it’s not anymore on top when it comes to refinement. Back in 2018, I considered the CR-V to be quiet and refined. While this still mostly holds true today, competitors such as the Mazda CX-5, which received mechanical updates in 2020, or even the Peugeot 3008, now have better road, wind, and engine noise suppression.
As a whole, the 2021 Honda CR-V will still continue its streak as the best-selling compact crossover SUV. Its blend of practicality, comfort, and spaciousness will still win the hearts and minds of families who continue to prefer a refined and sophisticated unibody SUV over equivalently-priced but less refined pickup-based passenger vehicles.
Pricing and Rating
Exterior Design: ★★★★☆
Interior Design: ★★★★☆
Space and Practicality: ★★★★★
Fuel Efficiency: ★★★★★
Value For Money: ★★★★☆
Overall: 4.4 out of 5
*Pricing is correct and accurate as of this article’s time of writing.