By Jeffrey the Barak.
Usually when you read a car review it talks about specifications, quality, practicality and reliability. It helps you decide whether you should buy the same car.
This is not one of those reviews. It uses my one year old car as an example to discuss how car design might have strayed from what car owners actually need.
The Honda CR-V is one of the best selling cars in the world. It can be classed as a Crossover, or a Compact Utility Wagon. The name actually stands for Compact Runabout Vehicle.
Let’s start with the obvious. It is not compact anything. It is an enormous vehicle, unless you compare it to even more enormous vehicles. If I can strap in five adults, or slip a drum set and two bikes through the back door, it is not compact. And yet there are three larger categories of utility vehicle that are even larger than this. My CR-V’s platform is based on the Civic, the once sub-compact car that has evolved to be twice the size of an old Accord.
I was looking at some very diverse and different vehicles when I went car shopping just over a year ago. I was replacing a nine year old VW Rabbit (3-door Golf) and I looked at sedans, wagons (rare), whatever Prius are, and compact utility vehicles. I have, in the past, complained endlessly about oversized SUVs that only ever do the work of a car, and was surprised at myself when I had such a positive reaction to the CR-V. I think the main reason for that was that on the test drive it was quiet and comfortable and it felt good gliding over rough asphalt on a nice leather chair without a lot of noise. It actually reminded me of an older Rolls Royce, if that makes any sense. Comfort and isolation were high on my list of priorities.
So I chose this 2017 CR-V EX-L 2WD station wagon that everyone else calls an SUV and I have had it for a year. After a year it still looks the same and it is still showroom clean on most days, except the leather smell has somehow completely disappeared. I am still comfortable, I still like it, and despite it being such a giant, it gets over 30MPG (US).
So what is wrong with it? I think it is probably too big. If I could have found a smaller wagon that was just as quiet and comfortable, that might have been better. And some of the features that I initially thought added to safety and control, may actually be adding to the danger of the car.
For example, ACC, automatic cruise control, is designed to help you not crash into the car in front, which is a constant danger when the driver is aged over 60. But I leave ACC in standby on anything other than a long straight road, because on curves it thinks the cars in the adjacent lane, or stationary parked cars, are the car in front. So if using it to stay at 25 MPH at a set distance from the car in front, and the road curves left, the Honda will slam on the brakes before it passes a parked car that is not moving. This safety feature can easily get you rear-ended, so it is not clever enough, and dangerous. Sad because I really wanted to have this on all the time.
The other danger is too much information. The instrument cluster is through the steering wheel and the infotainment screen is in the center of the dash. Plus there are the usual array of stalks and buttons for climate etc. I think it is too much and too distracting. I have to positively force myself to keep looking where I am going, with just the occasional glance at the nice big digital speedo. I need the speedometer, the fuel range, and not much else. But this is not exclusive to the CR-V, it holds true for almost all new cars.
Bumpers. Why did they have to become extinct on everything but trucks? If I were to touch anything with this or any other modern car, I would have a very expensive repair bill. We need bumpers to come back.
Style. The modern look with all the curves, ridges, massive three-dimensional plastic light lenses, and giant bumpers that are not actually bumpers, is getting a bit old. In fact for a more extreme example, the CR-V’s little sister, the Civic, looks incredibly silly in 2017-18 and is covered in creases, shapes, cutouts and trim that has no purpose at all. I think a clean simple look with no fake vents, intakes, scoops or anything of the kind would be very refreshing. I heard that a ten year old Civic in good condition sells for as much as a new one. That says something about the styling.
Today’s cars have features that improve safety, but the way we have to interface with the features is unsafe. For example, have you seen the interior of a Tesla Model 3? How can you read and digitally interface with a big touch-screen in the middle of your dash console and be expected to watch where you are going all the time? We really need to look where we are going.
When my CR-V is 5 years old, I will look for a smaller wagon, and by then there may also be more options that make an all-electric choice more practical. I think this is my last engine, my last fuel system and my last exhaust system. And I hope that car design gets cleaner with fewer embellishments and fewer distractions in the interface.