Review: Can the Honda CR-V still justify itself against the Proton X70?

Hans · Mar 27, 2020 03:39 PM

Let’s be honest here, the Honda CR-V has seen better days. Before the introduction of the Proton X70, it was the default choice for families looking for an SUV.

There were many decent alternatives to the CR-V - the Mazda CX-5, Nissan X-Trail, or even the similarly priced but 7-seater Mitsubishi Outlander - but none could challenge the CR-V’s dominance.

All that changed when the Proton X70 undercut everyone else in price. The X70 is far from being a perfect family SUV. In fact, it has many flaws in its ergonomics, infotainment, and practicality but it’s also cheaper by over RM 50,000, enough for users to gloss over a lot of its shortcomings. So should you just brush aside the CR-V and set your sights only on the Proton X70?

Exterior - Red looks sporty, but it looks more menacing in black

If you are used to driving earlier generation CR-Vs, you will be surprised to learn how much bigger the current model is. In fact, it is bigger than any of its key rivals.

The Honda CR-V’s main market is the US. Americans buy CR-Vs more than any other country. Unsurprisingly, this all-new model is designed with the needs of American buyers first, thus explains its size.

 

Driving it in local urban roads, the CR-V’s size is bordering on being cumbersome, especially when you enter multi-storey car parks.

There’s no 360-degree camera but thankfully, the cabin has very good outward visibility.

Car is bigger than any of its rivals, but no 360-degree camera

The bigger size also gives it a very strong road presence though, something which the tamer looking Proton X70 doesn’t exude. Order it in black and give it some dark tinting, the CR-V has a slightly menacing look.

Honda cars are not known for their paint quality but our test unit had a reasonably high paint thickness going up to 290 um at the bonnet but it’s not very consistent, reducing to around 160 um towards to the rear. It should be mentioned that our test unit is several years old.

Panel gaps were within expectations, with difference between left-right sections deviated by no more than 1.5 mm.

Interior - more practical than any of its rivals

The appeal of the Honda CR-V is less about its looks, but more about how it works, and the way its interior’s features come together in ways that families with kids will appreciate it.

The ergonomics is spot on. It’s a car that you simply jump in and drive off, even if it’s your first time in the car. Controls are neatly laid out and are easy to reach, as are the visuals. As far as user friendliness is concerned, the CR-V’s instrument cluster is the best in its class.

All the ADAS functions can be easily enabled/disabled. There’s none of the nonsense multi-layer sub-menus that you have to operate with buttons on your steering wheel.

Adaptive cruise control and lane keep assist can be toggled with no more than three push of a button.

You also get a nice, soft leather knee pad at the sides of the centre console to rest your leg.

The centre console box is big enough to swallow a big DSLR camera, and most ladies’ handbags, plus many more packs of baby wipes – essential for any family with kids.

The integration with Android Auto/Apple CarPlay is also one of the best we’ve experienced. Turn by turn instructions are replicated on the instrument panel, along with a diminishing, distance to next turn bar.

It’s definitely a lot better than the Proton X70’s infotainment, which relies only on mirroring – which works in theory but is rubbish in the real-world because your phone’s screen has to be on all the time, and has to be in the right orientation.

The ‘Hi Proton’ voice control is nice to have but with the CR-V’s Android Auto, you can do more or less the same, except controlling the power windows – no big deal because why would you need voice control for that? Plus, Android Auto allows you to dictate WhatsApp messages, something which Proton’s Chinese-centric GKUI can’t do.

And since it uses Android Auto, Spotify displays in a driver-friendly manner, again something that the Proton X70 can’t do, as its GKUI forces users to use Chinese-centric apps like Tencent’s Joox.  

You also get four USB ports – three of them suitable for charging mobile devices, one in front and two behind, more than enough to juice up tablets to play many episodes of Paw Patrol.

520-litre boot space, versus Proton X70's 512-litre and Mazda CX-5's 442-litre

The CR-V also has a low boot floor and a wide aperture (also explains why the rear design looks so weird, it’s a trade-off) to allow for easy loading/unloading. In comparison, the Proton X70’s high boot floor and narrow aperture makes it a lot harder to load/unload.

Finer details like a more user friendly, lower and wider boot aperture will only be appreciated when you own the car longer.

Inside, the door panels are quite thin, small measures that add up to allow the CR-V to far more shoulder room than any of its peers.

The rear cabin floor is flat, even though the CR-V is also available with all-wheel drive.

The rear seats also fold flat, something which the Proton X70 can’t do, which severely limits your ability to haul large boxes/cargo.

Cabin materials are pretty ok, not the best but you do get soft leather wrapping on the dashboard, door panels, and nearly every bit where your skin comes in contact with. Aesthetically, it just look and feel RM 160,000.

If an expensive looking interior is important to you, look to the Mazda CX-5.

Driving experience - fast on the straights (only)

The Honda CR-V, at least in 1.5 TC-P guise, has a lot of straight line performance, even though you may not feel it due to the smooth shifting CVT’s characteristic. But the numbers don’t lie.

With a 0-100 km/h time of 8.9 seconds (our own tests, non-ideal conditions), it’s easily among the faster mainstream SUVs that you can buy.

We have yet to install our timing gear on the Proton X70 CKD with its new 7-speed dual-clutch automatic (DCT) but first impressions tells us that the X70 CKD doesn’t have the CR-V’s pace. The Proton’s DCT has been tuned to shift slower to allow for smoother drive.

There are paddle shifters behind the steering wheel but it’s hardly necessary to use it, the transmission is responsive enough.

Fast in the straights, but not the best place to be in on a twisty road

On twisty roads however, it’s a different story. Despite its power, the CR-V felt wooly and slow to respond to the weight shifts as you carve your way through a sequence of twists and turns, making it difficult to put all the power down.

In comparison, the Proton X70 handles a lot better. It has a more competent suspension but performance was hampered by the X70’s weight – basically the opposite of the CR-V.

The Mazda CX-5 is of course, the best of the trio. It feels the more intuitive to drive in such conditions – GVC Plus is Mazda’s proprietary magic that makes smooth drivers drive even smoother through the corners.

Because of its size and USA-biased focus, the CR-V drives very much like an American car. Fast on the straight roads, not so good in the corners, and it feels like driving a big and spacious sofa.

LaneWatch is greatly appreciated when dealing with lane splitting bikes, especially when it's raining at night. Since it's a camera feed, it removes a lot of ambiguity and false alarms that plague regular blind spot monitors.

Ride comfort - seats could be better, noise level can be improved

The ride is soft, like how you would expect a Honda SUV to be. It doesn’t offer the best road holding it does a good job at soaking up road imperfections.

The seats aren’t that great though. The Mazda CX-5 (and even the smaller Toyota C-HR) offers better back and side bolsters support, but at least the front seats are a sufficiently long to provide decent lower thigh support.

Even the cheaper Proton X70’s Nappa leather seats feels more supportive, with better quality leather material too.

The back seats are really spacious. It’s wide enough to fit even three child seats abreast, assuming you are using slim type ones. Rear legroom is comparable to even a 7 Series or an S-Class, it is that spacious in the rear.

The reason? The rear boot has been made smaller. It was 589 litres in the previous CR-V, but only 520 litres in the current model. That’s still bigger than the Proton X70’s 512 litres and the Mazda CX-5’s 442 litres.

One downside of having a big airy, one-box MPV/SUV type cabin is that noise insulation become more challenging. Despite having ample insulation materials, even in the gaps between the front doors and front fenders, the CR-V is still quite noisy at highway speeds.

Despite ample sound proofing materials, cabin quietness is still below average. 

At 110 km/h on the not so smooth MEX, with moderate traffic around it our dB showing is averaging around 70 dB – that’s Honda City level refinement. For this class of vehicles, we would expect a reading of around 67 dB under similar conditions.

This is one area where the Proton X70 trumps the Honda CR-V. The Proton is just so much more quieter.

Fuel efficiency - better than any of its rivals

The Honda CR-V is among the more fuel efficient SUVs on sale today. Still, it’s an SUV that weighs over 1,500 kg. You can’t expect it to be as fuel efficient as say a Honda HR-V or a Honda Civic.

On highways, the CR-V actually sips very little fuel, averaging around 5.5-litre/100 km, thanks to a highly efficient CVT. The direct injection and turbocharged engine also has a good, healthy spread of torque throughout the rev range, allowing brisk performance even with minimal, smooth throttle input.

In city stop-go traffic, the SUV’s added weight penalizes fuel consumption, often going over 10-litre/100 km.

Combined high/urban driving conditions, you can be expect to average around 9-litre/100 km.

Whatever the driving conditions, it’s still far more fuel efficient than a Proton X70.

Conclusion

So back to the question, should choose this over the Proton X70? The simple answer is that if you are shopping on a strict budget and don’t mind the Proton badge, then yes go for the Proton X70.

It’s not because the Proton X70 is a better car, because in terms of product attributes, price aside, it is the Honda CR-V that is a better, more practical, all-rounder. As far as family duties are concerned, no other SUV comes close to the Honda CR-V.

However once you factor in the cost, it’s hard to justify the CR-V’s RM 50,000 plus price premium over the X70. For the price of one top specs Honda CR-V 1.5 TC-P, you can buy the most expensitive Proton X70 variant, and still have leftover change for a Perodua Myvi. That's a very difficult argument to counter. 

If you can overlook the price premium, then yes the Honda CR-V is still the one to buy, unless you are a keen driver who insists on something that handles better. In that case, the Mazda CX-5 is for you but here’s the question, if driving engagement is so important, why are you looking at an SUV instead of a C-segment or D-segment sedan?

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