Wednesday 19 December 2018

It's goodbye diesel as Honda CR-V takes the hybrid route

  • First Drive: Honda CR-V hybrid

  • New model due here mid-February and will start from €38,000

Honda CR-V Hybrid
Honda CR-V Hybrid
Honda CR-V hybrid
The interior of the CR-V Hybrid

And so hybrid nudges diesel off the road in another new car. This time, it is the Honda CR-V, long the mid-size SUV beneficiary of an excellent diesel engine. But it is to be no more.

Now it's a choice between a 1.5-litre turbo petrol (already on sale in Ireland) and the 2-litre petrol hybrid I've just been driving.

The hybrid will cost from €38,000 when it goes on sale mid-February, and Honda in Ireland expects it to make up a substantial proportion of the 500 CR-Vs they expect to sell next year.

There is a price to pay in that the battery pack reduces seating capacity to five (there is the option of seven on the 1.5-litre petrol).

The interior of the CR-V Hybrid
The interior of the CR-V Hybrid

But an upside of that is exceptional room for the five occupants of the hybrid. Boot room isn't too adversely affected, though it is down to 497 litres from 561 litres.

The extra row of seats in the 1.5-litre costs €1,500, which I reckon is good value.

The hybrid develops 184bhp in front-wheel drive format. You can also get an AWD version.

I drove both around Seville last week and I preferred the AWD, even though I would advocate purchase of the front-wheel drive for practical reasons.

We ended up with 6.7l/100km on the latter and 6.4l/100km on the AWD, but the terrain and driving conditions were quite different, so I wouldn't read too much into them. I thought we'd do better, but it is a big vehicle and it is easy to lose sight of that.

Official CO2 emissions are from 120g/km, with a claimed fuel economy of 5.3 l/100km (53.3 mpg).

It is easy, if pointless, to compare those figures with what I recall were slightly better returns from the previous diesel version (it's going to take a while to wean us off the old oil-burners).

In between our tests, I was privileged to spend the best part of an hour speaking with Kotaro Yamamoto, project leader for the CR-V.

I could take up all the supplement outlining how he explained they had come up with a hybrid system that does everything in its power to reduce petrol consumption. It's called i-MMD.

He explained in great, and patient, detail how, for example, the control unit favours keeping the petrol engine at the lowest revs possible to stem consumption.

The 2-litre engine is more of a support than a leader as it provides the power for the generator which channels the charge to the propulsion motor to drive the wheels. The system means a smaller battery is required, which has helped shed overall weight too.

But here's an interesting point. They discovered, and programmed the system as a result, that petrol is more economical driving the wheels on its own just between 120kmh and 140kmh. Isn't that strange?

We also pressed a button to take us solely on electric, but it didn't last too long. It is one of three modes in the i-MMD setup. In EV, the battery directly supplies power to the propulsion motor which drives the wheels. In Hybrid, the generator supplies engine-derived power to the propulsion motor. In Engine, the engine is connected to the wheels.

The engine, propulsion motor, generator motor and power control unit are all under the bonnet, while the lithium-ion battery pack is under the boot.

There is technically no gearbox as we understand it (remember, the engine is not really the dominant outlet), and driving the car is simple and straightforward. You press a single button to drive, pull one towards you to reverse, and press another to park.

Because the engine is 'removed' from the central arena, there can be a disconcerting gap between pressing the accelerator and anticipated engine speed.

Apparently, this is a big thing for European drivers, so the engineers attempted to make it sound like it was quickening.

They only half succeeded, I think. There was a fair bit of 'boom' when we floored it. I accept, however, that we will have to tailor our driving to accommodate the different approach.

The CR-V hasn't changed that much in overall size (the wheelbase is up 30mm). It looks better, though I'm not a fan of the bulbous outcrop on the bonnet, and the suspension is soft - a trait of all taller SUVs.

But it's still an impressive, spacious package, and with more than nine million global sales already chalked up, it has taken another big step towards being hailed as class leader again.

There's no doubt the use of hybrid is accelerating exponentially. Honda, for example, will have a hybrid version of the Jazz in the first quarter of 2020, in the HR-V by late 2020/early 2021 and powering a Civic model by 2021.

Diesel may not be dead, but hybrid is mad alive.

Irish Independent

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