Honda call the CR-V a comfortable runabout vehicle. A modest description of one of the best-selling crossover vehicles in the world.

Since spawning this new class of vehicle in 1995, they have sold more than nine million CR-Vs in 150 countries and the recently launched fifth generation looks set to keep the cash register ticking.

That’s despite the heated competition from compact SUV rivals like the Volkswagen Tiguan, Hyundai Tucson, Kia Sportage, Mazda CX-5, Toyota RAV4, Renault Kadjar and others.

After a disastrous start to 2015, and the announcement of Takahiro Hachigo as the new President and CEO, Honda Motor Company is putting a lot of faith in their new rival in this high-margin segment.

In fact Hachigo has hiked up the profit forecast for the year to $6.57 billion based on a more favorable currency exchange rate.

But Japan’s number-three automaker is still struggling to make waves in its largest market, North America, where the Civic and Accord are at the back-end of the drive for bigger models, including SUVs.

To put it all in perspective, Toyota Motor is more valuable than GM, Ford and Honda combined – mainly due to Toyota’s cash-rich position thanks to having the highest average transaction price.

There is a fascinating connection between the Japanese duo. Honda’s founder, Soichiro Honda, was a confirmed petrolhead – fine tuning and racing cars. In the late thirties he won a contract to supply piston rings to Toyota… then lost it because of quality issues.

So Honda took himself off to engineering school and visited Toyota’s factories around Japan to get to grips with their control processes. And by the turn of the decade his company was able to mass produce excellent piston rings, even using unskilled wartime workers.

Eventually making his own name a synonym for motorbikes and developing engines that transformed two-wheelers into a global form of transportation.

Soichiro Honda, a humble visionary who liked to join employees on the factory floor and in the research laboratories, died in 1991, from liver failure, at the age of 84.

At that time Honda, admittedly late starters, were firmly established in the automobile industry. And today that’s by far the biggest business unit, generating $1.3 billion in operating profit last year.

Then come motorcycles, growing despite the global decline in car sales and “power products”, which range from generators to snow blowers.

Going back to the CR-V, this is probably not a segment that is going to blow your socks off. Descriptions like practical, economical and safe spring to mind.

Yet the new contender does present some almost daring exterior styling with a bold “H” emblazoned grille perched above faux aluminum scuff plates, rakish headlights and an elegantly sculpted derrière. It’s certainly a load more robust and chunky in appearance than the predecessors.

The interior features a tasteful mixture of black leather (or cloth in the base 2.0 Comfort model), brushed chrome and dashes of wood – or a realistic impression thereof! All really industry standard and I wonder which brave automaker will break the mold?

The seats are soft, yet supportive. But why, despite the import of hundreds of two-meter-tall rugby and basketball players, and catering for an international market, has Honda “flatly” refused to build a car with seats that go all the way down…or all the way back?

There is more room for the driver in an Opel Adam than in the CR-V or any other Honda vehicle that I’ve tested.

Top of the range is the 1.5T Exclusive. As you might guess, a 1.5-liter turbocharged petrol mill mated with the sometimes controversial CVT, or Continuously Variable Transmission. I’m told that the basics are a metal belt and two variable-diameter pulleys to control the input and output of energy and save fuel. But Honda must have tweaked the formula because it’s by no means sluggish.

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The flagship of the range, coming in at more than $48,000, doesn’t flinch when it comes to inclusive features. Which makes it difficult to compare, dollar for dollar, with its esteemed rivals.

For openers there is the handy seven-inch touchscreen infotainment system which incorporates satellite navigation and is naturally Apple CarPlay compatible.

Honda’s first-ever turbocharged CR-V (there is no diesel in the line-up) has what they call an updated Real Time All Wheel Drive with Intelligent Control System. Yes, motoring jargon can be quite tedious!

As I understand it, and not being a qualified engineer, there is a bank of fancy software, hydraulic pumps etc, which take into account the road conditions, gradient and velocity and make instant decisions on how much power to feed to the rear wheels.

So the back wheels kick in when you set off, even on dry tar, get decoupled when you are cruising and stay on standby until you hit a steep hill or need to overcome some rugged terrain. The aim is to improve fuel efficiency without sacrificing performance and driving capability.

Honda CR-V (Photo by www.honda.co.za)

Looking to features that you can actually see or feel, there are electric heated front seats with two memory settings, heated door mirrors (if you get stuck in the Drakensberg mountains in winter), rain sensing wipers, parking distance control and a power operated tailgate.

And don’t forget the panoramic sunroof.

When it comes to that crucial element of safety, the list continues with the “Honda Sensing” driver assist systems – some of which don’t come standard in the leading German marques.

Lane assist to keep you on track when you might stray without signaling, collision mitigation to throw out the anchors in an emergency, and even your behavior behind the wheel is craftily monitored to assess when you need to take a break.

Automatic high-beam headlights (with active cornering) and LED front fog lamps are there to protect you in the mist and after sunset.

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You have to admit that Honda have set the bar when it comes to safety.

The irony is that Soichiro Honda would probably be more enthusiastic about getting the adrenalin flowing. “The pressures of racing challenges people, forces them to find innovative solutions and demands quick, accurate responses to new problems they’ve never faced before,” was his famous quote.

And they have used racing to optimize the manufacture of faster, stronger, lighter and more durable vehicles. And, of course, reliable engines.

It is difficult to reconcile that ethic with Honda’s nightmare Formula One season, with McLaren, which has left Spanish golden boy Fernando Alonso spitting into his helmet as a result of all the engine failures.

As I see it, the challenge left for Honda is to make their racing engines last the distance and their passenger vehicles a tad more exciting.

And get into the modern trend of low slung seats! – Written by Derek Watts