The Honda CR-V that's as British as one TV chef and his dog

As a nation, we're cleverer than we give ourselves credit for. Who came up with the idea of electricity, for example? Edison? Volta? Nope, try William Gilbert, Elizabeth I's doctor. He was the first to work out that the Earth had a magnetic field and the first to use the words 'electric force'.

He even invented an electroscope for measuring it. But who's heard of poor William? Likewise, the Americans all think television was invented by a Mormon called Philo Farnsworth, not our own John Logie Baird - who'd even come up with a form of video recorder by 1927.

James Martin in the Honda CR-V

The new Honda CR-V got a better diesel engine, a 2.2-litre i-DTEC that's quieter, cleaner and has more power and torque

We're smart - so why do people think we're stupid? Well, partly I blame school: we teach kids to apologise for being British, so it's no wonder they grow up thinking we're rubbish. But the real reason is right in your living room. I've been spending a lot of time in front of breakfast TV lately, and at least 20 times every morning there's a devastating blow to the self-esteem of Britain. I'm talking about the competitions they run before the ad breaks on GMTV. Here are some of the recent brainteasers: 'Complete the phrase "all hands on..." a) ground b) floor c) deck.' 'Which car device can be used to warn drivers? a) horn b) trumpet c) trombone.'

Isn't it depressing? This country produced Newton, Shakespeare, Brunel and Turing, and this is what we're reduced to. Can you imagine what a French tourist thinks when he turns on his hotel telly in the morning? We're doing ourselves down.

Well, I want to start the fightback. From now on, I want to shout about what Britain does well. Cars, for a start. You constantly hear that we don't have a car industry any more. Well, apart from nearly all the F1 teams and hi-tech engineering and design firms, there are at least 20 car models being made in factories up and down the country, including three Vauxhalls, five Nissans, two Toyotas, five Lotuses, four Astons, all the Jags and Land Rovers, various Minis and three Hondas.

Honda CR-V

Dashboard, including voice-recognition DVD sat-nav

This is one of the last group: the Honda CR-V, proudly made in Swindon, home of the new UK Space Agency - and by the way, we're very good at satellites, despite all the sniggering about that. It just so happens it was a Honda CR-V they were giving away in one of those GMTV competitions, so if the person who won it happens to be reading, well done for knowing that a car's horn is not called a trumpet or a trombone. Now let's take a look at what you've won.

I live in the sticks and I'm often wary of cars invented to enable town folk to pretend they spend their weekends off-roading. This is one of those. Let's face it: you wouldn't take it on the Dakar Rally. But its front-biased 4WD system is good enough for snow, so the 12,000 people who bought one last year would have been feeling pretty smug by December.

This is the 2010 model, slightly revamped with new wheels and bumpers, a new stereo and better interior materials that make it look more expensive (which, unfortunately, it is).

Most importantly, it's got a better diesel engine, a 2.2-litre i-DTEC that's quieter, cleaner and has more power and torque. There's also a new automatic gearbox to go with it, which I'd advise getting, because, well, I don't like the manual, plus it stretches the fuel economy that bit closer to 40mpg.

Honda CR-V
Honda CR-V

Standard 18in alloy wheels (left) and instrument-panel detail (right)

Driving on the roads round my house was fun, with much better cornering than I was expecting. You sit high, with quite a lot of suspension travel to eat up bumpy surfaces, so you'd think it would wallow, but it doesn't. They've done a lot to keep the centre of gravity low and the steering responsive (including a thing called VSA that prevents wheel-slip), so it handles more like a saloon. It's got a tight turning circle, so negotiating Sainsbury's car park was easier than I thought.

When you get out on the motorway it's not exactly thrilling - 0-60 takes about ten seconds - but it's very comfortable, with cruise control standard in most models and a long, wide wheelbase giving a safe, planted feel on the road. You never feel you're in a bulky car.

Don't get me wrong; it's not Range Rover-sized - more Freelander - but there is tons of room inside, with cubbyholes everywhere and a clever two-level boot. The back seats fold forward for more storage space, or all the way back if you fancy sleeping in the car. I wouldn't recommend that, though: it's not very quiet in there, despite claims that they've improved the noise-damping, and this EX model has a big glass sunroof, so you'll be up at the crack of dawn.

Overall it performed well the week I had it, delivering exactly what's expected of a car such as this: saloon-like handling with the safety of being seated up high behind tough bumpers.

In fact, it's almost got too much safety stuff. Mine had a reversing camera, active front lighting that bends round corners, 'collision mitigation' radar that brakes and tightens your seat belt if you're about to crash, adaptive cruise control that can keep you a set distance from the car in front, airbags all round, dusk-sensing lights and rain-sensing wipers. That's on top of leather seats, DVD sat-nav, dual-zone air-con and loads of other gizmos. If you think this all sounds expensive, you're right. Whereas the cheapest CR-V is just over £20,000, this one is very nearly £30,000.

And that's a bit of a problem, because at that price you're up against Land Rover and BMW. People who deliberately chose Japanese cars over European used to do it because of their famous reliability - but since Toyota's problems, that link in people's minds has gone.

So I think Honda should come up with a new advertising campaign. How about 'The Honda CR-V: as English as sheepdogs and telly chefs'? I've even done the poster for it.

Honda CR-V

2,060 litres of boot space



Engine 2.2-litre diesel four-cylinder

Power 148hp

Max torque 350Nm at 2,000rpm

Top speed 116mph

Transmission Five-speed automatic, four-wheel drive

Fuel consumption 38.2mpg

CO2 emissions 195g/km (tax band J)

Standard features 18in alloys, ABS with EBD and emergency brake assist, Vehicle Stability Assist, Trailer Stability Assist, voice-recognition DVD sat-nav, parking sensors with rear-view camera, auto lights and wipers, cruise control, dual-zone climate control, heated mirrors, heated front seats, leather upholstery, panoramic glass roof, stereo CD system with subwoofer and USB port, double-deck cargo shelf

Optional extras 19in alloys, Advanced Safety Pack (adaptive cruise control, collision-mitigating braking system)


What's hot on the road this week


Mercedes' five-year-old, seven-seat R-class isn't a huge seller, but changes unveiled at the recent New York Auto Show may help. The front end is redesigned and heated front seats, Pre-Safe brakes, adaptive damping and blind spot assist are all standard. A panoramic sunroof and remote-control tailgate are optional. A long-wheelbase 4WD and a shorter, greener 2WD model - both three-litre V6 diesels - will be available when UK deliveries begin in September. 

Mercedes R-class


The New York show also unveiled Kia's replacement for the Magentis: the Optima. Arriving here next year, the four-door saloon has a coupé-like roofline, twin exhausts, traction control, paddle shifters and cruise control (for automatics) and at higher trim grades, auto-levelling headlights and 18in black alloys with red brake callipers. Designed in Frankfurt and California, it comes in 2l petrol and 1.7l turbo-diesel variants, with prices to be announced later in the year. 

Kia Optima


Next month James reviews the £336,000 Lexus LFA: only 500 will be made. Just as rare, but 14 times cheaper, is the new Arctic Edition of the Vauxhall Astra VXR. At £23,595 it's £720 more than a standard 152mph Astra VXR, but you get £2,000 of extra kit including sports suspension, heated leather Recaro seats and black 19in alloys with ultra-low profile tyres, plus a special Olympic White paintjob with contrasting black roof. Will you feel quite as smug as an LFA owner? That's up to you.

Vauxhall Astra VXR

By Simon Lewis

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