It seems no manufacturer is immune from the never-ending race for more ratios. Honda has just replaced the ageing five-speed auto in its CR-V compact SUV with a brand-new nine-speed unit in an attempt at driving down CO2 emissions and improving motorway refinement.
 
Changes to the updated Honda CR-V aren’t limited to the new gearbox, though. The Swindon-built SUV ditches the 148bhp 2.2-litre i-DTEC diesel in favour of a more powerful and more efficient 158bhp 1.6, while also boasting new front suspension and a quicker steering rack.
 
Aesthetic tweaks include new front and rear bumpers, a redesigned grille and updated taillights as well as new 17 and 18-inch alloy wheel designs. Inside, Honda has made a point of using more high-quality materials on various touchpoints across the cabin. The standard seven-inch touchscreen looks great, and all the controls are nicely placed – but all told it doesn’t look or feel an awful lot different to before.

The driving position gives you a good view of the road without feeling too elevated, while on the move the soft suspension and well-weighted steering make long-distance driving a cinch.
 
The engineers have also spent a lot of time and effort improving the SUV’s high-speed refinement. Bosses say the revised CR-V is six per cent quieter thanks to new sound absorption in the doors and pillars, plus the front end is better sealed in an attempt at reducing wind noise. New carpets and dash materials improve things even further.
 
The nine-speed gearbox is a big step up from the old five-speed – shifting smoothly and working well with the tiny twin-turbo diesel. It’s not sluggish either, with Honda claiming this new 158bhp unit offers the best power to fuel consumption ratio of any engine on the market. It’ll do 0-62mph in 10 seconds dead, and return 55.4mpg and 134g/km when fitted with the auto ‘box. The two-wheel drive model is only available with the manual gearbox, and while that still feels more eager, put your foot down at any speed and the auto offers plenty of low down response.

The CR-V was never intended as a sports car, but models like Ford’s Kuga and Mazda’s CX-5 still offer more reward for keen drivers – not to mention the more upmarket BMW X3. Our range-topping four-wheel drive test car packed plenty of grip, though push it into a bend at speed and you’ll feel its weight shift from one side to the other. There’s a pair of paddles mounted to the steering wheel, but in all honesty, the new CR-V is a car best left to its own devices.
 
It gets the same 589-litre boot, and the clever one-touch folding seats remain – making the practical Honda one of the most capacious cars in its class. There’s still loads of room in the back, and the electrically adjustable seats on this range-topping EX mean there’s plenty of scope for adjustment up front.

With more than 750,000 units sold in Europe since the first-generation car went on sale in 1997, the CR-V is an extremely important model for the brand. In the first nine months of 2014, it was the world’s best-selling SUV, and Honda hopes a ‘comprehensive range of enhancements’ will further broaden its appeal.
 
However, Honda’s biggest issue is the fact you can buy a mid-spec BMW X3 or Audi Q5 for very similar money. While prices for the new CR-V haven’t been confirmed, this top-of-the-range EX auto with four-wheel drive is likely to cost around £34,000. It does come loaded with kit, but the BMW is bags more fun to drive and should return not-dissimilar fuel economy from its punchier 2.0-litre diesel engine.

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