In one generation, Honda turned what was once a soulless household appliance on wheels into one that was infused with the warmth and care akin to that of a family member. Protecting, guarding, and assisting its owner in taking care of each and every family member on board. One problem though, it won't fit the entire family just yet as there's no 7-seater option.

hen I received the invite for this special test drive session organised by Honda Malaysia, I was a bit curious, as it’s not the official test drive, it’s neither a launch. Hell, we can’t even take photos or talk about the interior at all, is it some crazy features we're talking here?

And then I learned of the specifications, and I was gobsmacked. Because as the market leader in Malaysia that is not only so far ahead of its competition, but also one that sets a 100,000 unit target for 2017 but achieved it during the closing of 2016’s financial year; decided to introduce a car with features that not only their mass market competitors can’t afford to spec their cars with, but are features that are not even available in premium mid sized SUVs that are priced RM200,000 above as well.

You see, Malaysian customers are still looking at the mid-sized SUV segment from a ‘how much I get for how much I pay’ mentality. Common questions still linger around ‘Leather seats? How many USB ports? Power boot? How many airbags? Keyless entry? Rear aircond vents? How many seats? etc’ . We haven’t even progress to how will this car make my life better, how will it protect me, how does it keep me feeling refreshed after a four hour drive to JB for my meeting, and how it keeps my family safe etc. To give a big WTF, the current number one selling mid sized SUV only offers two frontal airbags.

Honda on the other hand, as the market leader in Malaysia with their 90 over sales and servicing network, would've been able to sell any car with any spec they wanted. They’re not a challenger brand, they do not need to sell cheaper nor try harder with their specifications. They could’ve introduced the all-new CR-V with a powered boot, with the 7-seater configuration, touch screen infotainment systems along with keyless entry and push start and call it a day off.

But they didn’t do just that. They think hard on how they can benefit Malaysian consumers in a meaningful manner. In order to do that, they actually went on a nationwide survey to see how many of buyers who bought a 7-seater SUV actually uses the third row seats. And to their surprise, those two seats might as well be some fuel sapping dead weight in their cars masquerading as permanent mobile relics - because Malaysians hardly use them.

This is how they came to the conclusion to not waste customer’s money in speccing the 7-seater version of the CR-V, but instead make use of that investment on the latest in safety and convenience features dubbed, Honda Sensing.

Yes, the all new Honda CR-V is equipped with Honda Sensing - the name for Honda’s advanced safety feature systems, LKAS, RDM, LDW, CMBS, ACC, LSF, FCW. Yeap, a big bowl of incomprehensible alphabet soup if you ask me. LKAS is Lane Keep Assist System, RDM is Road Departure Mitigation, LDW is Lane Departure Warning, CMBS is Collision Mitigation Braking System, ACC is Adaptive Cruise Control, LSF is Low-Speed Follow and FCW is Forward Collision Warning.

Yes, it’s a bunch of mumbo jumbos that maybe overwhelming. But let me give you an example and try and break it down for you because I have to salute Honda for bringing these class-leapfrogging features.

Let’s say you’re driving from KL to Singapore, most of you seasoned drivers would’ve encountered at least once where you got tired from the energy sapping constant attention on highway driving. Of whether the car in front of you is slowing down or merging lanes. With the Adaptive Cruise Control system, you can set a distance between your car and the car in front, and just let the radar and the monocular camera monitor and adjust your speed accordingly.

What this means is you do not have to accelerate or brake, but your car will automatically slow down to a halt or speed up to keep the distance with the car in front of you. Best of all, you can set a maximum speed so that your CR-V won’t blindly follow Bobby Ang who’s driving at 170km/h and instead stop accelerating at 110km/h and keeping it at bay without triggering the dreaded flash from AES cameras.

Not only so, you can activate the Lane Keep Assist System to make sure your car keep within the confines of your lane as the radar and camera will prevent your car from veering into another lane just in case those micro sleeps suddenly happen, which is a very common cause of accidents. Yes, even if you are the most careful driver out there, you can’t rule out that somehow, someday, you just might not be in your best of form.  

Another common accident cause, even though it was never fatal, are low speed collisions. A common sight during stop and go traffic, where a momentary lapse of attention resulted in you ramming into the back of the car in front of you. While most of us city dwellers are used to stop and go traffic, there’s never a month where we don’t notice one or two incidents of two drivers stepping out of their cars in the middle of a jam where one hits the other unknowingly.

Moreover, however careful you are, a sudden jam of the brake from the car in front always ensues a panic response behind, and then the fear of watching the car behind you through the rear view mirror while bracing for impact. This is a common cause of Whiplash, where a rear end collision jolts the neck of the driver in front. And this is where the Low Speed Follow system actually helps city dwellers to deal with the stop and go rush hour traffic with ease. Just activate the feature and let your car crawl by itself following the car in front and maintaining the distance. A god send if you were to ask me, as traffic jams always wear out the driver massively, and then after the jam, the urge to make up for loss time along with the slower response time from the tiring jam sends another driver off as a three digit speed, 1.5 tonne sledgehammer.

Even if you did not switch on any of these features that can be activated with a push of a button, there’s one that is automatically switched on all the time where the radar and camera constantly monitors the cars in front. If it detects that your car is closing in to the car in front at a speed that might result in a collision, the system will automatically brake the car  at the last minute to mitigate or reduce the impact of the impending collision called Forward Collision Warning and Collision Mitigation Braking System.

Not only cars, say for example you’re driving along searching for a parking, as your attention moves from left to right to scan for available parkings, imagine a person walks out in between cars suddenly when you’re looking the other way round. The car is programmed to identify a walking human being and will slam the brakes to prevent you from hitting him or her.

Finally, there’s also a system that monitors if the car is veering off tarmac roads. Most of the time, this is one of the mostly deadly situations where a driver micro sleeps and the car drives off the road. This is extremely dangerous as one can’t be sure what lies beyond the roads by the side. A ditch? A tree, or the start of an armco barrier ready to penetrate through your car. If the car detects that you’re definitely heading off course, it will pull the steering and apply brakes to slow down your car, stabilised it while keeping you back in the lane you’re travelling in. Yes, when combined, this car can be regarded as a car equipped with semi-autonomous driving system. A highly advanced safety and convenience feature.

As I was going through the demo set up by Honda, I really experienced the car pulling itself back into the lane as I slowly veer towards the right as if I wasn’t paying attention. The car adjusts the steering subtly and within seconds, I was back within the confines of our lane. Another test lets me follow an old CR-V right in front of me with a set distance, and I get to witness the Honda CR-V slowing down and then my car follows, but when it speeds off my car followed through as well - all within the set distance and set speed.

Next up, I was put through a short test of the new CR-V’s handling and brakes. And within the confines of the test area, i noticed the new CR-V takes a longer distance to brake from a set point of acceleration and a set point of braking - because the 1.5 litre turbo engine drops 193hp and 242Nm at a much earlier rev band, travelling at faster speeds within the same distance than the old 2.4 litre engine. Next up is the slalom where we get to drive both new and old CR-V back to back and see how the car handles. And I must say, the old CR-V isn’t exactly a benchmark when it comes to handling, amongst its segment, it was one of the worst handling cars back then. But the new one completely blows the old CR-V away. The stark difference is akin to that of the 10th Generation Honda Civic versus the 9th Generation slow boat Civic. The new CR-V has a much better steering feel, tighter, more accurate, nicely weighted and tauter feel. The car also rides better, absorbing bumps and hops in an authoritative manner, and sound proofing improved by leaps and bounds. A very good effort from Honda I must say, and not just good, you feel the passion in them when they engineered this car.

All in all, it’s very heart warming to see a leading car maker not resting on their laurels, but choose to raise the benchmark for all to follow, and now that a mass market brand like Honda offers such extensive safety features, it does not only places pressure on challenger brands within their segment, but also raising a question mark for the premium boys to reconsider if the usual excuse of ‘roads not painted well in Malaysia’ passes the ‘why didn’t you offer semi autonomous driving aid test’.

In one go, Honda suddenly starts to be seen as behaving like Volvos, having a greater goal than just to sell cars. By the way, Volvo is the only premium marque that offers these safety systems as standard equipment.

Lastly, did you notice I haven’t even talk about keyless entry and push start, touch screen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay, full LED headlamps etc, all these usual suspects that were key selling points in car reviews? Yes, even Honda didn’t mention a word of these during our short preview drive - this is how high a level they’ve raised themselves to see these as toys, and to see the greater deed of protecting the lives of your loved ones with utmost importance. Kudos Honda Malaysia. Salute.

"They think hard on how can they benefit Malaysian consumers in a meaningful manner."

"...Low Speed Follow system actually helps city dwellers to deal with the stop and go rush hour traffic with ease."

"...it’s very heart warming to see a leading car maker not resting on their laurels, but choose to raise the benchmark for all to follow..."

words: Bobby Ang