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Japanese carmaker Honda makes some of the most reliable and understated cars on the market, and the fourth-generation, Swindon-built CR-V is no exception.

Outside, the car's front end is smarter, with a more futuristic businesslike grille and front air dam. The flanks display a few new crease lines that give CR-V a sturdy look.

But it is the rear that you will either like or loathe...

I'm not a fan of the rear look (hints of Rodius) but appreciate the reasoning as rear three-quarters visibility is improved and the boot space is maximised. The curved tailgate glass can play an optical trick on drivers using the rearview mirror - vertically stretching windscreens of following cars at certain distances.

Inside, the five-seat car is bigger, even if the outer dimensions are in fact slightly smaller. Quality switchgear, lots of cubbies, comfy seats and better visibility are the main improvements.

The 2.2-litre diesel-powered SUV is a very good on-road car but, should the need arise, it is pretty decent off-road, too. CR-V has an excellent on-demand four-wheel drive system that can handle muddy fields better than most. While many SUVs' 'ESP' and 'traction control' systems can leave you literally bogged down in slippy conditions like a muddy field, the CR-V's electronic setup allows the wheels to keep up momentum.

Power from the 2.2 is the same as the outgoing car at 150bhp/350nm but improvements have been made in terms of emissions and fuel consumption. A six-speed manual gearbox is standard. Honda's new 1.6-litre diesel engine will be coming to the CRV-V, but not until Autumn 2013. The ride is composed and cushioned. You can cruise over speed bumps without upsetting the car as the suspension soaks up road imperfections with ease. The only downside to the soft ride is the amount of body lean when cornering but, again, this is an SUV and the roll is not excessive.

CR-V has a reputation for safety. There is a comprehensive list of standard electronic driving aids that help keep the CR-V and any trailer it may be towing on track. Remember that the last generation CR-V was the first car to offer CMBS - an automatic collision-mitigating braking system designed to help reduce collision speeds by auto braking (to a certain degree). As a functional tool CR-V has a brilliant, easy rear drop seat system: the pull of a lever allows you convert the car into a van with 1,669 litres of flat cargo space with the seats down.

Prices start at €39,295 for the tax band 'C' SE. ES is the next specification (€41,075) with ES Sport next (€43,455) and EX at €46,895 the range-topper. Automatic versions are available but fall in to tax band 'E' (annual road tax €750).

Over 5 million CR-Vs have been sold since its launch. CR-V has loads of interior space for passengers, drives very well and has a big boot, too (589 litres). Plus, it is economical on fuel for such a large machine.

Michael Sheridan

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