Take an Avon Searider 4.7m RIB, with a 50hp Honda outboard, hitch them to a Honda CR-V, and what have you got?
Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde
Anthony and Cleopatra
The four-wheel drive vehicle which Honda pressed on us for our works outing was a mixed blessing. It took a couple of hundred miles before it stopped behaving like Mr Hyde and turned into Dr Jekyll. No such luck with the RIB-outboard combination Honda supplied; it remained a pig in a poke, its separate parts turning out to be about as good for each other as Anthony and Cleopatra. Steve Weinman wrestled with the Honda Compact Recreational Vehicle, while John Bantin tried to get some joy out of the Avon Searider and its inadequate four-stroke outboard (right)
It was an unpromising start. The CR-V sport utility vehicle, designed, according to Honda, to appeal to the "young at heart", was causing my ticker to put on years by the minute.
"I think I'll check that the trailer brake isn't jamming," I suggested, soon after hitting the westbound A3. Our CR-V (Compact Recreational Vehicle, don't ask me what the hyphen stands for) was making heavy weather of the open road, and I was keen to get clear of London before the Friday-evening evacuation began in earnest.
The trailer brake was not jamming. The rev-counter needle had been keen to climb but reluctant to drop - this was a four-speed automatic box but the Honda seemed unwilling to ease into overdrive, even on the flat. Kicking down the accelerator did not help. Was I too middle-aged for such a fun-loving '90s machine? The thought made me fret, but no, my young-at-heart colleagues agreed with my initial diagnosis - this Honda seemed to be a bit of a donkey.
The 's metallic toffee colour had not made a particularly favourable first impression, but the delivery drivers had sung the praises of the vehicle and its lightweight 2-litre, 16v injection petrol engine. We would hardly know there was a trailer and RIB on the back, they had said.
They turned out to be right, but this became apparent only later.
For this was a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde Honda, and by the time we were motoring back east from Fort Bovisand on the Sunday evening, after a satisfactory outing
exploring the James Eagan Layne, it was positively purring along.
Had the towing speed restrictions not been strictly observed - as of course they were at all times - the Honda offered to show other road-users a clean pair of rear tyres.
This was closer to Honda's promises of a flat torque curve, peak torque at low revs and "Grade Logic Control", which uses preset "shift maps" to eliminate gear-hunting. I had cursed it - now I took it back.
I suggested to Honda UK that some gremlin in the Grade Logic Control - which is designed to overcome the very problem we experienced - had needed to work itself out of the system before we could appreciate the CR-V's pulling power. I was told that the system can take a while to adapt to the individual driver's foot, though not usually more than a few miles. Headwinds were Honda's best suggestion as to the cause of the problem!
In any case, I found the column gearchange a little clunky, and to get the most out of this vehicle I would seriously consider the five-speed manual box due out later this year.
Unfortunately that colour would never work itself out, although there was an eye-catching metallic blue CR-V in the next bay at our hotel in Salcombe. And judging by the number of people who came up to ask about the car, Honda looks to be on to a winner. The rush of UK orders confirms that the CR-V is set to emulate its bigness in Japan over here.
Honda's watchword these days is "synergy", pulling its various divisions more closely together to benefit from "cross-fertilisation".
In non-marketing speak this means that the importer wanted us to try out the CR-V in combination with an Avon Searider 4.7 RIB, because Avons are powered by Honda four-stroke engines.
That the Searider-Honda combination proved a disappointment is another story. So what does the CR-V offer?
Honda would be the last to claim that it is a rugged 4WD workhorse in the Jeep/Land Rover mould, but it has designer "Real Time" 4WD that powers the rear wheels only when the front-wheel sensors detect a lack of grip on a slippery or uneven surface.
None of that awkward switching to worry about then - or, depending on how you look at these things, less chance to exercise your free will. But it is perhaps as well that 4WD is not permanent, because with the Rollercoaster trailer attached most of the time, we averaged 16.7mpg on our round trip. The problems with the transmission heading west obviously did not help.
We had no problem hauling the RIB off the slips at the Dump at Salcombe or at Bovi, but would have expected none.
Despite the long wheelbase and wide track the 205mm ground-clearance would allow a degree of flexibility off-road, and there are enough low-level plastics mouldings combined with the galvanised bodywork to resist knocks, scrapes and rust.
The steep slopes and hairpin bends around Salcombe provided a reasonable test of the Honda's roadholding and tight turning abilities - no problems there. The power steering was positive and accurate. The CR-V's ride is as stable and comfortable as you would expect with a set-up of all-round double-wishbone and coil-spring suspension with anti-roll bars, and the vehicle can be thrown around with impunity.
The driving position is not particularly high for such a vehicle and the rounded wings led me to cut in closer to obstacles than I thought - or so the passengers told me.
Large doors and long wheelbase make access easy. The passenger compartment is quite low, though wide enough to allow limited strolling for short people between front and back, but it offers little more rear legroom than an average family car. So while it promises to take five in comfort, our handful of divers opted to bring a car along as well (in true Tortoise and Hare fashion the CR-V chugged past the BMW at Yeovil - the saloon had to be towed the rest of the way minus a fanbelt!)
The rear section of the Honda has no awkward bulges thanks to the monocoque design, and was just big enough to take five sets of dive kit if piled to roof level, though this was less easy when the kit was rigged up, as the depth equals a cylinder plus first stage.
The top ES we tested has a 50/50 split rear seat that can be folded down to take bulkier loads. There is also a useful plastic box under the loadfloor in which to store valuables while diving, or small items of wet gear on the way home. The hinged lid doubles as a removable table, for picnics or kit repairs.
The tailgate splits too, which can be useful - we left the lower section, which carries the spare tyre, closed to hold in all the dive bags, while the upper glass section allowed access to items atop the heap.
There is a 12V accessory outlet in the back - you can use it to power the optional shower unit if you fancy rinsing the salt off before your trip home!
This Honda is full of thoughtful little extras, like the folding table with cup-holders between the front seats, and more places to stash things than a survivalist's anorak, with its generous assortment of recesses, bins and pockets.
And in scorching weather we were kept cool by the air conditioning which is standard on the ES, although it is hardly the most sophisticated of systems.
You do get a lot for your money. Front twin airbags, immobiliser and anti-lock brakes, all-round power windows, mirrors and sunroof and RDS radio/cassette with removable front panel are all standard on the basic CR-V LS, which costs 16,995 on the road.
The ES, with air con, split rear seats, headlamp washers, superior audio and alloy wheels, adds 1,000. If you're young at heart, get it in blue and don't let the gremlins catch you.
The Avon Searider 4.7m RIB supplied as part of the Honda package to test is a nice-looking little boat. It is apparently well-made, though the inexplicable absence of stainless steel rails around the console area leaves the coxswain with nothing to hold onto, save the steering wheel.
This wheel itself was quite out of keeping with the rest of the boat. It was flimsy in the extreme - the sort of thing you give a kiddie without fear of him hurting himself.
Both wheel and seat were low enough to demand that the boat be driven from a sitting position, although I am well over 6ft tall. However, for reasons of trim, I found I needed all the passengers up at the sharp end, which in turn obscured my view. I ended up contriving a position at the helm while kneeling on the seat!
The seat itself is generous enough for two people - which does little towards helping stow dive gear - and beneath it was space for one 50-litre petrol tank. We used ordinary two-star unleaded because the engine was a Honda four-stroke.
This power unit was an absolute gem. It started first and every time. It was virtually inaudible and perfect for running at low revs for long periods without any danger of oiling up in the manner to which two-strokes are prone. This was perfect in harbour and for trolling around waiting for divers to surface.
Alas, a gem it may have been but so is the Koh-i-Noor diamond - and that would have been about as useful bolted on to the transom of the Avon.
The Honda's 50hp was totally inadequate when the time came to travel. It was unable to pick up the loaded Avon's deepish-V hull and fling it forward through the sea.
Instead it laboured away under the weight of boat, five divers and their equipment plus the cox. It gave us a ride reminiscent of those good old days before RIBs when we used to go out in the club inflatable, totally overloaded and ploughing a deep furrow all the way to the dive site.
It was a pity because the little Avon Searider 4.7 was game enough to take as much weight as I have ever carried in my longer (yet cheaper) Humber Attaque.
The instruments installed in the console revealed the engine flat out at 4500 revs when we could have done with 6000, and the engine trim indicator showed that we had the prop as deep down as we could, yet the bow still wanted to lift.
Unfortunately, I believe merely fitting a larger (and heavier) Honda engine is not the answer. The 50hp model was already heavy enough to see us regularly pooped over the transom during manoeuvres in the somewhat stormy conditions we met on the Saturday while still within the Salcombe river.
The large elephant-trunk drainer proved invaluable but I was secretly relieved when poor weather caused my co-conspirators to abandon the idea of any forays into the open sea until the following day.
Flat, calm seas beckoned us at Plymouth, and we launched at Bovisand and set off for the wreck of the James Eagan Layne. I am sorry to report that although both engine (4498 with power trim and tilt) and boat (4712) had great strengths, like Mark Anthony and Cleopatra they were just not good for each other.
The Avon patently needs a lightweight two-stroke of at least 65hp if it is to pick up its skirts and fly. The heavy but beautifully engineered Honda deserves fitting to a RIB with sponsons which pass well astern of the transom and carry the weight in an effective way, without causing the bow to lift.
Because we were never able to get the hull up and over its own bow wave, we never got into economic running conditions, so neither did we benefit from the good return in fuel consumption promised by the sophisticated four-stroke design.
Appeared in DIVER - November 1997
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