2012 Honda CR-V EX-L Navi Review:
Prescience is everything in the motor vehicle business. If you can divine what will attract future customers, success is guaranteed.
Honda accomplished that with its CR-V compact sport utility vehicle. When it was introduced as a 1997 model, there was nothing quite like it on the market—a tall, car-based wagon that nowadays would be referred to as a crossover.
Equipped with front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive and an economical four-cylinder engine linked to an automatic transmission or manual gearbox, it found such favor among buyers that it inspired imitators like the Ford Escape, Hyundai Tucson, Subaru Forester, Volkswagen Tiguan and Kia Sportage.
But it held its own and became the perennial best seller in the class until this year, when it was crippled by production interruptions and parts shortages after floods in Thailand and an earthquake/tsunami that devastated Japan’s northeast coast.
Now it is recovering and Honda expects it to resume its position at the head of the class with the 2012 model.
This is the fourth generation of the CR-V, although it’s not likely many people will see it. The big change came in 2007, when the original model’s outside-mounted spare wheel and side-opening rear door were dropped in favor of a conventional hatchback and an inside spare.
Over the years, the CR-V developed a reputation for durability, reliability, low operating costs and high resale value—even for older models. There are any number of CR-Vs with six-digit mileage on their odometers that still are hauling kids and their possessions to and from college.
With its prescience intact, Honda never tinkered much with the basic concept. The manual gearbox was dropped, but that was about it. When competitors like the Toyota RAV4 introduced optional six-cylinder engines, Honda stubbornly stuck with its sturdy four-banger. Now the entire automotive industry is veering away from sixes and toward fours as stringent new fuel economy standards loom large.
The 2012 CR-V is touted as being all-new, though unless you see one side-by-side with the 2011 model, you’re not likely to notice. It’s about an inch taller and slightly shorter than before, with a somewhat more substantial presence and a heftier roofline.
Despite being shorter, the CR-V’s interior volume was increased by a couple of cubic feet, mostly in the cargo area. With the rear seatback up, it has 37 cubic feet of cargo space. Designers also tweaked the driving position to make it less bus-like, though the earlier setup was never particularly annoying.
Major changes distinguish the 2012 CR-V. The interior, especially the instrument panel, has been redesigned. Instruments are conventional and familiar, unlike those in the CR-V’s garage-mate, the Honda Civic.
Excessive road noise intruding into the cabin, a recurring complaint with previous CR-Vs, has been largely muffled. There’s still some engine roar under hard acceleration but the new CR-V cruises quietly at 70 miles an hour.
Among standard equipment items are a multi-angle rearview camera and a display at the top of the dashboard, controlled by steering-wheel mounted controls, that shows such functions as audio outputs and fuel economy. Cell phone functions like Pandora radio and voice reading of text messages operate through the on-board audio.
The driver’s side mirror has a so-called expanded view, similar to those on European model cars, that amounts a small mirror at the outside edge to eliminate blind spots for people who don’t adjust their exterior mirrors properly. Unaccountably, the sun visors do not slide on their support rods to fully block sun from the side.
But maybe the coolest new piece of equipment is Honda’s new system for folding the 60-40 split rear seat, which expands the cargo area to 71 cubic feet. Tug on strategically-located straps and the rear seat bottom flips forward, the headrest drops down and the seatback flops nearly flat. Cartoonist Rube Goldberg would have loved it.
The new CR-V comes with front-wheel drive but also can be ordered with a new automatic all-wheel drive system that improves the launch from a stop by instantly sending power to the rear wheels. It uncouples for cruising in front drive. The system also includes a hill start assist, which momentarily holds the CR-V in place when starting uphill or downhill.
Also new for 2012 is electric power steering, which combines a good feel with quick steering responses. Engineers also recalibrated the gear ratios in the automatic transmission for better fuel economy without, Honda claims, any loss in performance.
The CR-V does give up bragging rights to competitors with six-speed automatic transmissions by keeping its five-speed automatic. James Jenkins, the CR-V product planner, said Honda decided to stick with the five-speed because of its proven durability, but there are some driving circumstances, like hilly terrain, where the five-speed feels challenged.
Power is provided by Honda’s 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, which now delivers 185 horsepower and improved fuel economy. EPA city/highway fuel consumption for the all-wheel drive model is 22/30 miles to the gallon. The front-wheel driver gets 23/31.
Prices start at $23,105 for the front-drive LX model. The EX test car with leather upholstery and a navigation system had a sticker of $30,605.
- Model: 2012 Honda CR-V EX-L Navi four-door crossover utility vehicle.
- Engine: 2.4-liter four-cylinder, 185 horsepower.
- Transmission: Five-speed automatic with all-wheel drive.
- Overall length: 14 feet 10 inches.
- EPA passenger/cargo volume: 102/37 cubic feet.
- Weight: 3,545 pounds.
- EPA city/highway fuel consumption: 22/30 miles to the gallon.
- Base price, including destination charge: $30,605.
- Price as tested: $30,605