2012 Honda CR-V Review
Honda's benchmark entry-level SUV gets more power and 30 mpg for 2012.
- Heavy on tech and utility, light on wallet
- Quiet, upscale, user-friendly interior
- Tons of storage solutions
- Steering gives “vague” a bad name
- Base 4-speaker audio system
- Rearward visibility
"Why mess with a winner?" You hear this phrase uttered all the time, but for two different reasons. Some people use it to justify not making change: "Why the heck would we mess with the formula when we have a winner on our hands?" Others use it to complain about change that has already been made that they are unhappy with: "That's terrible. Why mess with something that was perfect?"
When Honda approached the redesign of its CR-V, it did so with caution. Honda didn't want to mess with the formula that made the CR-V the best-selling crossover/small SUV in America, but it also didn't want to run the risk of the all-new CR-V being called staid.
Wisely, Honda designers retained the vehicle's striking silhouette, yet elected to work on the edges by incorporating the front and rear lamp assemblies into the sides of the body. They then added Honda's new three-bar grille up front and set off the profile by sharpening the CR-V's distinctive rear side glass before putting their pencils away. The resulting all-new 2012 CR-V makes a distinctive visual statement. It also has a little more power, slightly better fuel efficiency, added storage capacity and a deluge of standard technology.
But is it better than the previous model? Did Honda do the right thing by messing with a winner?
This is the fourth iteration of Honda's popular compact crossover SUV. After debuting in 1997, the CR-V was reworked in 2002 and 2007. The 5-passenger, entry-level SUV comes in three flavors, starting with the LX trim. It features air conditioning, cruise control, electric power steering, remote entry, a 160-watt audio system, Pandora Internet radio interface, Bluetooth connectivity with texting function, and a full-color information display that includes a multi-angle backup camera.
Stepping up to the EX trim delivers 17-inch alloys, a power moonroof, two additional stereo speakers and some color-matched exterior trim.
The line-topping EX-L adds leather to the equation, as well as a 328-watt audio system while opening the door to on-board satellite navigation, a rear-seat DVD system and other upscale options. CR-V pricing ranges from $22,295 for a front-wheel-drive LX to about $30,000 for an all-wheel-drive EX-L.
Under the Hood
Honda offers a single engine for the CR-V: its trusty K-Series iVTEC 2.4-liter four-cylinder. For 2012, the engine dishes out five more horsepower for a total of 185, yet produces improved fuel-efficiency numbers compared with the outgoing model. Front-drive CR-Vs are rated at 23 mpg city/31 mpg highway, up from 21/28 mpg, while rigs outfitted with Honda's Real Time all-wheel drive check in with 22/30 mpg highway, up from 21/27 mpg. All CR-Vs come equipped with a 5-speed automatic transmission.
The CR-V shines brightest on the inside. Unlike the exterior, where designers needed to be rather restrained, they could let loose in the cabin, so they added a bunch of technology and convenience features.
Under the technology banner we find Bluetooth connectivity, Pandora Internet radio, SMS text messaging, and a 5-inch, color LCD intelligent multi-information display (i-MID) with a rear-view camera. All this tech gadgetry is standard issue on every CR-V. Bluetooth, the hands-free interface between driver and smartphone, is a known commodity and becoming a common standard feature, but the other tech tidbits are up-level.
Pandora is a free music service where users open an account online and create numerous personalized Internet "radio stations" based on favorite songs or artists. Users can choose among their stations and listen on their computer, but they can also download a free Pandora application to have their stations on their smartphone. The CR-V has the interface to play Pandora-generated music on the CR-V audio system.
The text-messaging feature reads incoming messages aloud over the audio speakers and allows the driver to reply with any of six preset messages, or call the sender hands-free. The message will appear on the i-MID screen only when the transmission is in Park. The system works with SMS-capable smartphones such as the Blackberry, Droid X and others. The iPhone 4 does not support this feature.
The CR-V's information superhighway runs through the i-MID. All relevant audio-system data, fuel-economy indicators, rear-view back-up camera images, texting, XM radio, Bluetooth info, clock, compass, trip computer, warning screens for door-ajar, tire-pressure monitoring, general maintenance intervals, etc., appear on the easy-to-see i-MID. The i-MID also features a customizable wallpaper display so users can download their own images to the display via the USB port.
Back in the 3-D realm, Honda addressed comfort and convenience with a clean interior. The main cluster features a singular dial, the speedometer, but the center of the dial is an LED display that shows average miles per gallon, temperature and the main and trip odometers. It is flanked by half-circle readouts for the tachometer, water temperature and fuel level gauges. Honda also places the shifter on the lower portion of the dash, which opens up room for the CR-V's cavernous center armrest storage bin. The gauges are placed for easy viewing, the seats are outstanding, and the fit and finish is excellent. We were also taken with the quick-release lever that remotely folds down a portion of the 60/40 rear seat for quick cargo expansion. It's a spring-loaded mechanism, not some slow-moving series of electric motors. The rear seats recline and the CR-V delivers 37.2 cubic feet of cargo room with the seats up and 70.9 with the seats folded flat.
On the Road
The 2.4-liter engine has no problems motivating the Honda CR-V. The powertrain is responsive but not prone to unneeded downshifts; at highway speed the tall fifth gear keeps things quiet while maximizing mileage. The electric steering is noticeably light right from the curb, and unfortunately the situation gets off-center as the vehicle maneuvers at speed. In midturn it's difficult to sense how the vehicle is behaving. While this is the first use of electric-based steering in the CR-V, Honda has danced this dance before and we were expecting more. The ride and handling are well-balanced, as the CR-V proves ready to deal with whatever life throws at it.
Right for You?
The all-new CR-V is an eye-catcher and its beauty is more than skin deep. Tech-savvy commuters will love the CR-V as it packs a wallop in the connectivity and personal computing departments while delivering outstanding 22/30 mpg fuel efficiency in all-wheel-drive guise. Families will like all the room and the storage nooks, as well as the available rear-seat DVD system. The CR-V is a win-win on many fronts, making it easy to forget that this is Honda's entry-level crossover SUV. We definitely recommend putting the CR-V on any compact-SUV buyer's short list of test drives.
(As part of an automaker-sponsored press event, Honda provided MSN with travel and accommodations to facilitate this report.)
Evan Griffey served as an editor of Turbo & High Tech Performance, a pioneering publication about sport-compact tuning. Today Griffey freelances for Import Tuner, Sport Compact Car, Car Audio and Siphon.