The past few years haven’t been kind to Honda. A series of underwhelming products, a bizarre new styling direction and increased competition have seen the brand go from Japan’s most beloved automaker to a frequent target of criticism from both critics and consumers alike.
|1. An updated 2.4L 4-cyl makes 185-hp and 163 lb-ft, an increase of 5-hp and 2 lb-ft.
2. Front-drive models get a 22/30-mpg rating (up 2/3 mpg) versus 22/31-mpg for AWD (up 1/3 mpg).
3. Rear cargo room is rated at 37.2 cu-ft with 70.9 cu-ft total.
The latest indignity came in the summer of 2011, when the Civic, Honda’s bread and butter product, was panned by a variety of media outlets for being inferior to offerings from Korea and America, an idea that would have been laughable just two years ago.
Luckily for Honda fans, their latest product launch looks like it will put them back on the path to success, even if the car in question is one that won’t get hearts racing. The 2012 CR-V is the 4th generation of America’s best-selling crossover, and Honda has wisely chosen to make incremental improvements to the CR-V rather than radically alter the successful formula.
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NEW LOOK, SORT OF
The overall look of the CR-V is basically the same, with a revised front end designed to reflect Honda’s new corporate face, as seen on vehicles like the Crosstour. The rear has a sharply raked profile that resembles the Volvo XC60, while the taillights remain largely unchanged. Casual observers would have a difficult time distinguishing the previous model from the new one.
Interior changes are evident, with familiar Honda parts bin bits used for the window switches, while a lovely, thick rimmed steering wheel takes precedence amid a very subdued gauge cluster. Our EX-L tester was equipped with a light grey leather interior and a navigation system, which dominated the center stack. The navigation interface does look a little dated, but the system itself is intuitive and easy to use.
SMALL THINGS THAT MAKE A BIG DIFFERENCE
The navigation system also has a trick, three mode back-up camera with a standard view, wide angle view and a sort of periscope view that displays a downward 90 degree angle that makes it easier to view protruding objects like poles and barriers. Ample storage compartments are located throughout the cabin, including one designed to hold a large purse – clearly, the CR-V is skewed towards those with two X chromosomes.
Little touches that make life easier seem to be the CR-V’s specialty. Beyond the backup camera and the storage compartments, the CR-V boasts the segment’s lowest loading floor. This may seem like an obscure statistic, but it makes loading everything from luggage to grocery bags to furniture so much easier, since one doesn’t have to propel them upwards, but can merely drop them in from a more natural height. Should any more space be required, an ingenious single lever need only be pulled to fold the back seats entirely. We found ourselves thoroughly impressed with this bit of engineering, to the point where it almost sells the car itself.
SAME ENGINE, MORE MPGS
On the road, the CR-V is one of the better crossovers to drive. It won’t ever get confused for being remotely sporty, but it avoids feeling like a mushy mess at all times. The 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine makes 185-horsepower, and is able to move the CR-V along at a perfectly acceptable pace. We managed to test out the brakes during a relatively high speed panic stop situation and they performed remarkably well. The 5-speed automatic transmission is transparent in its operation, and overall we’re impressed with the smooth, quiet nature of the driving experience.
Honda claims that the all-wheel drive system has been revised to provide the rear wheels with a bit of torque during launches on wet surfaces, to minimize wheel spin, and we felt some of it in action even during dry surfaces. Honda claims 22-mpg in town and 30-mpg highway for AWD models and a 1 mpg improvement for front drive versions. Also of note is the ECON mode button, similar to the CR-Z, which supposedly improves fuel economy by smoothing out jerky throttle inputs.
Lately, Honda has been accused of losing its way. Cars like the Insight, CR-Z and Crosstour have failed to gain acceptance in the marketplace, while the 2012 Civic has to face vastly improved competitors when as little as 5 years ago, it ruled the compact segment.
Honda may have gotten things right with the new CR-V, delivering a practical, attractive and affordable crossover that will meet consumer needs well. But vehicles like the 2013 Ford Escape are just around the corner, chock full of next generation technologies that the CR-V won’t have, like ultra-efficient turbocharged engines, innovative telematics systems and, for the Escape specifically, a tailgate activated by a motion sensor.
The first CR-V was a game changer in 1997, but Honda is in danger of ceding that role to its Korean and American rivals, a sign of the changing tides in the auto industry. Things may be in flux on a macro level, but the CR-V is as competent as ever and still our pick for the small crossover segment – for now.