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2012 Honda CR-V
by Jim Prueter

For 2012, Honda completely redesigned its popular CR-V crossover utility vehicle. Consistent with Honda, the look is evolutionary rather than revolutionary, erring on the conservative side. Still, it looks handsome and appears to be bigger than it actually is. In fact, it’s about an inch shorter than the previous CR-V.

The previous CR-V looked dated in comparison to stylish competitors such as the Chevrolet Equinox, GMC Terrain, Kia Sportage, and Hyundai Tucson. But the new CR-V exhibits more appeal and confidence, with changes to the side windows and headlights, a Honda CrossTour-looking front grille, and a Volvo-looking rear end.

Though, with newly redesigned and highly styled products coming in the form of the 2013 Ford Escape and 2013 Mazda CX-5 (recently shown at the Los Angeles Auto Show along with the all-new Hyundai Santa Fe), it’s questionable whether the updated CR-V will be enough.

The interior, which previously was panned for being overly plain with cheap looking materials, has been upgraded. Now, it’s more refined with softer materials and more storage space. Although it’s not cutting edge or groundbreaking, it won’t offend either.

Up front, head and legroom is plentiful, and seats are comfortable and well bolstered. Large doors make entry and exit uneventful. All controls are large, intuitive, and easy to use. Standard features include a backup camera, Bluetooth, tilting/telescoping steering column, Pandora audio system, and a large center console with cupholders, a tray, two storage compartments, and a USB port.

We especially liked the folding rear seat, with the easiest operation of any vehicle in this class. With a simple pull of a strap from either side of the seat, in one motion, the lower cushion flips forward into the footwell, the headrest flops forward, and the rear seatbacks flip forward and flat, all neatly behind the front seats.

What we didn’t care for was the optional navigation system — the same Honda has been using for the past few years. It’s outdated, displays poor graphics, and is fussy to use with a tiny joystick. We recommend skipping the option and using your smart phone or portable navigation system instead.

Honda also hasn’t changed its powertrain and retains the same 2.4-liter i-VTEC 4-cylinder engine that makes 185 horsepower, five more than the outgoing CR-V, which is about average for the class. We still think Honda should offer a more powerful engine option via a turbocharger or V-6 and use a six-speed transmission (the norm for this class) instead of its five-speed automatic transmission. Due to this combination, the CR-V labors when pulling out to pass or when getting up to speed entering the interstate.

Engineers were able to squeeze more mileage out of the engine, as much as four per gallon depending on the model, resulting in 22 city/30 highway mpg on our all-wheel drive EX-L test model and 23 city/31 highway on front-wheel drive models.

There’s also a large green “Econ” button standard on all CR-V models for improved fuel efficiency. Unlike most manufacturers who use Econ buttons, Honda’s doesn’t modify the engine or transmission behavior to save fuel. Rather, it firms the accelerator pedal, making it harder to push down, and modifies the climate control.

Honda upgraded its all-wheel drive system and no longer needs to detect front-wheel slippage for the rear wheels to engage for better traction on snowy roads or slick surfaces.

During a week of driving the CR-V, I found it to be a bit disconcerting dynamically. The ride was jiggly and choppy over uneven pavement and handling was less than exact. The cabin was noisier than expected, but overall it was easy to drive, with comfortable seats and decent visibility.

The new CR-V was recently rated as a Top Safety Pick for 2012 by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. It has not been rated by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration as of this writing.

The Honda CR-V has been one of the best-selling vehicles in the U.S., with a stellar reputation for reliability and resale value. It has a very loyal following and Honda loyalists will either overlook its misgivings or won’t notice them. Most will see the new design as highly attractive with many improvements.

Almost all vehicles in this segment are pretty good and often close to amazing. While some leap out at you with a huge wow factor in styling, the new CR-V plays it safe. And why shouldn’t it, given its popularity and leading sales position in the family-hauler segment. But the competition isn’t sitting still, and even the new CR-V already seems a bit dated.

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Base price: $22,295 – $29,795
Price as tested: $30,605
(All-wheel-drive EX-L NAV)
MPG: 22 city/30 highway

• Excellent family vehicle
• One-pull folding rear seat
• Nicely improved over previous model

• Bland styling
• Outdated engine and transmission
• Fussy, confusing navigation system

Website: hondacars.com

Competes with:

Ford Escape
Chevy Equinox
Mazda CX-5
Hyundai Santa Fe
Kia Sorento
Toyota RAV4
GMC Terrain
Subaru Forester
Nissan Rogue
Jeep Liberty

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