Test Drive: Honda CR-V

By Barbara & Bill Schaffer

In the world of compact sport utility vehicles, the Honda CR-V has been one of a handful of vehicles that have earned their place as icons of the category because they best fill the needs of the shoppers.? As we see it, the group would include smaller SUVs like the Toyota RAV-4, Subaru Forester, Ford Escape, Kia Sportage and perhaps a few others.? However, by the numbers, the previous generation CR-V was the bestselling compact SUV from 2007 through 2010, before the market got weird.

The CR-V leadership position came from class innovation, reasonable performance, good styling and an overall solid product.? To improve on those characteristics, the fourth generation, which started rolling into Honda dealerships recently, was challenged to show significant improvements in order to maintain its position in the pack.? That?s a tall order, especially with the advancements we?ve seen from many of the competitors.

For 2012, the CR-V designers have refined the styling to present a more sophisticated, grownup exterior look with more pronounced lines and better aerodynamics.? The redesign process left the CR-V looking larger, but by the numbers, it actually is slightly smaller on the outside, but a smidgeon larger on the inside.

The interior takes on some the same type of enhancements as the exterior.? For example, rather than a little console protruding from the dash, the new CR-V has an extended, more traditional console with more usable space.? There?s also a new 60/40 split rear seat that improves access to the cargo area.? The seatbacks now fold nearly flat into the front of the cargo area by using one of the small levers located near the tailgate or a pull-strap positioned on the seat side.

The audio system now hooks up with the Internet through a smart phone to offer a new level of connectivity, including a standard Pandora? radio interface and Bluetooth audio streaming. ?For those who insist on texting while they drive there is a MS text messaging feature that, when paired with a compatible phone, can read incoming texts aloud through the audio system.? The messages can then be answered with one of six factory preset text messages, which automatically respond with a text stating, ?Talk to you later, I?m driving?; ?I?m on my way?; ?I?m running late?; ?OK?; ?Yes?; or ?No?. The standard Bluetooth includes an easy to use hands-free calling function.

The new CR-V gets five more horsepower bumping the total to 185 from the 2.4-liter, i-VTEC DOHC four-cylinder engine.? The revised engine is also leaner, producing better fuel economy, which is now rated by the EPA at 22 mpg city and 31 mpg highway for front-wheel drive models and 22/30 for all-wheel drive versions.? The new model accelerates from 0 to 60 mph in 9.1 seconds.

We were a little disappointed to still see a five-speed automatic transmission in the latest CR-V.? Most competitors are using a six-speed automatic or a continuously variable transmission (CTV) which both produce better fuel economy and usually better performance.

Helping provide encouragement to drive frugally, the CR-V has an Eco Assist? that has illuminated colored arcs that show green when the driver is being efficient and white when you are not.? It also has an ECON mode, which changes several operating characteristics of the vehicle to enhance fuel efficiency. In that mode, the Drive-by-Wire throttle system provides a more gradual response.

The Honda CR-V is available in front-wheel drive, or a new Real Time AWD with Intelligent Control System.? The new AWD system sends power to the rear wheels, even before the front wheels start to spin, to provide better traction in low-grip driving conditions such as snow, rain and unpaved road surfaces.

The CR-V uses advanced MacPherson struts up front and a sophisticated rear multilink system.? The new Motion-Adaptive Electric Power Steering system feel is a little muted compared to the previous generation steering.

Safety engineers loaded the CR-V up with stability control, anti-lock brakes, brake assist, a full complement of airbags, an innovative passenger-side Occupant Position Detection System (OPDS) and a front seat design that helps reduce the severity of neck injury in the event of a rear collision.? New for 2012 is a Hill Start Assist system that keeps the vehicle from rolling backward when the driver moves his or her foot from the brake to the throttle.? It also has Honda?s Advanced Compatibility Engineering? front body structure that helps the body better absorb and disperse the energy of a frontal crash.

The CR-V has taken a leadership position in rear visibility technology with their new Multi-Information Display (MID).? Standard in all models, MID uses a backup camera that displays a rear view on a five-inch screen or the 6.5-inch screen on models equipped with the navigation system.? The camera can be toggled between a 130-degree view or 180?-degree rear view when the transmission is in reverse.? This allows the driver to see directly behind the vehicle or the area farther out.? The screen is also designed to indicate the amount of room needed to open the rear cargo door.

CR-V comes in three trim levels and with a choice of front- or all-wheel drive.? A nicely equipped LX base model has an MSRP of $23,105, including the destination charge and $1,250 more for the AWD.? The top model AWD EX-L starts at $29,105 and can go as high as $30,605 when equipped with the AWD, navigation system with voice recognition and FM Traffic.

The new CR-V is still one of the best of the compact sport utilities with styling, safety and technological enhancements, but we?d like to have seen more work done on the mechanical, performance and handling.?? With the strong competition in this category, leaders will have to push the envelope more to stay in the lead.