WHEELS: Good things get better with the 2012 CR-V
When the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 hit showroom floors in 1997, the effect on the industry was, if not revolutionary, at least evolutionary.
These products largely defined the compact SUV segment, giving consumers a more fuel-efficient, more nimble alternative to the gas-guzzling, full-size sport utilities of the day.
Since then, design changes for the most part have been incremental, probably because the typical compact SUV buyer favours the tried-and-true formula: Tall-box trucky styling, all-wheel-drive surefootedness and a large four-cylinder engine for a reasonable compromise between power and fuel economy.
Which is what Honda has always delivered with its top-selling CR-V.
Sure, it has evolved in terms of styling, with the new-for-2012 model benefiting from deeper sculpting of the body lines and a bolder front fascia.
The updated look also features a strong three-bar grille, flanked by wrap-around, projector style headlights, giving it more visual impact than previous models.
The rear-sloping roofline is followed by windows that narrow to the rear, all ending at the CR-V’s signature vertical taillights that now have a more three-dimensional look.
But, none of this is a dramatic departure from 2010’s mild refresh.
Nor is the 2012 CR-V’s size, as there’s only a slight decrease in length, and a drop in height: 26 millimetres on 4WD (four-wheel-drive) and 36 millimetres on FWD (front-wheel-drive) models, all done without a loss in passenger volume.
Other evolutionary changes are under the skin, such as an increase in body stiffness and refinements in the suspension.
Thanks as well to underbody covers and a rear spoiler, not to mention more noise insulation, and the new CR-V enjoys a passenger cabin that is nearly as quiet as its Acura sibling.
And, nearly as posh.
My tester, in top-level Touring trim, had comfortable, double-stitched leather seating (10-way power for the driver) with double-stitched armrests, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter, loads of soft-touch materials, metallic and chrome accents.
Other amenities include dual-zone climate control, large-screen navigation system, seven-speaker 360-watt audio system, moonroof and auto-dimming rearview mirror.
But, even the base LX 2WD (MSRP $25,990) and LX 4WD ($28,090) models come extremely well equipped.
Their list of standard features is too long to print here, but some of the items include air conditioning, power windows, keyless entry, tilt/telescopic steering with audio and cruise controls, heated front seats, conversation mirror with sunglasses holder, and four-speaker 160-watt AM/FM/CD/MP3/WMA audio system with speed-sensitive volume.
All CR-Vs also get a multi-info display with five-inch colour screen and steering-wheel controls.
This gives you access to the usual stuff like clock, compass, trip computer, fuel economy and various warnings, as well as audio system, Bluetooth and SMS text messaging.
You can customize it with your own wallpaper.
Even more unexpected is the standard-equipped rear-view camera that displays either on this monitor or on the larger navigation screen, when available.
The driver can select from three settings that include a wide 180-degree view and top-down view.
Another thoughtful detail is the expanded-view driver’s-side mirror.
Its inner portion uses a flat pane for standard viewing, while the outer portion uses a convex element for a wider field of view.
Great for detecting vehicles in what could otherwise be a blind spot.
The standard powerplant for all CR-V models is Honda’s proven 2.4-litre, i-VTEC DOHC four-cylinder engine.
A few tweaks for 2012 give it five more ponies for a total of 185 horsepower, and two more pound-feet of torque now peaking at 163.
A five-speed automatic transmission is standard.
Fuel economy is also improved for both front-drive and AWD models — up to 12 per cent better in highway driving.
For those models equipped with real time AWD with intelligent control — the new electronically controlled unit with quicker response and less internal friction — consumption has decreased to 9.2/6.6L/100km (city/hwy), an improvement of nearly one litre per 100 clicks.
To assist with greener motoring — not one of my stronger points — every CR-V comes with the Eco Assist system.
Illuminated arcs on either side of the speedo show if you’re being naughty or nice.
Green lights mean you’re driving fuel efficiently; white lights, not so much.
There’s also a green “Econ” button just left of the steering wheel.
Push it and the drive-by-wire system slows the throttle response and backs off the climate control to conserve fuel.
With a curb weight of 1,608 kilograms, as tested, I felt the 2.4-litre engine had to work hard enough without engaging this power-robbing feature.
Hence, I kept it turned off most of the time.
Indeed, the CR-V is no road rocket and certainly can’t keep up with a V6-powered RAV4 or turbocharged Sportage but, you’re not paying the price either in the showroom or at the pumps.
Despite my tendency toward lead-footedness, the CR-V still managed a combined fuel economy of 10.5/L per 100 kilometres during my week of testing.
And, its launch and passing power were more than satisfactory for a four-cylinder truck.
As with any tall vehicle, there’s some lean in the corners, but the CR-V’s MacPherson strut front and multi-link rear suspension (with front and rear stabilizer bars), kept body roll to a minimum.
Performance driving is typically low on the list of must-haves for those considering a compact sport utility — cargo carrying is more relevant.
And, here is where the CR-V shines.
Not that it has the largest cargo capacity in its class, but that Honda continues to make it easier to use.
Case in point is the easy-fold 60/40 split rear seat that employs a couple of release handles in the cargo area, and a strap by each rear door.
A single pull on any of these will individually tilt the seat base forward, lower the headrest and drop the seatback forward.
It’s a great feature when you’re struggling with boxes and bags, giving you a nearly flat cargo floor and up to 2,007 litres of space in one motion.
Lift-in height and the cargo floor itself have also been lowered by 20 millimetres.
Indeed, the CR-V is a well-built, thoughtfully designed vehicle, which is probably why it is Honda’s second-best-selling model, behind only the Civic.
Sure, there’s much worthy competition in this segment, but here the CR-V still holds a healthy second place.
And, with sales up 28 per cent year-to-date, it demonstrates that Honda’s small, measured changes continue to be the right changes for the CR-V.