I’d excuse you if you thought the Honda CR-V was the company’s first attempt at a tall wagon, but you would be incorrect. That distinction belongs to the Honda Civic Wagon, sold in the US from 1984 to 1991, a car that has now achieved cult-like status with the Honda diehards who appreciated its simplicity, durability, all-weather handling and cargo capacity. The first CR-V’s were introduced as 1996 models, and retained many of the traits of the Civic Wagon. Let’s face it, a lot has changed in the intervening years, and for 2012, Honda has redesigned the CR-V. Now in its fourth generation, has the CR-V remained current? Read on to find out.
The CR-V has been wildly successful for Honda. At its inception, the term ‘crossover’ hadn’t been invented, so many referred to small, car-based SUVs as ‘cute utes’ in the 1990′s. Today, with the crossover having replaced the SUV as the preferred mode of transport for American families, the CR-V remains at or near the top of the heap for compact crossover sales. While the first CR-V’s were fairly plain and utilitarian, the CR-V has grown in size and with the introduction of the third generation car in 2007, received some curves for a more car-like look. The move away from boxy utilitarian was a raging success for Honda.
It comes as no surprise then the 2012 CR-V is a very careful evolution of the last generation car. I can’t say I blame Honda. When you have such a winning recipe I’d be hesitant to do take a risk and take the vehicle design in a different direction. The new car is easily recognizable as a CR-V with contemporary touches such as the grille, which works much better here than on the Crosstour. There isn’t a bad line on the car, but it hardly gets your adrenaline pumping either. But, walking around our Urban Titanium test car, the aim here is to aim at the widest possible range of customers possible, and in that respect, the new CR-V should keep current customers coming back for the updated car.
If the CR-V has evolved from simple transportation on the exterior, the same can be said of the interior. Honda’s reputation for building high quality interiors with intuitive ergonomics is well-known, and the CR-V is no exception. Our leather-trimmed cockpit offered all the latest modern technology has to offer and was still user friendly. But again, the flat as a pancake front seats and tiny tachometer instantly reminds you of the CR-V’s mission to carry people and cargo, not hold you tightly in place as you carve up your favorite country road. For a simple to use, comfortable cabin, the CR-V is tough to beat.
All CR-V’s are powered by a 2.4L 185hp four cylinder engine paired to a five-speed automatic. Buyers can choose between front or all-wheel drive. Towing capacity is a modest 1,500lbs. Our test car featured all-wheel drive and offered a very respectable 22/30 MPG city/highway EPA rating. The CR-V’s engine exhibited typical Honda silky smoothness, and the shift changes were virtually seamless. The CR-V is generally well composed and handles well for a crossover built for family duty. One area that did frustrate me was a complete lack of steering feel. The driver is not getting any communication from the road beneath at all, and this proved to be the CR-V’s most glaring flaw.
A base Honda CR-V LX with front-wheel drive starts at $22,495, and is a fairly well-equipped car. Our test car was the EX-L with Navigation and all-wheel drive, the top of the food chain CR-V. In addition to the leather interior, heated seats and Navigation with voice recognition, 7-speaker audio with XM satellite radio, Pandora Internet radio interface, SMS Text Messaging functionality, dual zone auto climate control, power driver’s seat, power moonroof and 17″ alloys round out the notable features. Including delivery, the tab comes to $30,605USD. Strangely, the CR-V EX-L is also available with a rear seat DVD entertainment system, but buyers must choose between this or navigation-you cannot have both. This price is competitive for its class, but the Kia Sportage adds a panoramic moonroof, 18″ wheels and a ventilated driver’s seat for the same money, not to mention edgier styling and a sportier ride.
This fourth generation Honda CR-V is a careful evolution of the outgoing car, one that brought Honda enormous success. When you are doing this well, I can see how Honda felt there was no need to reinvent the wheel here, and the updated styling in and out along with the addition of up to the minute tech keeps the CR-V current work well here, I have a nagging thought. Cars like the Kia Sportage and upcoming Ford Escape are not conservative evolutions, they are game-changing cars whose sights are aimed squarely at the Honda CR-V. This time around, Honda chose to not mess with success, and in doing so has built a car difficult to fault, but the competition is relentless, and to remain at the top Honda must move ahead. Honda considers itself a renegade, engineering-driven company, a mild restyle with some updates to an existing drivetrain seems to run counter to that mantra. No doubt the new CR-V will continue to be a sales success, but with the competition breathing hard down its neck, how much longer will playing it safe keep the CR-V as a top seller?