Honda’s familiar badge can be found on a variety of vehicles but only two really count in Canada, the perennially best-selling compact Civic and its crossover running mate the CR-V – so it’s no surprise the company didn’t stray too far from the proven formula with the redesign of both for 2012.
One in four Honda vehicles sold here last year, and more than half of those classified as trucks, were accounted for by the outgoing model of the compact CR-V, which was also the third-best-selling nameplate in this highly competitive category. So, anybody willing to bet against the recently introduced new version doing at least as well?
Keep your money in your pocket. It is doing even better this year, moving to number one in this still-growing category ahead of its key rivals and last year’s numbers one and two, the Ford Escape and Dodge Journey. Both of which boast significantly lower initial MSRPs.
Some of that success can likely be put down to Honda fans waiting for the new model to arrive and the general uptick in awareness sparked by a generational change – or perhaps Ford loyalists waiting for the new 2013 Escape. But it also indicates that making something already on-target even better without adding scary new stuff that might frighten buyers off isn’t a bad strategy. And one that seems to have worked for the ninth-generation Civic, which drew some auto journo flack for being too conservative, so why not for the CR-V? Both are built in Canada, incidentally.
The CR-V lineup starts with the $25,990 LX in front-drive form and $27,990 with all-wheel-drive, steps up to the FWD EX (which we’re looking at here) at $28,890 and $30,790 with AWD and tops out with the AWD Touring at $34,990.
Honda has certainly put more effort into this new CR-V’s styling – which, while following the same basic theme, is decidedly more attractive up front, has interestingly fluid new side features and a neat little kick-up at the D-pillar.
And although still based on the outgoing model, this fourth-generation CR-V’s structure is much revised and adds a higher level of safety and rigidity. Along with making it subjectively “feel” more substantial (it may be 400 mm shorter than a mid-size Accord but weighs about the same) this also helps the basically carryover suspension do its job better. Improved shocks and a new electric power steering system improve already good ride and handling.
Despite being trimmed a trifle in length and height (improving aerodynamics but reducing headroom a bit, although not likely enough to bother most occupants), the cabin feels comfortably roomy and open thanks to revised window glass. And provides plenty of cargo space, 1,054 litres with the new and now simple to operate 60/40-split rear seat upright and 2,007 litres with it folded. The load floor is almost flat, the hatch is large and the lift-over height has been lowered for easier loading.
The interior isn’t dramatically different in look or feel, with decent-enough seats up front (the driver’s is power operated on the EX) and a rear seat that’s a bit bench-like. The compact instrument array provides the info you need, the control layout is functional and sound levels are acceptably low. Simple rather than fancy, but overall a pleasant place to spend some drive time.
What is new is the level of equipment, which now adds to the usual stuff you’d expect in a mid-$20,000 vehicle, a centre console, Bluetooth HandsFreeLink phone access, full-colour multi-info screen, rear-view camera, remote entry, heated seats, cruise control, Eco Assist and SMS text messaging. The latter receives texts from some mobile phones, relates them over the audio system and provides six pre-set responses. Not bad, considering the base price is actually lower than it was a decade ago.
The EX ads an upgraded audio system, 17-inch wheels with 225/65 R17 tires, moon roof, fog lights, automatic dual-zone climate control, auto headlights, variable-speed wipers and cargo cover.
All CR-Vs come with the same powertrain, an updated version of the 2.4-litre i-VTEC four-cylinder that’s been around for a while now. It’s still rated at 185 hp and 163 lb-ft of torque and still hooked up to a five-speed automatic transmission.
Many rivals have moved to six-speeds, which would undoubtedly improve overall drivability and economy, but in day-to-day driving, the CR-V performs perfectly acceptably and I guess sticking with the five-speed helped keep the cost down.
And 185 hp is plenty (in 1997, the original and only 130-kg lighter CR-V’s 2.0 litre engine provided just 126 hp) providing acceleration off the mark that is more than strong enough, and a kick-down for passing or merging produces enough additional propulsion to make these manoeuvres safe to accomplish. An annoyance was its inability to hold a steady speed with cruise control engaged, particularly in Eco mode.
The CR-V helps promote economical driving behaviour with its Eco Assist driver prompt system and more actively when you engage Eco mode, which alters engine and transmission response. Even with this engaged, performance doesn’t feel overly lethargic.
Fuel economy ratings of 9.0 litres/100 km city and 6.4 highway are competitive and the average after a week was 9.0 and, on a hilly highway cruising speed run, 8.0.
Typical of Honda, it has improved the CR-V virtually across the board, but untypically, left us looking for just a little more.
Tech specs: 2012 Honda CR-V EX
Type: Compact crossover
Base Price: $28,890; as tested, $30,585
Engine: 2.4-litre, DOHC, inline-four
Horsepower/torque: 185 hp/163 lb-ft
Transmission: Five-speed automatic
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 9.0 city/6.4 highway; regular gas
Alternatives: Hyundai Tucson, Toyota RAV4, Kia Sportage, Mazda CX-5, Mitsubishi RVR, Nissan Rogue