2012 Honda CR-V First Drive Review: Introduction
The redesigns of the venerable Honda CR-V have always been like clockwork with each new model debuting five years after its predecessor, so it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that the all-new 2012 Honda CR-V will be making its way to dealerships later this year. With the introduction of the 2012 CR-V at the 2011 Los Angeles International Auto Show, it marks the ninth new or updated model in Honda’s portfolio (out of 11 in total) in just three years. Being one of Honda’s top-selling products, the fourth-generation CR-V hasn’t strayed too far from the original successful recipe in terms of the overall form and function, but Honda did focus on giving it some of things lacking in the compact crossover segment such as a more refined ride, a large spacious cabin and plenty of available technology and luxury options.
2012 Honda CR-V First Drive Review: Pricing and Trim Levels
Assembled in East Liberty, Ohio alongside the Honda Crosstour, the 2012 Honda CR-V will go on sale on Dec. 15, 2011 in three trim levels (LX, EX and EX-L). So far, Honda has yet to announce any official prices for its new CR-V, but it did say that the starting prices are expected to range from around $21,000 for the base model up to around $30,000 for a top-of-the-line EX-L 4WD model; for comparison, the 2011 CR-V starts at $21,895 and tops out at $30,095. While the price looks like it will remain about the same as the current model, Honda plans on adding plenty of standard features to help make the 2012 more of a CR-V in what has become a hotly contested compact crossover segment.
2012 Honda CR-V First Drive Review: Competition
The compact crossover segment is less than 20 years old, but while the original CR-V only had a handful of competitors to go up against, Honda says that the all-new 2012 Honda CR-V will have more than 20 competitors including models such as the Toyota RAV4, Ford Escape, Kia Sportage, Subaru Forester and the all-new 2013 Mazda CX-5. Currently, the Honda CR-V is second in sales in this segment to the Ford Escape which will be getting its own redesign for the 2013 model year. Honda did not give any specifics in terms of exact sales figures for the 2012 CR-V, but it expects to continue selling more than 200,000 units. The current CR-V has already sold 180,361 through October representing an 11.1 percent increase over last year. This segment is of growing importance in the automotive landscape as Honda expects the entry-level crossover market to account for 2 million sales by 2015 – almost double of what the market was back in 2006.
2012 Honda CR-V First Drive Review: Exterior
For anyone who saw the Honda CR-V Concept unveiled back in November, the overall styling of the 2012 Honda CR-V shouldn’t be a big surprise. Aside from losing the concept-like wheels, smoked headlight and taillights and the aggressive body cladding, everything else was carried over untouched. This bodes well for the new front-end styling giving the new CR-V one of the most attractive faces among the current Honda line-up including the chrome three-bar grille that cuts into the headlights. Even better, this Crosstour-inspired grille helps make the new model look much better than current CR-V which has an awkward air intake just beneath the grille. The production design also carries over the sculpted hood, fenders and side body creases which will help to make the new CR-V more interesting than the current model, but designers still took a more conservative approach at the rear of the vehicle keeping it very similar while also managing to maximize interior space as much as possible. Vertical taillights and lower body cladding are also similar cues to the previous CR-V design, but the 2012 CR-V has a more stylish beltline that rises at the back of the car which in profile helps create a unique C-pillar.
2012 Honda CR-V First Drive Review: Interior
As tame as Honda kept its exterior changes to the 2012 Honda CR-V, the new cabin has been totally reworked with better materials, some more technology and a more stylish layout. The new instrument panel features a cleaner overall design, but the big news is the addition of a five-inch multi-information information display above the stereo head unit and a new instrument gauge cluster with interactive lighting to let drivers know when they are driving most efficient. On models not equipped with navigation, the upper screen is used as a display for the standard backup camera, while it is also used to show just about all vehicle information and is controlled with easy-to-use buttons on the steering wheel
The 2012 CR-V will also feature a low-cost rear-seat entertainment system which is expected to be priced “well under $1,000” although it cannot be offered together on models with navigation for some reason. As far as standard equipment goes, Bluetooth, an aux jack and a USB port are all included on the CR-V and can be used to control smartphone-paired functions such as the Pandora app or SMS text messaging. Currently, there are limitations at how integrated these systems can get with the Pandora being fully integrated with iPhones only and the Pandora feature working best with certain Blackberry phones.
Considering all of this technology, one of the most impressive new features inside the new CR-V was the split rear seat which folds and tumbles at the simple pull of a lever (located either in the rear cargo area or on the side of the outer seat bottoms). Even though rumors were swirling earlier in the 2012 CR-V development indicating that it was going to be a three-row crossover, Honda’s chief engineer for the CR-V, Akio Tonomura, said that while a seven-passenger model was considered, it would have compromised passenger comfort and cargo space too much to be practical. Instead, the CR-V retains the same five-passenger layout as the previous three generations, but it gets slightly more passenger and cargo volume than the current model. Despite the increase in both passenger and cargo space, the overall cargo volume is down slightly to just under 71 cubic feet (about 2 cubic feet less than the 2011 model) with the rear seats folded down.
2012 Honda CR-V First Drive Review: Powertrain and Fuel Economy
Under the hood, the 2012 Honda CR-V is powered by the same 2.4-liter i-VTEC inline-four as the previous model, but in this new CR-V, the engine is more powerful and fuel efficient than its predecessor. Output has been bumped up to 185 horsepower and 163 lb-ft of torque, but the important aspect is that it now also delivers improved fuel economy. Base front-wheel drive CR-V models will have EPA fuel economy estimates of 23 miles per gallon in the city, 31 mpg on the highway and 26 mpg in combined driving, while models equipped with the new Real Time four-wheel drive system drop 1 mpg in each category. As many automakers are going to more advanced six-speed automatic transmissions, Honda is still sticking with its tried-and-true five-speed unit meaning that Honda probably be a few mpgs left on the table.
2012 Honda CR-V First Drive Review: Driving Impressions
One area the new 2012 Honda CR-V really improved was on the road. The ride was predictable, comfortable and smooth, but the most impressive aspect was the well-balanced electric power steering system which delivered excellent feedback - something that can’t be said for the all-new Civic. Instead of feeling loose and numb, the CR-V's steering inputs were precise although far from sporty. Since this is intended to be a family vehicle, the handling dynamic, like the steering, was aimed at making the CR-V easy to drive rather than fun to drive, but it still manages to take exit ramps and curvy roads without too much of a fight. A new EcoAssist system features a driver-selectable ECON mode which reduces peak throttle response to help maximize fuel economy. The interactive gauge cluster also helps "train" drivers to driver more efficiently thanks to lighting that glows green when being operated most efficiently and blue when it is detects the driver is being heavy-footed.
2012 Honda CR-V First Drive Review: Safety
Safety ratings for the 2012 Honda CR-V have not been released yet by either the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) or Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), but it is expected to perform quite well in crashes thanks to plenty of safety features and a strong safety cell. All models come standard with six airbags, daytime running lights (DRL), electronic brake-force distribution with brake assist, four-wheel anti-lock disc brake system, tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS), Vehicle Stability Assist with Traction Control and whiplash mitigating front seats (similar to the previous design of Honda's active front head restraints). For added safety, the 2012 Honda CR-V also includes a new expanded view driver’s mirror which adds a vertical convex mirror to reduce the driver’s blindspot.
2012 Honda CR-V First Drive Review: Final Thoughts
Honda's commitment to pleasing its customers is evident in recent introductions such as the Civic and the 2012 Honda CR-V. Instead of reinventing its new models and coming out with a radically different vehicle, Honda has decided to keep what customers love and improve upon some of the smaller aspects in an attempt to draw in new buyers. Considering new compact crossovers like the Kia Sportage and Mazda CX-5 are attempting to bring a sportier dynamic to this segment, the predictability, reliability and familiarity of the CR-V should be a key selling factor to buyers when the 2012 model goes on sale next month. Unfortunately for Honda, similar to the launch of the Civic, weather could prove to be quite harmful to the CR-V’s launch as the disastrous floods in Thailand could put Honda behind other key rivals introducing new compact crossovers in the next few months, but as seen by the resilience of the company so far this year, the CR-V will undoubtedly continue to be a top seller in this segment.
2012 Honda CR-V First Drive Review: Pros and Cons
- stylish, well-appointed interior
- improved fuel economy
- excellent electric power steering feedback
- conservative styling can still be confused for current model
- still uses five-speed automatic
- rear seats don't fold completely flat
Honda provided travel, lodging and vehicle for this review.
Photos by Jeffrey N. Ross