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The external aesthetic of the 2009 Honda CR-V mixes the Honda Civic's space-age design with the face and bulk of a bulldog. Although you may never catch us calling the CR-V attractive, its looks aren't offensive. More importantly, spend some time behind the wheel and you'll see that the CR-V manages to combine the sporty ride and handling of a small sedan and the utility of a small SUV while making few, if any, compromises.
In its EX-L with Nav trim level, the CR-V has an extra trick up its sleeve in the form of a DVD-based GPS navigation system with a fantastic voice-recognition system. Tell the CR-V where you want to go and it'll take you there. Tell it to change to audio source and it happens. Granted, it's not quite that simple--there are a few commands to be learned--but the system is surprisingly easy to use.
The trouble with the CR-V is that, while the tech present in the cabin is well executed, there are a few key features--ahem, Bluetooth--that are missing.
Test the tech: Voice command
Voice command is a feature that rarely performs as advertised. We wanted to see how well Honda's system performed, so we decided to see if we could go an entire day without using the navigation/audio system's touch screen.
Settling into the driver's seat, we located the Talk button on the Honda's steering wheel. Our first step was to load up some tunes. Pressing the Talk button, we spoke after the beep, "Open." Nothing happened. We tried, "Eject CD." Still, nothing happened. After a few more incorrect guesses, we decided that CD insertion was still a manual affair, which put the score at buttons: 1, voice: 0.
With our audio CD manually loaded, we spoke aloud, "CD, track five." A pleasant voice spoke back, "CD, play, track five," and the music began to play. Testing CD changer integration, we said, "CD Changer, disc two." The Honda flawlessly obeyed, playing the appropriate disc. Next we said, "XM, preset three." The Honda's voice spoke back "Radio, XM, preset three," and began to play back music from the satellite radio. Having successfully tackled presets, we decided to throw the system a curveball. "FM Radio, one-oh-six-point-nine," we spoke aloud. The Honda spoke back, "Radio, FM, one hundred six point nine," and began playing the station. At the end of the round, the score was four successful voice commands and one button press.
Declaring audio control a success, we moved on to navigation. "Map," we said aloud, and the system predictably displayed the map of the surrounding area. "Destination," we said. The system moved to a help screen and asked us, "What would you like information about?" That's not what we wanted, so we pushed the button and said, "Cancel." After a few more failed attempts at various combinations of "Set" and "Destination", we stumbled upon the "Menu." The system offered us a set of choices and asked aloud, "How would you like to set your destination?" Success! We then tried the various methods of entering destinations. For address entry, we were able to speak the street address and the system made its best attempt to guess what we said. More often than not, the system's guess was right. For tricky names, we were able to spell the name out with little difficulty. Choosing points of interest was a bit more involved, but the system essentially allowed us to read the menu options as they appeared onscreen to narrow our search down by type, proximity, or name. Other functions, such as zooming in and out of the map were also available. With the addition of address and POI entry, the score was set at six voice commands to a single button press.
Just for kicks, we pressed the button and spoke, "Temperature, 72 degrees." We didn't expect anything to happen, but to our surprise, the voice spoke, "Set temperature, 72 degrees," which was reflected in the climate control display! We tried a few more commands such as, "Air conditioner on/off", "rear defroster on/off", and "fan speed, up/down." The Honda handled just about every command we threw at it.
By the time we were done playing with the climate control, we'd stopped keeping score. Our test had proven that just about every nondriving-related function of the CR-V's cabin tech could be controlled through the Talk button: audio, navigation, and climate control. Sure, it's not an intelligent system and commands must be learned, but they are all logical and easy to guess. If we got close to a command, the system spoke aloud the correct command and went along with the operation. Thanks to this voice prompt and onscreen help system, we'd memorized the most commonly used commands within a week, and the instruction manual never once left the glove compartment.
In the cabin
The CR-V's interior is a great example of how to create a cabin out of plastic that doesn't feel cheap. Treated with an interesting matte finish, the CR-V's interior won't fool you into thinking that you've settled into a luxury SUV, but it still feels high quality and sporty. The surfaces were pleasant to the touch and felt solid and substantial. The EX-L's addition of a leather-wrapped steering wheel and leather trim on the heated front seats upgrades the tactile experience of both places the CR-V comes in direct contact with the driver.
The steering wheel is home to the button that activated the CR-V's most impressive feature, voice recognition, which comes as a part of the EX-L with Nav trim level. The voice-recognition system controls audio source, selects channel presets for XM/AM/FM radio, and controls the GPS navigation system. Coupled with the steering wheel buttons for volume and cruise control, the voice activation system allows the driver to control most aspects of the CR-V's cabin tech without ever touching the dash.
Though Honda has begun to offer Bluetooth connectivity in some of its 2009 models, the CR-V isn't one of them, so don't expect to use the voice command for making calls. We're fairly certain that the CR-V will gain Bluetooth in its next iteration.