When we last saw the Honda CR-V, we were behind the wheel of the 2009 CR-V EX-L 4WD with navigation. A little over two years later, we found ourselves spending a week with the new 2011 CR-V EX-L 4WD with navigation. Not much has changed for Honda's little crossover. Aside from a refreshed front end, physically the CR-V is virtually unchanged. Under the hood, Honda's engineers have been able to coax about 20 more ponies out of the 2.4-liter engine, but you probably wouldn't notice that without back-to-back testing of the two generations. Most heinously, the cabin technology package--which was showing its age in late 2008--hasn't been updated at all. There's still a six-disc, cartridge-fed CD changer in the center console! Talk about your blast from the past.
Two years is a lifetime for technology
As we stated earlier, the CR-V's cabin tech package was showing signs of age when we last saw it. So how does the Honda Satellite-Linked Navigation System hold up after two more years of innovation on the car tech landscape? As you'd imagine, not very well.
There is, however, still much to like about the CR-V. While still DVD-based and lacking traffic, the navigation and infotainment systems check a lot of the boxes we like to see filled when specking a cabin tech package. Beyond navigation, at this trim level you get a backup camera, Bluetooth Handsfree Link, USB connectivity with iPod, MP3, and WMA compatibility, and XM Satellite Radio. Holdovers from a time long past include a bizarre PC Card slot behind the motorized faceplate and that six-disc CD changer we've already bemoaned. Unfortunately, we didn't even have six CDs on hand to fully test this changer and would have gladly traded it for Bluetooth A2DP audio streaming--a feature that hasn't yet made it to the CR-V.
Audio quality is pretty good from the 270-watt, seven-speaker stereo. Bass reproduction is clean and loud, but doesn't overpower the highs and midrange. It's not what we'd call audiophile quality, but it's far from sounding the worst in this class.
The entire infotainment system is tied together with a comprehensive voice command system (a pair of voice command systems, in fact) that gives users access to most of the in-cabin tech functions, from the navigation system to the climate controls. Essentially, any soft key or input screen that is displayed on the color touch screen can be activated via voice, from "change station 88.5 FM" to "rear defroster on." However, while the navigation system is comprehensive, it's not exactly sophisticated. The system replaces touch inputs with voice inputs, but still requires that you slog through the various steps. So, instead of simply saying, "Navigate to 123 Main Street," inputting an address goes a little something like this:
Press the voice button. Say, "Menu." Listen to an audio prompt. Press the voice button again. Say, "Address." Prompt. Press. "City." Prompt. Press. "San Francisco." Select the city from a list. Prompt. Press. "Main Street." Select the street from a list. Prompt. Press. "One, two, three." Press. "Done." Prompt. Press. "OK."
That's about 10 presses of the voice button, more than a few moments when we were required to look at the screen, and about 3 minutes of our lives--and that's the best-case scenario in which the system recognized every input on the first shot, which it actually does only about half of the time thanks to road noise in the background. This is not the sort of undertaking that you'll want to initiate while driving, which sort of defeats the purpose of using the voice command system for all but the simplest of tasks.
Additionally, the Bluetooth Handsfree Link system is an entirely separate system from the aforementioned navigation voice command, featuring its own steering-wheel buttons and commands. We were able to pair our phone using a series of voice commands (with no onscreen prompts) using a four-digit PIN. The Handsfree Link system allowed us to sync the address book of our Motorola Droid phone, but oddly stored those numbers in the navigation system's address book (the voice command system has a phone book of its own) yet didn't automatically generate voice tags for the stored addresses. Our options for initiating a hands-free call included using the touch screen to find a contact and initiate the call there, use voice command to dial by number (for example, "Dial 555-1234"), or take the time to manually create voice tags for the numbers that we most often called by manually adding them via voice command system one at a time. Either way you slice it, there's either going to be a lot of time spent upfront setting up the system or a lot of day-to-day time spent slogging through it.