There is nothing extreme about the 2012 Honda CR-V; this car is an excellent example of moderation. Although an SUV, it is far from a monster truck. Its all-wheel drive and decent ground clearance make it suitable for snow and slight off-road conditions, but not crawling up the sides of canyons. And its four-cylinder engine gives it all the power it needs, but no more.
Honda made some updates to the car for the 2012 model year, but nothing that would move it outside its moderate mandate. Although the wheelbase remains the same, the CR-V actually loses a little height and length. Honda may have feared the CR-V was on the verge of becoming extremely large.
But it remains an eminently practical vehicle. Although smaller than most SUVs, it features seating for five and ample cargo area. I was particularly impressed by how the rear seats folded flat at the pull of a lever in the back of the car. The manner in which the seats fold is an engineering trick borrowed from the Fit.
The new CR-V also gets a new LCD imported from the Civic. The Intelligent Multi-Information Display (I-MID) is a full-color screen mounted in the top center of the dashboard. This display shows fuel economy, current song, and turn-by-turn directions.
As nice as the I-MID looks, it clashes with Honda's navigation head unit. This optional navigation system has its own touch-screen LCD full of menu screens that use a different color palette and design to the I-MID screens. Honda improved its navigation system somewhat over the year, ditching the motorized faceplate that hid the CD slot, for example. But the ugly, plastic buttons surrounding it remain.
And although the digital maps look a little more refined, and show useful information such as building outlines, the letters in street names are angled every which way, making them difficult to read. Honda does not include perspective-view maps, either, although it does overlay traffic data. Under route guidance, the I-MID display was useful, but the voice prompts do not give street names.
Honda's big step into tech with the new CR-V is the incorporation of Pandora as an audio source. When launching the Pandora app on an iPhone plugged into the car, the interface changes from the iPod music library to the Pandora screen. The integration lets you select a station from your previously created list, and give a currently playing track a thumbs-up or -down.
One hiccup I found while using an iPhone 3GS was that the phone would not switch seamlessly between Pandora and iPod playback. It could have been the phone's fault, but when I tried to turn off Pandora while the phone was cabled to the car, the car's stereo repeated the remaining buffered seconds of the last song that had been playing on Pandora, and would not show the iPod music library.
While I was driving around listening to Pandora, the system worked flawlessly, playing uninterrupted music in urban and suburban neighborhoods. Pandora does a good job of buffering, and I did not get any dropouts. Pandora streams at 32 kbps over its mobile app, so the quality was about the equivalent of broadcast radio.
This low-bit-rate audio did not do the CR-V's audio system justice. Although unbranded, the system, composed of a 328-watt amp and seven speakers, produced a clear and pleasant sound. Its subwoofer gave it some depth and the tweeters gave the highs a detailed quality. There are better audio systems on the market, but few among economy SUVs sound this good.
The stereo also played music from an iPod, a USB drive, satellite radio, and through Bluetooth audio streaming. Although the interface showed complete library options for an iPod, the USB interface merely showed music organized in files and folders, as the system does not parse ID3 tags for files on a USB drive. The Bluetooth audio streaming was very good, as it showed complete track information on the main LCD and the I-MID.
Another area where Honda pushed the tech beyond that of the previous generation is the Bluetooth phone system. Along with reading a paired phone's contact list and making it available through voice command, the system can read out incoming text messages. But few phone makers actually support the protocol that allows the text integration, so it only works with a handful of phones.