2011 Honda CR-V EX-L review:

2011 Honda CR-V EX-L

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Starting at $26,645
  • Trim levels EX-L
  • Available Engine Gas
  • Body style SUV

Roadshow Editors' Rating

6.0 Overall
  • Cabin tech 5
  • Performance tech 7
  • Design 6

The Good The Honda CR-V is still one of the best-handling crossovers in its class, with very sedan-like manners at all speeds.

The Bad The cabin technology suite feels a bit outdated. While comprehensive, the voice command system requires far too much of the user's attention to be useful at speed. Fuel economy is middling at best.

The Bottom Line The Honda CR-V is starting to show its age and is in need of a serious cabin tech overhaul. Fortunately, the performance and handling still have a few years left in them.


Photo gallery:
2011 Honda CR-V EX-L

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.

We couldn't find enough physical discs to fill the six-disc CD changer's cartridge.

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."

Pretty much any soft-key label visible on the touch screen is fair game for a voice command.

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.

Teaching an old car new tricks
Although the CR-V's displacement remains at 2.4 liters for 2011, Honda has managed to boost output by about 20 horsepower. The crossover now spins its flywheel to the tune of 180 ponies and 161 pound-feet of torque. From behind the wheel, however, you'd be hard pressed to notice. In fact, we didn't notice until we'd checked the specs.

The CR-V's 2.4-liter engine still has what it takes to match power and fuel economy of most of the competition.

But that doesn't mean that the CR-V performs poorly. Whether you notice the power boost or not, the CR-V does seem rather confident and very sure-footed in day-to-day driving. At many times during our week-long test, we found ourselves remarking that--at least from behind the wheel--the CR-V could easily be mistaken for the Honda Civic on which it is based. The crossover easily masks its bulk through off-ramps and emergency lane changes. As long as you don't go trying to channel the tossability of the Civic Si, we're sure that most drivers will be satisfied with the CR-V's performance.

However, one place that the CR-V no longer excels is at the pump. On paper, its EPA estimated 21 city and 27 highway mpg seem to be on par with the likes of the heavier Toyota RAV-4 and even better than the Volkswagen Tiguan, but that wasn't born out in our test. Our observed 21.3 mpg combined paled in comparison to the 26.4 mpg we logged with the Mitsubishi Outlander Sport.

For all of our complaints about the laggy nature of the Mitsubishi's CVT, it's light years ahead of the Honda's five-speed automatic transmission as far as efficiency is concerned and allows the Mitsubishi to take advantage of a smaller displacement engine, thanks to its more optimal gearing. Stepping up to a six-speed automatic transmission for the next iteration of the CR-V could work wonders for the crossover's fuel economy. While we're at it, we'd like to see more current-gen tech find its way into the CR-V's engine, as well. With the next-generation of the Honda Civic just around the corner, we're sure that it won't be long before the CR-V benefits from trickle-down features with a major refresh within the next model year or two.

In sum
Though we wouldn't go so far as to say that it's already out-classed, the 2011 Honda CR-V is not the hippest car. Its cabin tech package checks a lot of the right boxes, but pales in comparison to what we're seeing from upstarts Hyundai and Kia. For the most part, these cabin tech options are bundled in with the top-of-the-line EX-L trim level, leaving potential buyers stuck with a high cost of entry for what's essentially outdated tech.

The CR-V's biggest drawbacks are its outdated cabin tech package and its all-or-nothing options structure.

However, the CR-V's still got moves for an old girl, with performance that matches or beats many of its competitors. The same can be said about its fuel economy, which matches the likes of the Toyota RAV-4 and the newer Kia Sportage. However, smaller and nimbler crossovers like the Mitsubishi Outlander Sport will eat the Honda's lunch at the pump.

The Honda's taken some blows in the cabin tech department and scored some minor victories in the performance department, so it comes down to sticker price. The 2011 Honda CR-V starts at $21,695 at the LX trim level, but because Honda ties its options into the trim levels, you'll get next-to-no tech at that point. If you want Bluetooth hands-free calling, navigation, a rearview camera, premium audio, or even a USB port, it's all or nothing for the EX-L with Navigation model, which rolls all of that in with heated leather front seats for $28,645. Adding all-wheel drive bumps the damage up to $29,895. There are no more options beyond this point, so add in a $780 destination charge for an as-tested price of $30,675.

At that price, the CR-V loses a bit of its luster, particularly when we again compare it to the likes of the Mitsubishi Outlander and Kia Sportage, two models that offer arguably superior cabin technology and equal performance for thousands of dollars less.

Tech specs
Model2011 Honda CR-Z
TrimEX-L with Navigation
Power train2.4-liter inline four-cylinder, 4WD
EPA fuel economy21 city/27 highway
Observed fuel economy21.3 mpg
NavigationDVD-based, no traffic
Bluetooth phone supportyes
Disc playerSingle-disc CD/MP3, six-disc cartridge-fed CD changer
MP3 player supportUSB port, iPod, analog 3.5mm auxiliary input, PC card slot
Other digital audioXM Satellite Radio
Audio system270-watt, seven-speaker premium audio
Driver aids Backup camera, cruise control
Base price$21,695
Price as tested$30,675

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