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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.
Honda has updated its navigation system from the previous generation, but it still looks clunky.
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 Pandora interface lets you select stations and give songs a thumbs-up or thumbs-down.
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.
Unchanged in the CR-V is the power train, which remains a 2.4-liter four-cylinder mated to a five-speed automatic transmission. Although it's a very solid set of components that makes the CR-V an easily drivable car, it is also an area where Honda could use some advancement.
The engine produces 185 horsepower and 163 pound-feet of torque, while getting an EPA rated 22 mpg city and 30 mpg highway. With some of the new efficiency technologies being adopted by other automakers, Honda could have improved these numbers.
Last year, Honda announced its Earth Dreams Technology initiative, which will give the company a set of more efficient engines. That initiative should have a big impact on the next CR-V update, which would likely occur in three to five years.
The CR-V is not a serious off-roader, but its all-wheel-drive system will give it some help in slippery conditions.
The CR-V really does not need more power, but could benefit from better fuel economy. Hitting the gas from a stop light, its 185 horsepower takes it quickly off the line. CNET's review car came with all-wheel drive, so there were no front wheel chirps. Trying for a fast run to 60 mph from a stop, the car moved reasonably, but clearly would not be setting any records. Again, the CR-V's mission seems to be moderation in all things.
Honda went to an electric power-steering system for this update, and it is difficult to tell the difference from the older hydraulic system. It takes a little effort to turn the wheel at different speeds; just enough to make it feel like you are driving. The turning radius is not spectacularly tight, but neither is it too wide.
The suspension delivered reasonably comfortable ride quality on city streets and the freeway. Taking it down one particularly battered country road, it could not mask out the bumps, but it was very tolerable.
On the normal sort of urban and suburban roads that CR-Vs will spend 99 percent of their time, the car proved a very easy driver, with no particular faults and no real high points. The only driving where I found some surprise at its capabilities was on a twisty mountain road.
Taking it through a set of curves, it was able to maintain decent speeds of 40 to 50 mph without tire screeching or much sway. Through these turns I employed a little trail braking when it seemed like a good idea, but the car handled well enough that I could have pushed it even harder.
Honda has not advanced its engine technology in the 2012 CR-V. With so many competitors pushing into more efficient power trains, Honda has some catching up to do. However, the all-wheel-drive system is a bonus, and the car proves so easily drivable it is hard to fault it.
For the cabin electronics, Honda really needs a more cohesive strategy. The dashboard is a mish-mash of different features that feel like they have been added haphazardly. Honda is keeping up on the feature front, the Pandora integration being a good example, but just barely.
The interface design for the cabin electronics is not pleasing on the main LCD, but looks great on the upper I-MID. For its exterior, the CR-V looks fine, although it is a bit homogenous. Where it really stands out is its practicality, with easily accessible seats and a roomy cargo area.
|Model||2012 Honda CR-V|
|Power train||2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, five-speed automatic transmission|
|EPA fuel economy||22 mpg city/30 mpg highway|
|Observed fuel economy||23.1 mpg|
|Navigation||Optional flash-memory-based system with traffic|
|Bluetooth phone support||Standard|
|Disc player||MP3-compatible single CD|
|MP3 player support||iPod integration|
|Other digital audio||Pandora, Bluetooth audio streaming , USB drive, auxiliary input, satellite radio|
|Audio system||328-watt, seven-speaker system|
|Driver aids||Rear-view camera|
|Price as tested||$30,605|