CR-V Provides Efficiency of Car, Functionality of SUV

Special to Informer | 6/13/2012, 1:17 p.m.

I have been reflecting on Honda Motor Company's recent fortunes. In March last year, a Tsunami hit Japan - severely disrupting the company's supply chain and sales worldwide. In September, Consumer Reports added to Honda's woes. The venerable magazine sent a bombshell, downgrading the 2012 Honda Civic in its review of small cars from the highly rated perch it had occupied for more than a decade down to a mediocre score of 61, finishing next-to-last in a test of 12 small sedans.

According to several automotive observers, Honda had lost its soul. Its prominent leadership in automotive engineering had been reduced to an operation that seemed to be run by accountants who had no better sense than to give us ugly cars which were worse in every way than the ones they replaced. After a week in the 2012 CR-V, I have to disagree with the doomsday pundits.

While Honda may have problems with the Civic, I found the 2012 CR-V retains the spirit of classic Honda vehicles. It easily beats much of the competition in the crowded small SUV segment, and the new model is a testament to why the CR-V continues to be one of the best-selling vehicles in this class.

It does so many things so well, providing with ease the best qualities that have made vehicles in this class so popular with consumers. The new model is an improvement over last year's and will impress a broad range of consumers, but it doesn't mess with Honda's tried-and true formula.

For starters, it drives more like a car than a lumbering full-size SUV. The driver's siting position hits that sweet spot that affirmatively communicates that the basics of pedal and steering wheel placement are right. The CR-V sits the driver high up, providing a sense of airiness, good visibility and a feeling of safety that one does not get from the Civic which is built on the same platform.

Honda designers retained the vehicle's striking silhouette, yet elected to give it deeper sculpting of the body lines and a bolder front fascia, highlighted by a horizontal three-bar grille and deeply set multi-reflector headlights. It's not a bad makeover, and though the front bumper design looks a little like a protruding lower lip, the CR-V still retains a canny resemblance to the previous year's model.

Families with children will appreciate the CR-V's spacious interior layout, which becomes more accommodating with an improved center console [now standard] and an overall lower cargo floor height. The most significant new interior feature is the easy fold-down 60/40 split rear seat that makes accessing the full capability of the cargo area much more convenient than traditional manual folding seats. Each side of the rear seat can automatically fold nearly flat into the front of the cargo area using one of the small levers located near the tailgate or a pull-strap positioned on the seat side.

Under the hood, Honda offers a single engine for the CR-V: an improved 185-horsepower, 2.4-liter, power plant that gives 5 horsepower more than the previous generation CR-V. The fuel mileage in the test vehicle was 23 in city driving and 30 on the highway, an improvement of 10 percent.

In the age of electric and hybrid technology vehicles, these numbers will not make screaming headlines. But compared to similar conventional gasoline powered vehicles, the CR-V offers stellar mileage. For comparison's sake, the 2012 Toyota Rav4 achieves 22 city/28 mpg on FWD models and 21 city/27 mpg 4WD models, while Ford's Escape offers only 21/23. The CR-V comes standard with a 5-speed automatic transmission.

Extensive safety equipment includes dual-stage, multiple-threshold front airbags, front-seat side airbags, side curtain airbags with rollover sensor, and lower anchors and tethers for children in the rear outboard seats. A new front seat design also helps reduce the severity of neck injury in a rear collision. A multi-angle rearview camera, included on all models, provides a choice of three different views - providing more visual information for the driver when backing up.

As a first for Honda, every 2012 CR-V includes an SMS text messaging function, which can read received texts from compatible cell phones aloud over the audio system. Other technology additions include standard Pandora Internet Radio interface4, compatible with the iPhone, which works with the vehicle's audio controls and intelligent Multi-Information Display.