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Honda CR-V redesign doesn't mess with success

The redesigned Honda CR-V has changes throughout while keeping the crossover's recipe.

  • Driver

SAN DIEGO, CALIF.?If you?re in the throes of shopping for a new vehicle, chances are you?re considering a compact crossover.

These car-based tall wagons have quickly become the second-largest new car segment in the country. With sales up almost 50 per cent since 2006, they make up about one-third of all ?light truck? sales. And while almost every automaker has a small crossover in their showroom for the 2012 model year one of the pioneers in the class ? the Honda CR-V ? is getting a total redesign.

The CR-V has steadily ridden the crossover wave since the first model arrived for 1997. Since then ? with newer rivals continually entering the segment ? it?s become the second-best selling Honda in this country, right behind the perennially best-selling Civic compact sedan and coupe.

With such success, you wouldn?t expect Honda to radically change the new generation 2012 CR-V?s recipe.

And it didn?t.

It?s still a Civic-based, four-door, five-passenger, tall wagon, with a four-cylinder gas engine powering either the front or all four wheels.

Substantial changes, though, to the 2012 CR-V?s exterior styling, interior design, more standard features, and an all-new four-wheel-drive system ? plus refinements in the CR-V?s powertrain to eke out a few more kilometres per litre of fuel burned ? were instituted in the 2012 iteration with the hope to keep current CR-V owners coming back, and attract customers who may be considering some of those newer compact crossover rivals.

Honda Canada hasn?t confirmed 2012 model year pricing yet. But when the new CR-V goes on sale here in January, expect a similar $26,000 to $36,000 price range, from the base, front-wheel-drive LX to the new, range-topping Touring version.

While the list of less-expensive compact crossovers is long, Honda?s semi-premium pricing is competitive with Japanese rivals like the Nissan Rogue, Subaru Forester and Toyota RAV4.

Plus, Honda is touting more standard kit on the 2012 CR-Vs.

For example, compared to the 2011 base LX, there?s $2,500 in new features (heated front seats, hands-free connectivity, USB jack, SMS texting, multi-function display, rear-view back-up camera, steering wheel controls, etc.) included for roughly the same price.

Subjectively, the CR-V?s new sheet metal and plastic is meant to give the impression the vehicle sits lower on the road, with a front end now more in line with some of Honda?s newer offerings, like the Odyssey minivan and larger, Accord-based Crosstour.

Helping justify Honda?s relatively higher prices is a well-designed cockpit that continues to lead the class in build quality ? equal to the pricier CR-V-derived $40,490 Acura RDX.

Step-in height is low, and the Honda?s driving position is excellent. Its front seats are robust and supportive. And along with a better separation between controls for the driver and passenger, driver instrumentation and cabin controls are clear and intuitive.

There?s still no third-row seating option. But by retaining the outgoing model?s wheelbase, Honda designers have created a new CR-V that is shorter in length, lower in height, yet with more room inside.

With the rear seats up, cargo space goes from 524 to 589 litres. Plus the space is lower and flatter. And the split rear seats can now be folded using handles in the trunk.

Like the new Civic, Honda has decided to use a carryover engine and transmission spec for the 2012 CR-V. The crossover?s sole drivetrain choice is the familiar 2.4-litre four-cylinder, mated to a five-speed automatic.

Horsepower goes up 5 hp, to a class-leading 185. But torque, at 163 pound-feet, remains relatively weak.

Good fuel economy is a big feature for cute ute buyers, says Honda.

So the automaker is quick to point out that despite sticking to tried-and-true tech, refinements to the CR-V?s engine, autobox, reduced weight, electronic instead of hydraulic steering, and aerodynamic improvements allows the automaker to claim a ?best-in-class? 7.8L/100 km combined city and highway fuel economy for the AWD versions of the CR-V (the model almost 90 per cent of buyers pick).

Plus, these figures were obtained without using the CR-V?s new Econ mode.

Activated by a ?green? dash button, and with the driver being ?coached? by a green-is-good halo around the centrally mounted speedometer, the combination of lessening the response to the new drive-by-wire throttle, altering the transmission gear shift mapping and air-conditioning controls, can add an additional 10 per cent in fuel savings, but with the requisite reductions in vehicle performance.

Even with all-wheel drive, the CR-V is not made for off-roading. Unpaved cottage roads and unplowed winter streets are about all these types of small utes can handle.

But at least for 2012 the new CR-V receives a more sophisticated all-wheel-drive system.

Out goes the former front-drive-biased, slip-then-grip system.

In comes a new setup that has engine torque ?standing by? on the front and rear wheels.

When slippage occurs, the new electronically based system distributes torque back and forth between the two axels accordingly.

Like the outgoing CR-V, the new one is a very pleasant machine on paved roads.

As long as you don?t thrash the engine, the Honda?s rigid body structure delivers a quiet, refined and relaxed driving experience. More sound insulation and improved sound absorption lessen cabin noise, vibration and harshness even further over the 2011 models.

In fact, the CR-V?s solid chassis is so good, enthusiasts will ask for more power. And compared to more performance-oriented rivals, like the Kia Sportage, Mazda CX-7 or Volkswagen Tiguan, the Honda doesn?t corner as flat when pushed hard.

But with a suspension shared with the upscale RDX, understeer is less than what you?ll find in a Forester or RAV4.

After taking some justifiable criticism for not making enough changes to the also-new-for-2012 Civic, Honda has done a more thorough job of adding ?new? to its ?new? CR-V.

In addition to more room inside Honda?s well thought out and nicely put together interior, the 2012 CR-V adds more features, a quieter ride, more rear cargo space, and take-it-for-granted high crash test and reliability ratings.

Oh yeah, and near-compact car fuel economy.

FIRST DRIVE: 2012 Honda CR-V

EST. BASE PRICES: $26,000 to $36,000

ENGINE: 2.4-litre I4

POWER: 185 hp

TORQUE: 163 lb.-ft.

TRANSMISSION: Five-speed automatic

FUEL ECONOMY L/100km: FWD 9.0 L city, 6.4 L highway; AWD 9.2 L city, 6.6 L highway

COMPETITION: Chevrolet Equinox, Dodge Journey, Ford Escape, Hyundai Santa Fe, Kia Sportage, Mazda CX-7, Mitsubishi Outlander, Nissan Rogue, Subaru Forester, Toyota RAV4, Volkswagen Tiguan

WHAT?S BEST: Excellent fuel economy, top-notch build quality, roomy cargo area, more sophisticated AWD, serene ride.

WHAT?S WORST: Rivals offer more engaging driving experience and power.

WHAT?S INTERESTING: Over 260,000 CR-Vs have been sold in Canada since the first version went on sale here for 1997.

  • Honda CR-V redesign doesn't mess with success CHARGES MAY APPLY Subject: Photos for Wheels: First Drive 2012 Honda CR-V 4/3 On 2011-11-14, at 1:43 PM, John LeBlanc wrote: Photos for Wheels: First Drive 2012 Honda CR-V 4/3 21_2012_CR-V_EX-L_AWD.jpg P2160731.JPG
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