2012 Honda CR-V road test: All that’s good from before, plus some more

2012 Honda CR-V

2012 Honda CR-V

Honda cites a long list of improvements to the fourth generation, 2012 Honda CR-V compact crossover vehicle, but you can be excused if they don’t become immediately apparent.

That’s because the 2012 model is nearly identical in power and dimensions to the 2011 CR-V and the most important changes are lurking beneath the surface or inside the cabin of the mildly restyled five-passenger wagon.

The exterior redesign is only apparent to serious fans of the popular vehicle or to those who happen to see a 2012 model parked next to a 2011 CR-V.

That’s when you’ll notice that the rear side windows on the new crossover have boomerang-shaped kinks. The important thing is that the roof has been lowered an inch, increasing aerodynamic efficiency.

Really serious students of the 2012 CR-V will also notice an expanded-view driver’s side outdoor mirror. It adds 5.5 degrees of visibility.

Honda CR-V instruments

Honda CR-V instruments

The engine, a 2.4-liter, 16-valve, four-cylinder model, is essentially a carryover, as is the five-speed automatic transmission. Power inches up from 180 horsepower to 185 and torque creeps ahead 2 pound-feet to 163. Figure on perhaps a half second gain in 0-60 mph acceleration, which comes in somewhere around 9.5 seconds.

Where the engine does make a noticeable difference is in fuel mileage. The EPA rates the all-wheel-drive model I drove at 22 mpg in the city and 30 on the open road.That compares to 21 mpg city/27 mpg highway for the 2011 model.

In a top-of the-line Honda CR-V EX-L Navi, I averaged between 18 and 28 mpg in a week of suburban and highway driving with the CR-V in standard drive mode.

However, the 2012 model comes with an ECON button. Press it and it restrains acceleration and other functions to increase fuel mileage. In this mode I averaged between 22 and 29.5 mpg.

The ECON mode works well enough on level roads and four-lane highways. However, CR-V drivers will want to return the crossover to full power on busy and hilly two-lane stretches or simply content themselves to amble along behind trucks and other slow-moving traffic.

Honda CR-V cargo space

Honda CR-V cargo space

Honda vigorously defends the continued use of its smooth-shifting five-speed automatic transmission, but critics argue that more cogs (most likely 6 or 8 gears)
would better serve the vehicle in both acceleration and fuel economy.

With its independent suspension, reasonably responsive power rack-and-pinion steering, 17-inch wheels and four-wheel antilock disc brakes, the compact CR-V is a predictably competent performer.

It is essentially a front-wheel-drive vehicle, but  the optional all-wheel-drive system can switch power to the rear wheels when it senses the front wheels are starting to slip in bad weather situations.

A new-for-2012 Hill Start Assist keeps the Honda from drifting backward when the driver moves a foot from the brake to the accelerator on hills.

Its compact dimensions make it easy to drive in the city and its overall  responsiveness makes it a satisfactory handler on the back roads and a pleasant highway companion. However, the ride is a bit stiff on less than smooth road surfaces.

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Nick has been an avid observer of all things automotive almost since birth and has been writing professionally about cars, trucks and the industry for more than 30 years. He is the author of The Essential Hybrid Car Handbook and was the long-time automotive editor for the Reading (Pa.) Eagle and Times. His articles have appeared in a variety of magazines, including The Robb Report and Men’s Health, and he has written for a variety of auto industry-related Web sites. He is also a member and former director of the International Motor Press Assn., a New York-based organization of more than 500 automotive journalists and auto industry executives.

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