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.
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 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.