2012 Honda CR-V: Big rig room with small car fuel efficiency

By Bruce Caldwell
You could say that the redesigned 2012 Honda CR-V has acquired a little middle age spread as it has grown from its original cute Ute size to a mid-size. A more positive (and accurate) viewpoint is that the Honda CR-V has positioned itself in the SUV sweet spot. Even with rising and unstable fuel prices many people still want and need a multi-purpose vehicle. They’ve forsaken the road dinosaur Hummer H-1 mentality, but they still need functionality. Add 30-mpg fuel economy to spacious practicality and you’ve got a winner — a.k.a. the 2012 Honda CR-V. 
The CR-V is a unibody style SUV, not a body-on-frame rock crawler, but the reality for northwest drivers is that they seldom (if ever) venture off improved roads. During those rare snow/ice events the excellent all-wheel-drive system safely gets the CR-V where it needs to go. The everyday ride is passenger car comfortable with foul weather confidence always on tap.
Walkaround: The 2012 Honda CR-V doesn’t look radically different from the previous iteration. It shares familiar Honda styling cues. The Honda CR-V has long been the benchmark model for the compact SUV segment and the redesigned 2012 model is well positioned to retain that leadership role.
Interior: Hondas and Acuras consistently provide a superior interior experience and the new CR-V is no exception. Seating construction, materials, adjustability, comfort, and legroom are excellent. Exterior dimensions belie the amount of usable inside space. Front legroom is just shy of stretch out length, even for drivers over six-feet tall. The back seat easily accommodates tall passengers with the front seats in their most rearward position. The flat floor makes it more comfortable for middle position passengers.
The CR-V is a five-passenger vehicle, although it’s ideally suited for four adults. The wide, soft surface fold-down center armrest is a plus for both outboard passengers. Rear door bins are small, but there are two seatback pouches.
Storage areas are large and abundant around the front seats. The center console bin is huge as are the door bins. Power points for all types of electronic devices are plentiful.
All four doors open extra wide, but there is some rear wheel well intrusion. Like all Honda products the doors shut firmly with a quality sound and feel. The rear liftgate opening is large with a low lift over height for the extra low, flat cargo floor (both heights are one inch lower than the previous CR-V). The hatch will just brush the hair of people over six-feet tall. The rear seats fold effortlessly, but they have a slight upward slope. Cargo capacity is 37 cubic feet with the seats up and 71 cubic feet when folded down.
We’re very particular about steering wheel ergonomics. Honda wheels are exactly what we like — thick and perfectly contoured for a comfortable grip. The leather CR-V wheel has tilt and telescopic adjustments that make it easy to find an ideal driving/comfort position. Auxiliary controls were great as was the sound system they manage. The navigation system and backup camera were also high quality, although not all the navigation functions were as intuitive as we’d like. It takes some time to master the navigation system instead of letting it “think” for you (we disagreed that the nearest Costco was in Washington, D.C.).
Under The Hood: A single 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine is the sole powerplant, but with an output of 185 horsepower and 163 lb-ft of torque it offers performance comparable to many V-6 engines. The only transmission is a 5-speed automatic, which is smooth and efficient. The transmission is more frugal than fast, but that’s expected in this segment.
There are two drivetrain choices — front-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive (a $1,250 price difference). We tested the AWD (Honda calls it their Real Time 4-Wheel Drive System) and recommend it for the varied Pacific Northwest driving conditions. The EPA rates the AWD CR-V at 22-mpg city and 30-mpg highway. The front wheel drive model only gains one mile per gallon (23/31 mpg), so the AWD CR-V can’t be faulted for excessive fuel consumption. The EPA numbers are up from the previous model — an indication of how important fuel economy is to crossover SUV buyers. Towing capacity is rated at 1500 pounds.
Behind The Wheel: The steering wheel was great, but the road feel it transmits was a little vague for our taste (which might be just fine for most drivers). We prefer to be closely connected to a car’s driving dynamics, but the electric power steering reminded us of old school Detroit luxury car power steering systems. It wasn’t as overboosted as a sixties Cadillac, but it wasn’t as organic as we like, either. We preferred the previous model’s hydraulic power steering.
The overall driving experience is pleasant and that’s all most people want from a compact SUV. Power is sufficient for daily driving and the ride is comfortable. The car’s size is fine for ever-shrinking mall parking spaces.
Whines: We’re still not crazy about the current front end styling. We preferred the earlier versions, but the new CR-V still looks better than some of its stable mates.
Bottom Line: The redesigned 2012 Honda CR-V isn’t a radical departure from previous models, but that’s a good thing when you have a compact SUV as successful as the CR-V. It’s a right-sized outside, generously sized inside multi-purpose vehicle that gets excellent fuel economy. A fully loaded, top-of-the-line edition just kisses the $30,000 barrier and as such represents an excellent value.