Now with more sugar
Only the Ford Escape sold in greater numbers than the Honda CR-V in the U.S. in 2011. In Canada, the CR-V finished the year in third place behind the Escape and the Dodge Journey. When your vehicle sells as well and it's due for a redesign, you're obviously very cautious about what should change and what should stay the same.
In the case of the CR-V, the outgoing version didn't have many shortcomings; in fact, the biggest (and probably only) major drawback was its blandness. With the brand-new 2012 Honda CR-V, however that has changed. A little.
Is that a family resemblance?
At first glance, the new CR-V may not look that different than the old one. But the design is in fact all-new, although I have noticed some optical illusions.
The new crossover gets a rear end that's more upright and that houses a smaller window; there seems to be a greater overhang behind the rear wheel, which would mean more cargo space. With the rear seatback in place, that's marginally true (1,054 litres vs. 1,011), but when you fold down the seat, maximum space drops from 2,064 litres to 2,007.
The new CR-V looks higher off the ground, but it isn't, and overall height is actually down by an inch. Wheelbase and width haven't changed, although its length has increased slightly.
The CR-V's front end sports a more harmonious look, and a family resemblance is slowly starting to appear in Honda's product lineup: the grille and headlights are similar to in style to the Crosstour's and the Odyssey's. The new look likely won't offend nor polarize anyone, but Honda could be a little more adventurous in its vehicle designs.
Same engine, new AWD system
As before, the only powertrain available in the 2012 Honda CR-V is a 2.4L inline-4 connected to a 5-speed automatic transmission, although it now produces 185 hp (up 5) and 163 lb-ft of torque (up 2). Acceleration is more than adequate, and despite the negligible output increases, it somehow feels a little more responsive than the 2011 model. Unless you're planning on towing something heavy - the CR-V can pull up to 1,500 lbs - the 4-cylinder engine does the job just fine.
Honda has improved its Real Time AWD system. It now features what the automaker calls an "Intelligent Control System." Does this mean the old Real Time system wasn't? Anyway, the more compact and lighter setup favours the front wheels as before, and automatically sends power to the rear wheels when slippage is detected, but is said to react more quickly with a new electric motor instead of a ball cam mechanism.
In short, the new Real Time AWD system doesn't wait until the front wheels start spinning before transferring power to the rear ones. It even sends power to the rear wheels when you launch the CR-V from a standstill, even when the front ones aren't slipping. Having driven a 2011 CR-V a few months prior to driving the 2012, I notice an improvement in the system's reaction on slippery surfaces.
Fuel economy has improved, from 10.1 and 7.5L/100km city/highway to 9.2 and 6.6. We're averaging 10.5L/100km, which isn't bad at all for an AWD compact SUV in the dead of winter.
More sophisticated look inside
The old CR-V sported a decently finished, if somewhat bland, dashboard; however, the new one flaunts a more modern appearance, including a sportier steering wheel that houses audio and cruise switchgear introduced in the 2012 Honda Civic.
Equipment levels have also been increased. Bluetooth phone and streaming audio capability, a USB port, wheel-mounted controls, a rearview camera and heated front seats are now standard on every trim. That's good.
There never was a shortage of interior space in the old CR-V, and that hasn't changed in the new one. The rear-seat cushions flip up, allowing the seatbacks to be completely folded down, creating a near-flat load floor. The Honda CR-V's versatility is undeniable, and that's probably one of the reasons so many people are buying it.
Despite the added equipment, the 2012 CR-V has a base price of $25,990 before taxes, freight and delivery charges; that's 300 bucks less than the 2011 version. Okay, the base LX gets a wheel size downgrade from 17" alloys to 16" steelies, but that's about it.
Our Touring trim, loaded with leather and navigation, lists for $35,090, which is right in line with compact SUV rivals such as the Toyota RAV4 Limited, the Chevrolet Equinox LTZ and the Kia Sportage EX Luxury, to name only a few.
You also get a CR-V that's more entertaining to drive. Don't get us wrong -- you still won't get goose bumps behind the wheel of this Honda, but it isn't as yawn-inducing as it used to be. User-friendly, practical and better-equipped, the new CR-V will likely continue to sell like hotcakes, as it should.