Honda's commercials for the CR-V trumpet its redesign. Well, that's overstating the case. To us, it's more of a refinement. Honda's not big on radical change, and it shows in the fourth generation of its popular compact SUV. That disappointed the one of us who is a Honda owner (Lyra), but we both were excited to drive the CR-V.
Appearance: Honda smoothed the rounded, slightly top-heavy look of the CR-V's roofline, which was starting to look dated. It's now more aerodynamic (and lower), gently sloping into the hatch's vertical, wraparound taillights. It makes for a modern profile. Up front, the grille is bolder, intruding into the headlights. Overall, it's a more integrated look. In EX models the 17-inch alloy wheels complement it.
Performance: The power has improved slightly in the 2.4-liter 4-cylinder, which is now good for 185 from 180 thanks to tweaks in the powerplant and gearing. We found the ride to be pleasant and composed, especially in city driving, but would have liked more oomph for interstate merging. Hey, Honda, why no turbo or V-6 option? The steering is light and responsive, and given its design tweaks, the CR-V doesn't have as much body lean in tight turns. Also benefitting from the changes is the mileage, which has risen to 31 mpg in highway driving. (There's an ECON button that lets you sacrifice pickup for more fuel efficiency, but we didn't find the tradeoff worthy of its use.) The 5-speed automatic shifts well, but seems archaic in an era of almost standard 6-speed gearboxes. The difference is really noticeable on the highway (and in cabin noise) when it holds those gears a little longer.
Interior: It's attractive, fairly quiet and comfortable, with lots of family-friendly storage space, attractive gauges and, for the most part, logically placed controls. The center console is large, but Lyra misses the floor space in previous models that gave her room to store her purse. The USB and audio connections are easy to get to in the cavernous center bin, but they can be difficult to see at night. Peter found the leather seats of our tester firm but comfortable. Up front there was plenty of headroom, and the rear seats also don't scrimp on the head- and legroom. Other details we liked: The buttons on the leather-wrapped steering wheel have different shapes, so it's easy to find what you need without looking down. The voice command is one of the best we've used; the system understood Lyra on the first try every time. With the rear seats folded flat, there is 71 cubic feet of cargo space, which Peter found useful when loading groceries and a new gas grill. One thing he didn't like: The release for the gas-flap door is hard to reach under the dash and near the floor.
Our 3 favorites
One-touch: The seatback release makes it easy and convenient to go to cargo mode.
Color: Our Crystal Black Pearl gave the SUV an expensive look.
Better half: It pleased the toughest critic, my wife, who was sad to see it go.
Cargo: One-touch seatback release for cargo configuration means no more hassle
Eco Assist: Glowing green bars indicate conservative driving.
i-MID info display: Miles to empty, custom wallpaper and even text messages.
The bottom line: Sure, we'd like another gear and a little more horsepower, but all things in due time. Maybe Honda knows best when it comes to the 2012 CR-V, a triumph of evolution, not revolution.