Some say fortune favors the brave, but in the auto biz, an equally strong argument can be made for taking a measured approach when it comes to messing with success. That latter route is the one traveled by the 2012 Honda CR-V. True to the CR-V Concept unveiled earlier this year, this new production version of the Gen IV CR-V recasts the existing blueprint in a way that brings new and improved details to the mix while retaining the fundamental character of a vehicle that has been the overall SUV sales leader four out of the last five years. The 2012 CR-V also made an appearance at the 2011 LA Auto Show and we recently had the chance to get behind the wheel of the newly revamped crossover.
While its new bodywork imparts a more substantial and sophisticated look to the 2012 Honda CR-V, the vehicle is actually slightly shorter and an inch lower than the existing model and also weighs marginally less. Wheelbase and front/rear track dimensions carry over -- as does its five-passenger seating capacity -- but the CR-V's cleaner, more aerodynamic exterior envelops a redesigned unit body that's now even stiffer and stronger.
Hoping to reach an even younger buyer base, Honda gave the CR-V design team an impressively free hand to update the appearance and functionality of the CR-V's cabin, which they did most effectively. The result is a cooler, more contemporary look and all trims -- LX, EX and leather-swathed EX-L - now feature things like a 160-watt AM/FM/CD audio system, 5.0-inch color Intelligent Multi-Information Display (i-MID), multi-angle rear-view camera and a far larger covered storage area in the center console along with Bluetooth HandsFreeLink audio-streaming connectivity and Pandora Internet Radio capability. Other nice touches that have joined the 2012 CR-V's generous standard feature set include a tilt/telescoping steering column, Hill Start Assist and Honda's green-pleasing fave, the ECO Assist button.
The EX-L adds its own new twist for 2012, in the form of a rear entertainment system that features a 7.0-inch screen centrally mounted in the headliner. Unfortunately, anyone opting for a range-topping EX-L will have to decide between choosing to add the navigation system or this particular child-chilling device.
On a more basic level, new seats add even more people appeal to this inherently user-friendly hauler. The CR-V's front buckets boast more comfort and support and its adult-accepting 60/40 split rear bench gains a trick one-touch fold-down capability. While cargo space is up a bit with the rear backs raised and drops a bit when they're folded, a substantially lower liftover height and 5.1-inch longer near-flat load floor add up to a net gain in real-world utility.
Whether it's on back roads or freeways, the 2012 Honda CR-V displays an even greater level of handling refinement in addition to reduced noise levels in the passenger compartment. The energy-efficient Motion-Adaptive electric power steering borrowed from the new Civic integrates with the CR-V's standard Vehicle Stability Assist to create a more comfortable and confident feel that's further helped by the fitment of improved rear shock absorbers.
Although friction reduction efforts have helped bump output on the carryover 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine from 180 to 185 horsepower the new CR-V's straight-line performance feels largely unchanged. However, internal tweaks to its standard five-speed automatic transmission coupled with a comprehensive ratio revamp does yield better fuel economy in both front-drive and all-wheel-drive configurations. The former now earns 23/31 mpg city/highway marks from the EPA while the latter gets 22/30 mpg numbers.
And speaking of the latter, the 2012 CR-V's Real Time AWD also has been improved through the addition an "Intelligent Control System." Smaller, lighter and more efficient than the setup it replaces, this elegantly sophisticated take on the existing on-demand theme can instantly transfer up to 100 percent of the engine's torque to the rear wheels if traction conditions demand and always ships of bit of that twist aft on initial acceleration to prevent unwanted front wheel spin.
Final pricing has yet to be released, but the 2012 Honda CR-V is expected to start around $21,000 and top out near $30,000. With already competitive compact SUV segment adding players like the new Mazda CX-5 and Ford Escape, it will be interesting to see how the battle for buyers plays out in this already competitive segment.