CR-V Carries Over Styling, Engine – And Mom Appeal

The Honda CUV’s current customers should appreciate the better fuel economy and greater roominess, despite a carryover engine and transmission and hard-plastic interior.

Christie Schweinsberg, Senior Editor

November 16, 2011

5 Min Read
CR-V Carries Over Styling, Engine – And Mom Appeal


CARLSBAD, CA – It’s easy to view the all-new fourth-generation Honda CR-V as another miss by the No.2 Japanese auto maker.

Like the ’12 Civic compact car, on which the cross/utility vehicle is based, it has carryover technology, fair driving dynamics and an interior filled with hard plastic.

But the “cool moms” Honda is targeting with the ’12 model likely will appreciate the added interior volume and easier maneuverability, plus new creature comforts and increased fuel economy.

The CR-V became the best-selling utility vehicle, truck- or car-based, in the U.S. in 2007 as sales grew to 200,000 units annually.

Although some critics chided the auto maker upon the third-generation’s 2006 debut for keeping the CR-V small, when competitors were growing bigger, the formula worked for Honda.

The fourth-gen CR-V loses an inch in length and almost as much in height from its predecessor, but Honda has boosted interior volume.

The cargo floor now is an inch lower, simplifying the process of loading large objects such as baby strollers.

Owners will like being able to fold the CR-V’s 60/40 split rear seats two ways: via a new cargo-compartment handle or a release at the base of each seat. Seats now fold flat, thanks to bottom cushions that separate from back cushions and flip forward.

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Not pleasing to sporty-minded auto journalists but probably a boon for many drivers, the CR-V’s steering isn’t as heavy as the outgoing model’s.

Honda is calling for best-in-class fuel economy of 22/30 mpg (10.7-7.8 L/100 km) city/highway for all-wheel-drive models.

Front-wheel-drive CR-Vs, which traditionally have comprised about 40% of sales, should earn 23/31 mpg (10.2-7.6 L/100 km). The city figure is best-in-class, but the highway fuel economy falls short of the 32 mpg (7.4 L/100 km) earned by the ’11 Chevy Equinox with its direct-injected 2.4L 4-cyl.

In two separate stop-and-go jaunts here, WardsAuto averages 24 mpg (9.8 L/100 km) in an EX-L AWD grade. That’s a so-so result, but not unexpected given the mountainous terrain.

Like the CR-V, the 4-cyl.-powered ’11 Ford Escape and Toyota RAV4 tested here similarly groan under acceleration uphill.

On flatter grades, the AWD CR-V turns in a stellar 31-mpg (7.6 L/100 km) average.

’12 Honda CR-V EX-L

Vehicle type

Front-engine, all-wheel-drive 5-passenger, 4-door CUV


2.4L DOHC 4-cyl., aluminum block/head, port-injection

Power (SAE net)

185 at 7,000 rpm


163 lb.-ft. (221 Nm) at 4,300 rpm

Bore x stroke (mm)

87 x 99

Compression ratio



5-speed automatic


103.1 ins. (262 cm)

Overall length

178.3 ins. (453 cm)

Overall width

71.6 ins. (182 cm)

Overall height

65.1ins. (165 cm)

Curb weight

3,545 lbs. (1,608 kg)

Base price


Fuel economy

22/30 (10.7-7.8 L/100 km) city/hwy


Ford Escape, Chevy Equinox, Toyota RAV4, Nissan Rogue, Kia Sportage, Hyundai Tucson, Volkswagen Tiguan, Subaru Forester



More fuel efficient

Not much more powerful

User-friendly interior

Lots of hard surfaces

Holding line on cost

Rivals offering bargains

The ’12 CR-V carries over the previous generation’s 2.4L DOHC 4-cyl. with Honda’s i-VTEC variable valve and lift control.

To boost fuel efficiency and horsepower, from 180 at 6,800 rpm to 185 at 7,000 rpm, Honda minimizes engine friction by using molybdenum disulfide (MoS2) pattern-coated pistons. A new battery sensor varies alternator voltage, cutting electricity use.

The third-gen CR-V’s 5-speed automatic is carried over but sees similar friction-reducing measures. Low-viscosity fluid, a low-friction clutch and an automatic-transmission fluid warmer reduces friction 15%, 10% and 10%, respectively, compared with the outgoing 5-speed automatic, Honda says.

Increased gear ratios for both AWD and FWD models also improve fuel economy but with a catch: Faster up-shifts magnify the CR-V’s weak torque peak of 163 lb.-ft. (221 Nm) at 4,300 rpm. That’s just a smidge better than the peak of 161 lb.-ft. (218 Nm) at 4,400 rpm in the ’11 model but falls short of the Equinox’s 172 lb.-ft. (233 Nm) and the ’13 Escape’s projected 170 lb.-ft. (230 Nm) from its 1.6L direct-injection turbocharged 4-cyl.

To further improve CR-V fuel economy, Honda engineers switch from hydraulic to electric power steering and cut drag 8%, thanks to additional underbody covers and re-shaped pillars and front bumper.

Ride quality is just right: not too soft, nor too firm.

Overall, the cabin is more isolated from pavement variations and engine and road noise than its predecessor or the ’11 Escape and RAV4.

The new CR-V’s hard-plastic-centric interior isn’t as objectionable as the new Civic’s but at the same time fails to move the needle forward, regressing from the better-done, albeit hard-plastic interior of the ’11 CR-V.

In a first for Honda, the CR-V gets Pandora Internet radio functionality. However, as seen in the Hyundai Veloster, full compatibility only is possible with an iPhone; Android-phone users can stream audio through Bluetooth but lack most center-stack controls.

Standard Bluetooth connectivity and an optional, first-in-segment rear-seat entertainment system that will keep peace in the backseat also should put the new CUV on many moms’ shopping lists.

A Honda-first expanded driver’s side mirror is standard on ’12 CR-Vs, adding seven degrees of viewing angle to reduce blind spots. In practice, it is difficult to look far left and avoid the larger, normal magnification area. The Escape’s additional sub-mirror is easier to focus on.

Honda hasn’t announced ’12 CR-V pricing but hopes to hold the line between $21,000 and $30,000. Executives call for annual sales volume of 200,000-plus units.

Did Honda advance the ball far enough with the ’12 CR-V? For current customers, the answer likely is yes.

But maintaining the status quo with technology and interior materials may not win new customers, who can choose from an increasingly fuel-efficient, well-stocked entry-CUV range.

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