2012 Honda CR-V: Traveling With a Rooftop Cargo Box
January 7, 2012
In normal conditions the 2012 Honda CR-V has proved it offers more than enough cargo space for a family of four on a long trip. We made just such a journey to visit my parents last summer in this very machine, in fact. Everything fit below the level of the retractable cargo cover, which is the safe way to go because visibility out the back remains unaffected. And it's highly preferable to have no teetering loose items that could topple onto rear seat passengers should one need to jam on the brakes to miss an elk.
But the holidays are a different matter. Staring at the mound of presents swelling beneath the tree, I knew I was going to have to do something to get them all safely north alongside the usual luggage the four of us would have.
That something was the installation of factory roof rack crossbars and a rooftop cargo box. Both were easy to install, requiring just two tools between them (or just one if you happen to have sturdy fingernails.)
For security purposes, I decided to pack the presents in the CR-V and put our personal luggage in the pod. Sure, the pod has a handy lock, but the vehicle itself has a better one — backed by an alarm — and it's got that retractable cargo cover to insulate the goodies from unwanted attention. Better to leave the pod empty in the hotel parking lots we'd visit along the way, I figured.
As we loaded up I realized I'd made the right call, because we filled the CR-V and the pod with little space to spare. It was time to head out, but how would the pod effect fuel economy, wind noise and, considering the high-mounted weight I'd just added, handling?
The roads on the second half of our trip, from San Francisco up highway 101 to the southern Oregon coast, feature a lot of corners and the asphalt dips and sags in many places due to incessant land movement. Handling and suspension tuning flaws are exposed easily up here, even when driven at the posted speed limits.
But the CR-V didn't flinch. It handled the corners as if nothing was different, loaded as it was with four passengers, presents inside and luggage on the roof. Three overstuffed 21-inch carry-on suitcases sat crossways up there, with space alongside in which we stuffed things like hiking boots, spare pillows and jackets. And we had rain along the way. We had high-wind advisories and actual crosswinds. But not once did it feel like a sail up there.
In retrospect this isn't surprising, because I came away massively impressed with performance of this suspension under load after a summer hiking trip I took with three other friends to Tonopah, Nevada. Steering feel and stability remained rock-solid there, too, where we drove on looser surfaces and carried perhaps more weight, though none of it sat high on the roof.
As for noise, we didn't notice much change because road noise from the tires still dominates the spectrum, and next most prominent is the usual whisper you get off the parked wipers. There may or may not have been a tiny smidge more coming from the upper rear corner of the front doors, which come within six inches of the front crossbar mounting point, but all-in-all it's as close as makes no difference. Nothing stood out, and the basic character of the sound didn't change: no new whistling, no pulsing turbulence.
I suppose the 2012 Honda CR-V benefits, in a way, from not being the quietest crossover when it comes to wind and road noise in the first place. The addition of factory crossbars and a rooftop box doesn't seem to move the needle much. Whether or not this has to do with the smooth contours of the factory crossbars remains to be seen.
As it turns out the gas pump was the only place the roof pod made its presence known. We averaged 27.8 mpg on a similar run with a naked roof last summer, and our best tank was 31.3 mpg. With the roof pod our average this time was 25.2 mpg, with a best tank of 28.5 mpg. So the additional aerodynamic drag of the protruding roof pod cost us 2.6 mpg, a reduction in fuel economy of 9.3 percent.
Frankly, I was expecting worse. This seems like a fair trade-off, especially when you compute it in dollars. At an average trip fuel price of $3.70 per gallon, the presence of the roof pod cost us $26.26 more in gas on this 1,912-mile round trip. Not bad at all, but you wouldn't want to leave it sitting up there empty all year.
In the end the "where to put it when I'm not using it?" question and the initial purchase cost are the only hurdles to overcome. The fuel economy penalty on this trip didn't even amount to a decent dinner for two, and the driving experience — on the well-sorted suspension of the Honda CR-V, at least — didn't change for the worse one iota. With one of these standing ready in the garage there's little reason to shy away from a downsized crossover SUV on a long trip.
Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing @ 14,866 miles