2012 Honda CR-V Gets Tech-Savvy Refresh

By Paul Seredynski November 16, 2011

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The 2012 Honda CR-V has been given a modest but smart makeover. The new CR-V is retuned for slightly better fuel efficiency, gets a connectivity and functionality boost and is restyled to broaden its appeal in the segment. Honda was mindful not to meddle with the core attributes of its mini-ute segment stalwart and the CR-V’s loyal sales following will not be disappointed. Though availability issues stemming from Japan’s natural disasters caused the CR-V to cede the segment sales title earlier this year to the class’s other perennial (Ford’s fleet-heavy Escape), the revamped CR-V should easily regain its segment lead in the near term. Though questions of short-term parts supplies related to the flooding in Thailand linger, longer-term challenges for the new CR-V will be continued pricing pressure from its Korean competition and Ford’s likely formidable 2013 Escape replacement - which, like the CR-V, is being unveiled today at the Los Angeles Auto Show.

“Bring it on,” says John Mendel, executive vice president of sales for American Honda, of the impending competition. “We’ve run between 200,000 and 225,000 [sales a year], and we expect 200,000 plus again,” he predicted for the redesigned CR-V. “A lot of that depends upon the market - and how we rebound. We think that 200,000-plus is a good level for us and we think the new one will pick up right where the old one left off and actually expand that lead a little bit.” Marysville, Ohio, will remain the main production site for the U.S.-market CR-V - although company executives said there will be some imports from plants in Japan, Canada and Mexico - with the new compact crossover scheduled to go on sale December 15.

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In a U.S. market that continues to shed larger SUVs for more fuel-efficient offerings, the 2012 CR-V still inhabits that “just-right” small-SUV segment that will continue to see sales growth. One of the most well-rounded offerings in the class, Honda has paid close attention to consumer feedback in formulating the CR-V re-do. While many might be surprised that the new fourth-gen CR-V maintains the same powertrain and chassis, holding cost against a strong yen might explain why the cautious refresh is only slightly more than skin deep. Honda will deliver a lighter (by an average 44 pounds), more functional and marginally more fuel-efficient CR-V at a base sticker that should remain little changed (pricing will be announced closer to launch).

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The 2012 Honda CR-V continues to use the same port-injected 2.4-liter four-cylinder and 5-speed automatic transmission as the sole engine/transmission offering. There's a 5-horsepower increase to 185 hp (peaking 200 revs higher at 7,000 rpm) and torque is up 2 lb-ft (to 163 lb-ft) at the same 4400 rpm. Wheelbase, width and track remain unchanged from the 2011 model, but both length and height have dropped an inch. The new CR-V looks larger, but that’s mostly due to the slightly toughened styling. The biggest news on the chassis front is a new electronic all-wheel-drive (AWD) design. The part-time system uses deft programming to anticipate traction needs (such as when moving from a standstill), but improves efficiency by powering only the front wheels most of the time.

The new AWD system is one of several efficiency tweaks (including sleeker aerodynamics, a new electric power steering setup and reduced transmission friction) that will help boost Environmental Protection Agency highway fuel-economy figures for the 2012 CR-V up to 11 percent. For front-wheel-drive (FWD) models, Honda claims city/hwy boosts of 2 and 3 miles per gallon respectively, to 23/31 mpg. For AWD trims, Honda is claiming 1- and 3-mpg gains to 22/30 city hwy mpg, which it says gives the 2012 CR-V the best AWD fuel economy in the class.

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The new exterior styling is quite effective, leaving the CR-V instantly recognizable, but looking more upscale and slightly less feminine. Inside, the restyled interior is more of the same, providing a greater sense of space for the same-sized chassis, while slightly lower H-points contribute to the appealing car-like but raised driving position. The sleek dash (what Honda calls “lean layered”) is handsome while adding a pleasing sense of width, even if some of the fine-looking plastics remain stiff to the touch. The new steering wheel with built-in controls looks and feels rich and a new standard center console combines a flowing style with serious and clever storage (including handy knee-height “water bottle” nooks).

A new multi-mode rearview camera is standard, and an optional 7-inch rear-seat LCD screen should keep young families entertained. Two clever and functional new mods are the remote flip-down down rear seats and redesigned rear cargo area. The rear seatbacks, which almost fold flat, can be remotely flopped forward from either the rear hatch opening or from the seatback at the rear door openings. The 60-40 split remains and either portion can be dropped individually, but the clever non-electric system requires manually returning the seats to the upright position. Also welcome is the redesigned rear load floor, which has been lowered to near minivan height and seems almost unnaturally capacious for a small SUV (with the temporary spare tire still artfully cached beneath the rear floor).

AO110711 CR-V Pie Chart.jpgLeading Edge Millennials
Honda is targeting the CR-V for the same market that has kept its cute-ute a 200K-plus sales player year after year. These are basically young families (its core described as a “Gen-Y female”), but the difference now is that today’s younger clans are part of a new, tech-savvy generation. Honda’s VP of marketing operations, Michael Accavitti, says they’ve labeled these buyers "leading-edge millennials." “The difference with millennials,” Accavitti explained, “is that they’re open to marketing, but it has to be on their terms. It’s got to be in an interactive way. So that’s where we use the social-media tools we have at our availability to start that dialogue and conversation.” Honda’s agency on the CR-V campaign (both digital and traditional broadcast) is Santa Monica, Calif.-based RPA.

AO110711 CR-V & Escape Fleet Mix.jpg“To really get the interaction, you need to go into the digital space,” Accavitti continues. “And so what I can tell you is you’re gonna see more digital work on this particular campaign.” Honda has created a Facebook-friendly “Leap List” site for the new CR-V, sort of an interactive bucket list for millennials. Leading the technology revamp on the 2012 CR-V is the dashboard’s new info screen, which is sharp and colorful and provides a number of functions. The display is well integrated at the top-center of the dash (separate from the optional navigation display) and the steering wheel mounted controls allow easy scrolling between modes.

What seems like a wild gizmo for Honda after years of straightforward navigation options, the new standard infotainment system can be set up to display your own photos as wallpaper, is fully iPod-compatible (even displaying album artwork), will read compatible Blackberry text messages aloud and even streams music from compatible Pandora apps. Bluetooth connectivity is standard on all trims. The tech additions make the CR-V feel far-more up to date and the leading-edge millennials should love the cutting-edge capabilities. Honda can expect some dings next year in IQS however, as all manufacturers that have added technology to their offering have suffered a “quality” penalty.

On The Road
The 2012 Honda CR-V is as pleasant as ever from the driver’s seat (which now provides a wider range of adjustments), though rear-seat legroom is still a bit precious for adult passengers. Thanks to its rear multi-link suspension, the CR-V manages to feel lighter on its feet than most of the other segment players, if not over-powered. Though Honda claims a significant reduction in noise, vibration and harshness, the latest CR-V doesn’t feel as serene as some rivals, though road noise is more muted than in the previous CR-V, particularly at freeway speeds. The “proven” 2.4-liter never feels more than adequate unless really revved out, where only the last few hundred rpm remind of Honda’s engine heritage. Few shopping in this segment will notice.

In terms of daily livability, the added tech in the CR-V only enhances its inherent goodness. The CR-V has been one of the most transparently useful models in the segment and the fourth-gen modifications add to this sense. It’s a pleasing and comfortable place to spend time, aided by excellent visibility and light control efforts. The new styling makes the 2012 CR-V feel more upscale and the overdue tech additions work well and add a modern ambiance to the cabin. Though rightly faulted for recent launches (read: Civic), the 2012 CR-V redo seems cost-driven but efficient and effective. The new CR-V has maintained its current strengths while boosting others. If Thailand parts sourcing doesn’t dampen early inventory levels, expect the CR-V’s typical annual sales tally to grow.

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