The Honda CR-V was one of the original compact crossover SUVs, but it's not so compact anymore. These days, the CR-V is working to carve out a niche as an affordable midsize crossover with two rows of seats and a four-cylinder engine. Fully redesigned for this year, the 2012 Honda CR-V fundamentally isn't a whole lot different from the 2011 model, which reflects Honda's understandable reluctance to mess with the CR-V's best-selling formula. Will the new CR-V carry on the model's longstanding success? Here are five reasons why we're optimistic.
1. Bolder styling than ever
If there's one thing the CR-V has never had, it's adventurous styling. Honda has traditionally erred on the conservative side with its designs, and the previous CR-Vs are all cases in point. But all bets are off with the bold new 2012 CR-V. It's got an aggressive front fascia that's reminiscent of the larger Crosstour, and its bulbous rear end wears tall, high-mounted taillights that could have come straight off a Volvo SUV. This isn't radical stuff, exactly, but the new CR-V has a lot of visual character. That's something we couldn't say about the previously CR-V.
2. Roomier rear quarters than ever
2012 will likely be remembered as the year that the CR-V finally grew up, as the new CR-V is the first with a truly adult-friendly backseat. The rear seating position is elevated, so there's plenty of thigh support, even for tall folks. Legroom and headroom are ample as well. The seats themselves are unusually broad and supportive, as if Honda made a concerted effort to make adults feel at home back there. There are plenty of crossovers at this price that scrimp on backseat accommodations, but the CR-V is so hospitable in this regard that it's hard to imagine anyone wanting more.
3. Cool technology comes standard
One of our least-favorite things about the old CR-V was that you had to pay through the nose for common technology features like Bluetooth. Well, it seems Honda was listening to its customers, because now even the entry-level CR-V comes with both iPod/USB connectivity and Bluetooth functionality with streaming audio. There's also a standard rearview camera, and you can even pipe Pandora internet radio through the speakers if you've got an iPhone. What a difference a year makes.
4. Familiar Honda drivetrain
Some say the new CR-V's carryover powertrain is a drawback, but we can see it from both sides. Sure, it would be nice if Honda offered a V6 or a turbocharged inline-4, but the reality is, most CR-V drivers don't care about zero-to-60 sprints; they just want a smooth commute with reasonable fuel economy. And the new CR-V delivers on both fronts. The 2.4-liter i-VTEC inline-4 and five-speed automatic make for a slick team as usual, while fuel economy is in fact excellent for a crossover SUV at 23 city/31 highway (22/30 with AWD).
5. Familiar Honda dynamics
Honda has been accused of diluting the driving character of its vehicles lately, but the new CR-V proves that the engineers are still paying attention. Handling remains above-average, and there's a general sense of solidity and refinement in the way the CR-V goes down the road. It's a pleasure to drive in a way that mainstream crossovers rarely are. The Honda force is strong with this one.