OK. I have a little secret to share. I entered into the test week with the 2012 Honda CR-V expecting to hate it. I'd driven it before in short tests, and the seating position for a petite driver wasn't the greatest. I thought the interior was drab. And the ride and handling was, well, blah.
In fact, since the previous redesign, I've actually been steering my followers away from the CR-V.
So, um, you should probably get a screen grab of this (or at least save the link) because this isn't something I say very often: I was wrong.
Let's have a moment of stunned silence.
And, moving on ...
I was so wrong, that I'm even willing to go a step further and state 2 things unequivocally: 1) This is currently my favorite 5-passenger crossover on the market, and 2) This is absolutely the best Honda I've ever driven.
Strong words to be sure. But here's why: The as-tested price hits under $30K, and in addition to features such as navigation, leather seating surfaces, Bluetooth and heated front seats, the overall quality and handling are pretty phenomenal.
I mean, I was a couple days into the test week before I realized that the CR-V had a 4-cylinder engine. I typically try to go into a test blind and see what I can estimate and discern before looking at the specs and sticker sheet. I was way off with the CR-V.
Delivering 185 horses, the 2.4-liter DOHC engine manages to pull out clean smooth power with just enough gusto to merge well with traffic. The passing gears aren't as great but still manage to get the job done, so I really can't complain.
I would, however, love to see something other than a 5-speed automatic in this crossover. The 6-speed is quickly becoming the norm, and I bet that extra gear would give the CR-V even better fuel economy. EPA estimates city/highway mileage to be 23/31 mpg for the 2-wheel-drive model, and I got an average of 25.8 in combined driving, which is pretty spot-on since EPA estimates combined driving to ring in at 26 mpg.
One fuel economy aid I appreciated in the CR-V was the Econ mode, which I kept active for my entire drive period. Hey, I need all the help I can get, and I imagine most of you do, too. The good news is that even though this helps control throttle response from take off, I didn't feel like it hindered my ability to do a quick merge or pass. It was also helpful that the "happy little gauges," as I like to call them, change colors to indicate whether you are driving efficiently. Green = good, white = not so good.
The interior of the 2012 CR-V is far from blah. And I thought it was intuitively constructed in its simplicity. I particularly liked the bright behind-the-wheel gauges. The seating position for a petite driver was more than comfortable, and I was able to get the driver's seat far forward without crunching my knees on the underbelly of the dash (which is my problem du jour in the current tester). I also appreciated the lumbar support and overall seat comfort.
In terms of tech features, I was fond of the Bluetooth connectivity. In addition to making phone pairing relatively easy, the system transferred my phone book to the car, thus making hands-free calls easy as well. I also liked the Pandora interface, which allowed me to blare my Ke$ha channel at top volume on my commute back to the city from my office in Schaumburg.
New for 2012, the CR-V gets a bit of a redesign. The grille is new, and though the wheelbase stays the same, Honda actually lopped an inch off the overall length, cutting that measurement from 179.3 inches to 178.3. Other changes for 2012 include improved fuel economy (up from 28 mpg in the city), in addition to a little more power (up from 180 horsepower).
Ride and handling in the CR-V are actually very carlike. Steering is a tad firm, but not so firm that you feel like you're getting a workout while driving. The ride, as you would expect, is more comfortable than luxury or sporty. And, as an added bonus, the interior is pretty quiet with minimal road and engine noise entering the cabin.
I don't know what else to say about the 2012 Honda CR-V other than driving this car this is one of the more pleasant surprises I've experienced lately.
Chicago-worthy rating: 10. If you need a crossover in an urban environment, this is the one. It's priced right and includes all the extras you need for city driving right down to the Bluetooth for hands-free calling and the rearview camera to aid with parallel parking. Plus, with a 31 mpg rating on the highway, it's pretty fuel efficient for its size.