published Saturday, January 21st, 2012

Kennedy: Redesigned Honda CR-V ready to hold its market share

Staff writer Mark Kennedy took a test drive in a new Honda CRV.
Staff writer Mark Kennedy took a test drive in a new Honda CRV.

FAST FACTS


Model: 2012 CR-V 2WD EX-L.

Exterior color: Polished metal metallic

Interior: Gray leather

Engine: 2.4 liter, four-cylinder

Horsepower: 185

Transmission: Five-speed automatic

Fuel economy: 31 highway, 23 city

Dealer: Economy Honda Superstore

Price (as tested): $28,555 (plus $2,074 in dealer-installed options)

Parked at the intersection of Value Street and Utility Avenue is the durable Honda CR-V small SUV. Small, of course, is a relative term since the CR-V has more than 100 cubic feet of passenger space.

For 2012, the CR-V has undergone a major redesign that includes new sheet metal, an upgraded interior, more engine power and, importantly, better fuel economy. How does 31 mpg highway sound for a family-hauling SUV?

Copies of the hot-selling new CR-V are disappearing from local car stores almost as quickly as they arrive. We intercepted a polished metal metallic CR-V EX-L at Economy Honda Superstore earlier this month with the help of general manager Corey Choate.

Our test SUV had been equipped with dealer-installed, premium options such as a tailgate spoiler,

body molding, a cargo tray, skid plate bling, luggage crossbars and a chrome exhaust tip. For the first time, Honda is offering a factory DVD system in the CR-V, and our test car was so equipped. A navigation system and all-wheel-drive were the only major options not included on our test unit.

STYLING AND COMFORT

The new CR-V gives the impression of being a stretched and contoured version of the 2007-2011 generation models. While subtle, the exterior redesign is more fluid and less boxy than its predecessor. A bigger grille and headlight treatment help correct the quirky underbite formed by a protruding front bumper in the fascia of the old model.

It's inside the cockpit, though, where the CR-V's new design really pops. A curvaceous new dash design, with marbled plastic inlays, would look at home in a luxury SUV. The leather-clad seats in our EX-L tester were supportive without being too snug. Forward-facing visibility is impressive.

The CR-V's back seat is spacious enough for three adults. With the back seat folded down (a easy process thanks to thoughtful new release levers in the cargo area), the CR-V becomes a surprisingly spacious hauler. There is no third-row seat option.

Electronic features are also a plus. Our EX-L boasted dual-zone climate control. An ingenious mobile phone interface allows text messages to pop up on a display screen. Instead of thumb-dialing a response, a selection of preset answers is available for a one-touch return message.

DRIVING IMPRESSIONS

Unlike other car companies, Honda offers only one engine in its entry-level, a 185-horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder. For the great majority of buyers, who don't need excess towing capacity, a six-cylinder option is overkill. (If you do need the added power, the V-6 Toyota RAV4 is a popular choice.)

In our rush-hour test-drive on Brainerd Road, the CR-V was plenty powerful, even after we added a couple of eager passengers. The new CR-V is noticeably quieter than the previous generation, an upgrade that adds to the refinement of the vehicle.

The CR-V is available in all-wheel-drive, which automatically shifts power to the rear wheels when slippage is detected. Every trim line of the CR-V -- even the base model -- now comes with a back-up camera.

BOTTOM LINE

Since it debuted in 1995, the CR-V has grown into a perennial American favorite, often found among the top 10 selling vehicles in the United States. More than 200,000 CR-Vs were sold in the United States in 2010.

That's a tough act to follow for the new-generation CR-V, but our test drive leads one to believe it's plenty up to the task. The CR-V is the Swiss Army knife of small SUVs, so packed with value and utility that it takes all the heavy lifting out of a new vehicle purchase.

about Mark Kennedy...

Mark Kennedy is the editor of the Times Free Press opinion pages and writes the Sunday “Life Stories” column. He also writes a Saturday automotive column, “Test Drive,” for the Business section. For 13 years, Kennedy was features editor of the newspaper, and before that he was the newspaper’s first Sunday editor. The Times Free Press Life section won the state press award for Best Community Lifestyles four times during his tenure. Before Chattanooga’s newspapers ...

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