2012 Honda CR-V Driving Impressions

Honda hasn't pushed the performance envelope with the 2012 CR-V, but it has polished and refined the central ingredients of a very competent powertrain and peripherals, again apparently with some concern about development costs, most notably as regards the transmission.

The engine's mechanicals in large part are unchanged from 2011. The displacement is the same, at 2.4 liters. So is number of camshafts, at two, and valves per cylinder, at four. Through modifications to some internals to reduce friction and re-coding the engine management computer, Honda has found an additional five horsepower and two pound-feet of torque.

The transmission remains a 5-speed but with upgraded mechanicals and in the front-wheel-drive models slight changes to gear ratios, the new CR-V betters its predecessor's highway fuel economy estimates by 10 percent, where it also strikes a middle ground with its primary competition. All of this combines to deliver an impressively linear rate of acceleration, although not on a scale to compete with its competitors' V6 models. Gear changes are so smooth they sometimes register only in the tachometer's indications of changes in engine speed. One barely notices that there are only five gears, while most of the competition has moved up to 6-speed tranmissions.

The new CR-V gets an Econ mode, which driver's can select by pressing a green button emblazoned with a leaf. This system imposes a more restrained shift pattern on the transmission and a less aggressive acceleration mode. We felt the difference on the test drive at the launch. Honda won't say how much of an improvement driver's can expect in fuel economy with the system activated, only that it's noticeable. In other words, your mileage may vary.

Ride quality is well controlled, with pavement irregularities mostly masked and minimal body lean in corners, even at speeds that activate the stability control system. This is clearly a marked improvement over the 2011, which Honda credits in part to its Motion-Adaptive Electric Power Steering, a system shared with the 2012 Civic. This system complements the electronic stability control system by helping stabilize the CR-V during heavy braking and introducing a degree of corrective steering input to mitigate understeer (when the vehicle wants to go straight instead of turn) and oversteer (when the vehicle wants to turn more than the driver intends).

Road and tire noise are decently muted, although pavement type plays a huge role in this gauge. Some credit for the relative quiet goes to the CR-V's body rigidity, although Honda also notes the 2012 gets more sound deadening material than the 2011.

Honda has added hill-start assist to the new CR-V. This engages the brakes when it senses the CR-V is stopped on an incline, then releases them as the driver presses the gas pedal. The AWD system also knows when the vehicle is stopped and primes the hydraulics that send power to the rear wheels to quicken response by lessening slippage during engagement when the driver accelerates.

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