‘Cute ute’ remains cool

Calling all cool moms; your new fourth-generation Honda CR-V chariot awaits.

Of course Honda’s popular tall wagon isn’t just for active women with toddlers in tow, but according to the automaker, the “cool moms” segment makes up, or significantly influences, the largest portion of CR-V buyers. They, along with others seeking a roomy ride with all-weather, all-road capability, will appreciate the vehicle’s carlike behavior and economical operation.

CR-V devotees will easily spot the latest version of Honda’s compact “cute ute” since it closely mirrors the outgoing version in all key exterior dimensions. What’s more, the general shape remains only moderately tinkered-with, including updated nose and tail section plus a dramatically shaped rear roof pillar that introduces a bit more drama to the vehicle’s styling. Honda claims that the new CR-V’s shape, along with modifications to the undercarriage to increase air flow, has reduced fuel-robbing aerodynamic drag by 8 percent.

The interior has been given the update treatment, providing a slightly enlarged passenger area but at the expense of slightly reduced cargo volume. This time, though, maximizing the load floor is a snap with the new fold-down rear seat that operates by flipping a pair of levers located just inside the tailgate. The rest of the cabin is standard Honda fare, which translates into an uncluttered, albeit plasticky dashboard, comfy, supportive seats and generously sized storage compartments, including a large floor-console bin that can hold a purse or items of equal bulk.

Getting CR-V owners to work, the gym, or the day care is a revised 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 185 horsepower and 163 pound-feet of torque, which is slightly more than the previous 2.4. More importantly, fuel economy has improved to 23 mpg city and 31 highway for front-wheel-drive models, up from 21/28. All-wheel-drive models are rated at 22 mpg city and 30 highway (previously 21/27). The gains are attributed to a new anti-friction coating for the pistons, a faster-activating on-demand AWD system as well as a revised five-speed automatic transmission.

Honda claims that the numbers can be further improved by pressing the ECON button on the dash, which optimizes the transmission and air conditioning functions.

From observation, Honda engineers have largely succeeded at smoothing out the CR-V’s ride and creating a quieter interior. On the down side, the newly installed “Motion-Adaptive” electric power-assisted steering (called epas) feels a bit numb, especially when driving straight down the highway. Unfortunately it’s a common issue with many epas systems that differ from traditional belt-driven hydraulic units that create a drag on the engine (and hurt fuel economy). However a senior Honda engineer said that the CR-V’s
steering was purposely designed to satisfy the primary buying group’s desire for low-effort maneuvering.

Low effort in other areas of the CR-V’s operation, however, is a good thing, especially the wide and tall liftgate and lower load floor. With the rear seat folded forward, the CR-V can swallow items 5 feet in length, which is a gain of 5 inches.

The CR-V in base LX trim arrives with significant standard equipment, while the next-up-the-food chain EX includes a power moonroof, fog lights and a few other niceties. Popping for the EX-L adds leather seat covers, 10-way heated driver’s seat, up-level audio system and access to the optional navigation system.

Stacked up against plenty of stiff competition, the CR-V excels as a well-sorted-out transportation module that benefits from continual improvement in design and functionality.

As with the new-for-2012 Civic compact, Honda seems content with not rocking the boat with its latest CR-V, perhaps sensing that the time isn’t quite right to introduce a totally clean-sheet design. The cool-mom crowd would likely agree.


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