New and Improved: Curvaceous 2012 Honda CR-V touts innovation, economy, ride in model redesign

New and Improved: Curvaceous 2012 Honda CR-V touts innovation, economy, ride in model redesign

The intuitive center-console includes knobs to change radio stations and to control temperature and fans.

At 6 foot 3 inches tall, Scott Stirling doesn’t always fit perfectly into a car. He has three children, all grown now, so he’s experienced driving with kids.

It’s no great shakes, then, that the sales consultant at Stokes Honda North is very familiar with an auto type that’s still popular despite its larger versions pooh-poohed as “gas guzzlers” — the sport utility vehicle.

“I’ve driven SUVs all my life,” Stirling said.

Today, manufacturers avoid the sport-utility name preferring crossover, wagon or other monicker. But they aren’t just changing titles on the same old brand. They are redefining the genre.

Smaller sport-utes in particular are doing like Romans when in Rome; they are becoming nimbler, more streamlined and most importantly, boosting fuel economy numbers in an era when 54.5 mpg is the target by 2025.

A case in point is the redesigned 2012 Honda CR-V. Already a top 10 best seller, the small-size sport-utility has undergone a significant makeover.

Just one small example: the flip-down sunglasses case holder has an extra setting — a mirror.

While some might wonder about its necessity, family man Stirling quickly picked up on its intended use — “to watch the kids (in the back seat).”

Stokes Honda North has been pleased with the small sport-utility’s sales thus far, said Joe Dettrey, general manager.

“You can’t keep them. They go out as fast as they get in,” he said.

There’s a few reasons for the CR-V's popularity. “It’s quicker, handles better, gets better fuel economy,” Dettrey said. On top of that, the 2012 CR-V costs $500 less than new 2010 or 2011 models did, he said.

Anchoring the sport-utility is a 185-horsepower four-cylinder engine mated to a five-speed automatic transmission. The vehicle gets 23 mpg in the city and 31 mpg on the highway.

Base price is $22,295. The model comes in three trims, the LX, EX and EX-L. A fully equipped EX-L at Stokes Honda North this week with leather-trimmed seats, 328-watt audio system with seven speakers, 10-way power driver’s seat and 17-inch alloy wheels cost $30,307.

The sport-utility caters to families; an option for instance is a rear seat entertainment center (or navigation system but not both). But the vehicle seats no more than five and isn’t huge, so its customer base is broader than just as a people mover.

“You know, it’s a cross section,” Stirling said. “I demonstrated one to (someone with) grandchildren, another couple with small children who like the gas economy and DVD and younger generation (lookers) who just like the SUV.”

In a couple-hour drive of an EX-L this week, the sport-utility performed admirably. And that's up against its hyperbolic promotional pitch: the vehicle that’s supposed to guide you to your “Leap List” of thrills such as skydiving, seeing all 50 states and marching in a Mardi Gras parade.

The test vehicle proved attractive with Opal Sage metallic exterior. While compact, pleasing curves on corners made it look larger. Inside, the model felt roomy.

If nothing else, the new CR-V is long on innovation. It has standard high-tech features found in many new cars today — anti-lock braking system, traction control, stability control, numerous air bags, Bluetooth enabled hands-free phone, one-touch “moonroof.” Yet it didn’t overdo the gadgets and included a few well-worth-it extras.

The driver’s side mirror has a blind-spot feature where the outside edge of the glass is slanted slightly. That way, the motorist can see a glimpse of car coming up alongside for a longer time. It seemed to be more effective than a light that flashes in the mirror when a car approaches like some new cars use.

Trip latches in the cargo bay and pull straps by the back seats make it easy to fold down the seats in a 60/40 split or all the way for extra storage.

A multi-angle rear view camera, available in all CR-V trims, doubles as a multi-information display showing average fuel economy, exterior temperature and miles-to-empty.

One clever feature found on a number of Hondas is the eco button. Press it, and fuel mileage is improved by two miles per gallon. It’s supposed to govern the engine somewhat and mute the air conditioning. But the sport-ute kept up speed on the highway in eco mode, — even though uphill on ramps lagged the motor — and the a.c continued to blow out cool air.

Handling was excellent, particularly for a larger-than-average car. Brakes worked fine.

There were minor dislikes, such as a slightly cramped back seat and mild sway at higher speeds. Also, it would have been nice to have opened the cargo door electronically (OK, that’s nit-picking a bit).

All told, Honda managed to improve on an already-strong model. How? The carmaker focused on practicality, adding new features based on use and safety rather than glitz.

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