Review: 2012 Honda CR-V Take Two

Derek Kreindler
by Derek Kreindler
review 2012 honda cr v take two

In a very small way, my family was involved in bringing the Honda CR-V to North America. As Honda hemmed and hawed about bringing their first in-house SUV to the continent, they quietly shipped over a few right-hand drive examples in late 1995 for employees to evaluate. As a car guy with two kids, my father, who was Honda’s in-house attorney at the time, was a perfect candidate, and got the bright blue CR-V for a few days. Festooned with chrome accents, graffiti-like graphics, a JDM fender mirror and brush bars, the right-hand drive CR-V got lots of attention. The CR-V finally came to North America two years later, without all the awful acoutrements that Japanese versions had in spades.

12 years have passed, and the CR-V really isn’t that much different from its first iteration, a rare quality in a segment where everyone from Ford to Kia to Mazda is trying to re-invent the segment. Avant-garde styling, high-tech engines and motion-activated tailgate sensors are all well and good, but the CR-V continues to be the sell strongly, despite its utterly utilitarian packaging.

The CR-V has neither a fancy Ecoboost engine or Laguna Seca-capable handling. Instead, it proudly boasts the segment’s lowest loading floor – a dubious accomplishment among the “CUVs drool, wagons rule” segment, but a brilliant feature for doing normal people things like grocery shopping or going to IKEA. My family bought a CR-V in 2003 – 6 months prior to that, my mother was bedridden for 6 months due to a severe gastrointestinal illness – while she was able to drive, she wasn’t strong enough to load groceries into the CR-V, and I had to accompany her. Hardly an arduous task for a teenage boy, but the low loading floor would have been a help for her at that time. Rather than lift objects up and into the cargo compartment, the floor sits at about knee height, eliminating the lifting motion. For anyone who has to load and unload something like a stroller or suitcases, it’s a wonderfully thoughtful touch. If more room is required, a pull-tab located on the rear seatback will let the rear bench fold with just one pull. No fiddling with headrests and levels – it’s easily accessible from the cargo compartment and takes two seconds. The cherry on top for the CR-V’s triad of useful gadgets is a backup camera, which was integrated with the navigation unit on our EX-L test car. The backup camera has three modes; a standard view, a wide-angle lens and a 90 degree downward view, akin to a periscope, that gives the driver a better view of protruding objects (pillars, poles and the like) that can cause expensive bumper damage with only light contact.

In motion, the CR-V drives how you would expect it to. Not remarkable in any area, but hardly the porridge pile that most car guys expect from a small crossover. The 2.4L 4-cylinder makes 185 horsepower, an adequate amount of power for a vehicle this size. Why didn’t Honda opt for a more powerful engine, along with something more advanced than the 5-speed automatic transmission? Simple – customers don’t care how many forward gears it has. On the road, the combination works seamlessly and delivers 22 mpg in town and 31 mpg on the highway. The all-wheel drive system has been revised to always send a nominal amount of torque to the rear wheels – again, this wasn’t noticeable on the road, but a CR-V conquering anything more severe than a light dusting of snow on a paved road would surprise me. Steering feel is no longer the lifeless “oars in a bowl of yogurt” feel that was present in my mother’s 2003 model, but it doesn’t provide much feedback. Really, the only extreme driving that happened on the entire drive was a panic stop, and the CR-V’s brakes helped prevent a Honda/Corolla sandwich from occurring.

The interesting thing about the CR-V is that when everyone else is trying to advance the game to new levels of equipment, technology and gadgets, the CR-V is making incremental improvements to a formula that has proved successful. In a sense, Honda is placing a bet that consumers don’t care that the drive to Costco is more important than driving with Ecoboost or SKYACTIV technology. Honda made a similar bet with the Civic – and while sales are strong, Honda is throwing a lot of cash on the hood as it clears out the current car before a refreshed design debuts in 2013. Nevertheless, I am confident that Honda got it right here. The CR-V was tops in small SUV sales last month – don’t look for that to stop any time soon.

Brendan McAleer previously review the CR-V here

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4 of 110 comments
  • Unhittable curveball Unhittable curveball on Apr 14, 2012

    There's a reason why the CR-V sells like hotcakes -- its got a silky smooth powertrain and agile, car-like handling. My folks got a 04, and I love driving it. The things I don't like about it are the cheap interior parts, highway noise, and rear visibility.

    • Blautens Blautens on Aug 01, 2012

      I bought a 2003 CR-V new and drove it for 3 years and 36k miles and completely agree - nothing cutting edge (well, the VTEC motor is pretty nice) but everything worked. I actually like the 2nd gen better still for it's cargo space - say what you will about being boxy - it's practical. And being 6'4" I liked the side opening hatch (I bean my oversized noggin on every other conventional hatch at least once), even liked the direction it opened. A fold away front center tray as a console! You could walk to the back nicely, just like my 1993 Caravan. A "picnic" table in the floor of the back - which I used regularly (for RC car racing, sadly - never a picnic). I can't ding it for being noisy on the highway (like most Hondas, actually) or inexpensive interior materials - it was $18,400. And I sold it to CarMax for $13,500 3 years later. One AC failure covered under warranty (even though the warranty had actually just expired). No stranding me roadside type problems. Problem is - not fun. No soul. I had a '96 Impala SS at the time for that. But once I consolidated to one car, I couldn't take it and sold it to buy a ridiculously unreliable (I know many tow truck drivers by name) but extremely quick Chevy TBSS. I've owned a few Hondas, but I'm no fanboy though. Honda automatics fail. Frequently. And certain things, like AC failures, are also common (but not crippling). I still own a 1999 Honda Civic EX my daughter drives that sports fluid leaks no one can seem to fix. But for the most part, reliable and well engineered. Solid feeling chassis and accurate steering from mile 1 to mile 150,000. I actually miss that CR-V, usually even more when I see my TBSS towed away as I phone the local Enterprise rental office I have in my phone's frequent contacts.

  • Beechkid Beechkid on Apr 03, 2013

    I recently spend a full day driving family members 2012 CRV. With 1,000 miles on the odometer, I spent the previous day doing routine service checks & cleaning (wash/vacuumed) before our departure from So Cal to Solvang (July 2012) and other locations for the day. Total miles traveled was just over 300 in both city/hwy (including very heavy traffic). Our speeds ranged from 5 mph (stop/go) to 80 mph. On board were 4 persons ranging in age from early 20's to early 70's. My opinion, as a former Honda owner (1500 cvcc civic hatchback) I was anxious to really experience what Honda had accomplished. My opinion ..... As I washed & waxed the paint I observed what was unmistakable Honda, very thin paint...a continued issue that effects longitivity of the quality finish/shine that has plagued Hondas for decades- I guess when you are trying to cut every corner and save every penny, it counts but at the long term expense of the owner that degrades the potential resale/trade-in value. Additionally, the “plastic” front bumper cover (commonly found on all vehicles) was exhibiting checking on the very bottom, a sign/indicator that the primer was improperly applied, and/or did not possess the proper composition to ensure bonding in flexible situations which it must be designed to for. I also found the fit of the exterior body panels to be poor....while horizontal panel lines ran parallel, the gap was excessive (even larger than the Honda’s 80’s) and alignment (surface to surface) was misaligned by 1/16”…. better than in the 80's & 90's, but given the robotic assembly that is used by every mfg including Honda, these tolerances should be at minimum 1/3 less just to match that of every other mfg in the world. The bodylines (styling) is one of the beholder, but looking at the doors & side panels it was very clear in an attempt to minimize weight, panel strength had been the large height of the panels would not support their shape with the standard gauge metal found in Hondas’…meaning, the panels will bend, twist & warp as a result of vehicle flex because there is not enough strength….requiring the “unique” placement of body lines, creases, etc to provide that rigidity. On the surface, that sounds good but in long term reality, the shape of the bodylines only provides a temp solution and in 10 years under normal use, the body panels will have many “waves’ as a result. The interior….standard Honda (seats, upholstery, carpets, mats, etc.), they do the job, nothing great or bad. The dash layout & e-tronics were adequate & functioned as required…I say adequate because there was really nothing outstanding or bad about them. The one exception that I can say is the dash mounted shifter……this thing reminds me of the same automatic transmission shifters used in school buses………both in location & style- you have to be kidding me Honda, this is the best you could come up with? Drive train- Honda’s engines are unmistakable still excellent, but the automatic transmission was clearly geared for operation that didn’t requiring the ability to pass another slow moving vehicle of provide the immediate torque to accelerate from a dead stop to get out of the way from being rear-ended…an issue for any family vehicle to take seriously into consideration…additionally, the e-control software program for the transmission specifically limited the performance of the engine by not being matched to the engine’s power band. Mfg’s who have weak drive train components will do this as a way to eliminate the force onto these parts…….they can still advertise the engine turns 7,000 RPM & makes 200 hp, but in all reality when you get it on the road, the transmission will not allow the engine to rev above 5200 rpm (lets say) by shifting into the next gear. Torque steer at freeway speeds is present (especially during acceleration onto the freeway)- almost as bad as the front wheel drives of the 70’s…. considering that every mfg both domestic & foreign has resolved this through common design practices, is inconceivable why Honda has not employed the same practices into this that they have in the new civic- I guess saving another 10 cents. Tires/Suspension- Adequate in terms of general handling, braking, turning, etc. But, especially observable at hwy speeds, the rear suspension does not rack well, the rear suspension constantly follows the “groves” of the road in some cases almost to the point of “disobeying” the commands of driver input into the front suspension (this could easily pose a unsafe handling issue on wet/slippery roads)….again, another definite issue that any family should strongly consider before purchasing. Gas mileage- yes, all Hondas get good mileage and we ran this one in both Eco & non-eco modes- and averaged 33 mpg. But here is a point of issue- for several hours on our trip we wanted to see just what the max/best mpg we could get (tracking by both the mpg meter & fill up- which BTW the mpg meter is pretty close)- this 3,000 pound vehicle actually only got about 6 mpg better than my 5,000 pound Ford 150 (2006, 5.4 V8, Super crew- 4 door, 2 wheel drive). Thinking back to my Honda which almost always got 35 mpg +, 30 years later Honda should have been able to gain much more mpg’s & power than what they have achieved…..I felt shortchanged. Unless you have never driven a good car (low or high end), I simply cannot see how anyone could look carefully, test drive this vehicle and believe it is a good vehicle. There are just so many industry standards that Honda has both failed to meet by any mfg comparison and even that aside, taking into consideration of what the Honda’s were of 20/30 years ago and by comparison see what they are producing for the increased price today, is disappointing especially when you look at the return on investment. Yes in the short term your resale is ok, but at 5 years+, the quality of just the aesthetic materials alone will cause a substantial financial loss compared to what the competition is providing today (and has been for the past 5 years). In any economy but especially today with all of the financial struggles that exist, please look very carefully at not just the name on this vehicle, but these issues because it is your very hard earned money that each person relies upon to build/provide for their future- Honda has clearly failed to arise to the occasion in this aspect.

    • Beechkid Beechkid on Sep 17, 2013

      Update.....September 17, 2013 Yesterday my relative was involved in an accident with this vehicle. In summary, she traveling and de-accelerating from 30 mph, approaching a stop sign. Prior to the main intersection, a driver purposefully pulled out from a side street, my relative struck the rear quarter panel of the vehicle. Here is important information, while crumple zones (crash absorbent) are designed into every vehicle to reduce impact unto the occupants, this vehicle was totaled.....the engine/transaxle mounts broke (as designed) but physically breached (the entire drive-train) into the front occupant enforcement investigators have confirmed the speed of my relatives vehicle was 30 mph and slowing when the collision occurred. The structural failure (my opinion) combined with the air-bag system activation induced both visual & physical trauma to the driver (my relative) to the extend they vomited & then lost consciousness, requiring transport to a Trauma I center. IMHO, an increase of speed by 5 mph or more, or a more direct hit would have resulted in occupant entrapment requiring forcible entry tools to gain access and remove the occupants. Regardless of what safety rating these or any vehicle receives, it is important to have someone who understands basic vehicle structures/mechanics look at a vehicle before purchase. If this would have occurred, I personally would have never let this sale go proceed.....and mind you, this level of damage occurred at 30 mph, slowing and a glancing blow..... Prior to anyone purchasing this as a "family" vehicle after reading this, should strongly re-consider as you family's well being is surely "At Risk" IMHO.

  • Chuck Norton And guys are having wide spread issues with the 10 speed transmission with the HP numbers out of the factory......
  • Zerofoo "Hyundais just got better and better during the 1990s, though, and memories of those shoddy Excels faded."Never. A friend had an early 90s Hyundai Excel as his college beater. One day he decided that the last tank of gas he bought was worth more than the car. He drove it to empty and then he and his fraternity brothers pushed it into the woods and left it there.
  • Kwik_Shift There are no new Renegades for sale within my geographic circle of up to 85 kms. Looks like the artificial shortage game. They bring one in, 10 buyers line up for it, $10,000 over MSRP. Yeah. Like with a lot of new cars.
  • Ribbedroof In Oklahoma, no less!
  • Ribbedroof Have one in the shop for minor front collision repairs right now,I've seen more of these in the comments than in the 30 years I've been in collision repair.