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If you're cross-shopping compact crossover vehicles for family use, you'll definitely want to put the 2012 Honda CR-V on the list.
The main reason: because it has what we think is simply the best rear seat-folding arrangement of any vehicle in this class; and because its seating comfort in general is so impressive. Open one of the back doors, and with one arm and a simple pull of a strap, in a very fluid motion the lower cushion tumbles forward into the footwell, the headrest angles forward, and the rear seatback flips forward, all tucking nearly behind the front seat, to a completely flat position.
The rest of the CR-V's seating arrangement is stellar, and the rear folding system allows better padding and contouring than the thinly padded bench most compact crossovers get in back. Front seats, too, are impressive, both soft and supportive and good for either long trips or the daily commute and errands.
That's the good. If you're a busy parent, you'll also probably be quite glad that Honda hasn't really changed that much about the overall package of this redesigned 2012 Honda CR-V. It still fits neatly into most compact-car parking spots and has a low cargo floor that doesn’t require a lot of reach or lift.
The CR-V’s exterior has only lightly evolved; front and rear styling has been spruced up a bit, with the front end noticeably more Accord-like. Honda has essentially taken the same package—same wheelbase, same basic silhouette and proportions—but dropped the roof a little bit and modified the positions of the front seats for a more carlike driving position. Also by changing the angle of the rear pillar somewhat, they freed up just a little more rearward visibility.
Inside, the instrument panel gets a simplified, streamlined look with two layers, and it's more carlike, completely avoiding the chunky, overwrought-and-cluttered look of the larger Pilot SUV’s interior, as well as the odd asymmetries of the Civic and the confusing rotary knob of the high-end Accord models. Climate controls are just below audio controls, with a small, five-inch ‘i-MID’ trip-computer and audio screen just above it all, with simple gauges and straightforward switchgear. The center console runs between the front seats and has been redesigned to include cupholders, a tray, two storage compartments, and a USB port.
Cargo capacity is impressive; with the rear seatbacks up, there's an impressive 37.2 cubic feet. A side cargo net is included, and EX levels and above get a removable and retractable cargo cover. Fold the back seats down, and you get a continuous cargo floor that’s 61.4 inches long—although it does have a slight step up at the base of the seatbacks. Honda is proud that it’s dropped the cargo floor—and the liftover height itself—to 23.6 inches.
Honda hasn't changed much about the powertrain; the 2.4-liter i-VTEC four-cylinder remains one of the smoothest fours in this class, with nice, even power delivery all the way up to redline. The transmission has only five speeds—and gear ratios have been made taller this year for better fuel economy—but the flexible engine does just fine with this setup. EPA fuel economy ratings land at 23 mpg city, 31 highway with front-wheel drive, or 22/30 with four-wheel drive—making it the highest-mileage all-wheel- or four-wheel-drive vehicle in this class. Just as in some of Honda's other models, there's a big green 'econ' button on the dash, to engage more frugal parameters for the powertrain and A/C.
The CR-V is no trail ute, but it has the toolset for snow-covered roads, or even mud, with the available Real Time AWD system. Newly reconfigured, it now doesn't require the front wheels to slip before sending power to the rears.
As for the rest of the 2012 CR-V driving experience, it’s absolutely nothing to get excited about. Honda has retuned the suspension for a better ride and reduced harshness, compared to the previous version, added double door seals, and bolstered the body structure, and it’s clear that a lot less road noise makes its way into the cabin. The most significant letdown in the 2012 Honda CR-V is the way it steers. Honda has fitted an electric power steering system to the CR-V, and in this vehicle it fails to give the new model the confident handling feel that we expect from Honda.
As in the new Civic, the i-MID is controlled via a simple directional toggle on the steering wheel. The system is compatible with SMS texting (reading and pre-set replying) and a Pandora app, with the screen capable of displaying cover art, turn-by-turn directions, and a trip computer/fuel economy screen. You can also set the home screen to display personal pictures as wallpaper. The standard wide-angle side mirrors are also the first in any Honda vehicle, and the Multi-Angle Rearview Camera offers three different views (wide, normal, and top) to help you see obstacles (or children). Safety scores are among the best of any compact crossover.
Anyone who’s previously shopped for a Honda in recent years will find the trims offered in the CR-V quite familiar; there are LX, EX, and EX-L trims, with top version of the EX-L available with a Navigation package and rear entertainment system. Bluetooth hands-free connectivity and Bluetooth streaming audio are at last standard on the entire model line, and EX-L models upgrade to leather upholstery, a ten-way driver’s seat, heated front seats, a higher-power (328-watt) audio system with subwoofer, automatic climate control, heated mirrors, and upgraded interior trim. A rear entertainment system with seven-inch display, DVD player, wireless headphones, and remote is optional. Satellite radio is only offered on the EX-L.