Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Honda’s new CR-V misses the mark

Honda’s new CR-V misses the mark
Honda / Wieck

John Mendel, American Honda's executive vice president of sales, introduces the all-new 2012 Honda CR-V at the 2011 Los Angeles auto show.

By Dan Carney
Cleverness. Value. Above all else: simplicity. These are the enduring virtues that have endeared Honda cars to drivers since the 1970s.

There are other cars that got good gas mileage; others with impressive durability. But none of them captured Honda’s spirit. Their commercials said it all: “Honda: we make it simple.”

Perhaps simplicity is less valued today. Perhaps it is just more challenging to deliver in a tech-centric world. Whatever the obstacles, while Honda’s new 2012 CR-V compact crossover SUV (even the description is inelegant) is a very good family car, it isn’t a special one. There is nothing about this that puts Honda’s clever stamp on it and says, “No other company could, or would, have done this.”

Instead, the CR-V is increasingly undistinguished in an increasingly competitive segment. That doesn’t make it a bad car, just a dull one.

One feature that comes the closest is the folding mechanism for the rear seats. The back seat is split 60/40 and there are release handles for each side in the rear cargo area. Pull the handle and that side’s seat folds down automatically. That includes flipping the seat bottom forward and folding down the head restraint so it doesn’t foul the back of the front seat while folding forward.

It is pretty cool to watch, and few competitors have much that compares.  But a remote seat release is still just a remote seat release.

From the driver’s seat we are greeted by Honda’s current un-simple dashboard design. It’s a cataclysm of plastic materials, colors and grains, made busier by the large number of assembled pieces and the disjointed cut lines between them. Throw in swoopy, lumpy styling of the busy sort that once evoked derision of Japanese automotive exterior design and it just seems like too much.

You want to tell them to relax. Be yourselves. The problem with the dashboard, like the problem with so many Honda products in general, seems to be a desire to be all things to all people, rather than concentrating on being the absolute best at something and sticking to that.

The exterior is similarly busy and lumpy. The rear end is especially osteoporotic, with the forward hunch of a white-haired old lady. With slick styling on the brand new Ford Escape and Mazda CX-5, and with the designers are Hyundai and Kia turning out new winners at every turn, Honda can’t afford to phone in the styling. I’m reminded of a teacher’s admonition of an unmotivated student: “Is this really your best work?”

A hiccup in the climate control of our pre-production test car saw the air conditioning periodically blast us with cold air for brief intervals on cool days with bright sun.

The company promises this was an artifact of pre-production programming of the climate control system in our prototype that has been fixed in production models.

Honda inexplicably continues to eschew the automatic three-blink turn signal at a time when seemingly every other manufacturer has adopted this feature.

Another area where it looks like Honda is coasting: the CR-V has a five-speed automatic transmission. At a time when six-speeds are the norm because of the emphasis on fuel economy, Honda continues its long-standing tradition of being a gear or two short in the transmission. Even in the good old days, part of Honda’s simplicity was to leave extraneous gears out of the automatic transmission (they had two-speed automatics in the 1970s!). 

Until Honda upgrades to a six-speed, the EPA city gas mileage of 22 mpg is pretty representative of what to expect. In a week of light suburban, mostly highway use, the CR-V returned a shade under 24 mpg. The (admittedly less powerful) Mazda CX-5 with all-wheel drive scores 25 mpg on the EPA’s city driving cycle.

There is plenty good to say about the CR-V. Its four-cylinder engine is smooth and powerful. The electric power steering is well calibrated, with none of the low-speed numbness that plagues most such systems.

The back seat and cargo area are capacious, which is important in a category of vehicle that serves as a minivan for many families with only a couple kids. On the road the CR-V is smooth, comfortable and its all-wheel-drive is confidence inspiring on rain-slicked roads.

In addition to the test car’s navigation screen, all CR-Vs feature another full-color LCD screen that displays information about the entertainment system and trip computer data. Here Honda has one of the first systems that supports Pandora running on smartphones, with full integrated control of the app and the display mirroring that of the phone to keep the driver’s eyes up and forward when giving a “thumbs down” to one of Pandora’s stupider song selections.

That screen also supplements the optional nav display by showing upcoming turn information when navigating a route plotted by the computer.

These attributes contribute to a solidly favorable impression of the CR-V. Consumers who take one home aren't likely to regret it. But in today’s compact crossover segment, they would be selling themselves short to automatically return to their Honda dealer without looking at the latest entries from Ford, Mazda, Hyundai and Kia, among others.

Vital statistics: 2012 Honda CR-V EX-L 4WD Navi

Base price: $25,445 (2011 EX 4WD)

As tested (including $810 shipping): $29,795 

EPA gas mileage: 22 mpg city, 30 mpg highway, 25 mpg combined.

Pros: Quick-folding rear seats, Pandora integration, comfortable ride

Cons: Clunky looks, grunge music-era five-speed trans, no three-blink turn signal

Verdict: The solidly competent CR-V lacks the inspiration that established Honda’s reputation.

Standard equipment: 185-hp, 2.4-liter I-4 engine, five-speed automatic transmission, Real Time All-Wheel-Drive, power moonroof, keyless entry, power windows, door locks, air conditioning, tilt and telescope steering column, Bluetooth hands-free

Major options: leather upholstery, GPS navigation, roof rails, dual-zone climate control, 10-way power adjustable driver’s seat, 328-watt 7-speaker audio

Safety equipment: front, side, curtain airbags, electronic stability control, brake assist, tire pressure monitor, daytime running lights, traction control, anti-lock brakes

0 коммент.:

Post a Comment