Quick, name the best selling SUV over the past five years. I asked five of my very tolerant co-workers and came up with three votes for Ford Explorer, and one vote each for Suburban and Range Rover (even after I explained it was most popular, not most expensive).

Since you re here to read about the new 2012 Honda CR-V you have a pretty strong clue. Honda s cute-ute has been numero uno for four out of the last five years and if an earthquake and tsunami hadn t decimated Honda s production, they d probably be batting 1000.

The 2012 model sports crisp new clothes, drinks 10 percent less, and keeps its great reputation (you know, the qualities women wish upon their men). CR-V is aimed like a laser site at the more responsible gender, women love the size and utility of this vehicle. Owners told Honda not to mess with the size. Done. The new one is actually an inch shorter and lower.

A Little History

The next time you re playing Trivial Pursuit, Auto Edition, remember that Honda named the CR-V after what they set out to build, a Comfortable Runabout Vehicle. It also stands for California Redemption Value, the refundable fee paid when buying cans of Coke but that s a whole different story.

CR-V was introduced in Japan in 1995 and apparently Honda initially believed it was a low volume model but it blossomed despite a modest marketing campaign. When they saw Toyota doing well with the small RAV4 in the US, they shipped CR-V stateside in 1997, complete with a cargo floor that turned into a small picnic table.

Prices (with destination) start at $23,105 for an LX model with front-drive. The mid-level EX AWD model Honda has dropped off for me retails for $26,455.

Moderate Power To The People

Unlike competitors Escape, Forester, Tucson and Sportage, CR-V has only one engine- a revised 2.4-liter four-cylinder making 185 horsepower and 163 lb-ft. of torque @ 4400 rpm. That s up five ponies and two lb-ft. The five-speed automatic- again, the only choice- is also tweaked, but still does not have a manual mode.

The optional Real Time 4WD system is new. It s electronically controlled now, the outgoing system was a mechanically-activated and needed a bit of wheel slip from the front tires to activate the rear. The new lighter system anticipates slippery conditions for better traction and control.

RT 4WD is completely automatic and transparent in operation. It s designed to maximize traction on sloppy and snowy roads, not rugged off-roading (but you knew this). Really, it s all most people ever need. Those planning to tow stuff should know it s limited to 1,500 pounds.

Hill Start Assist keeps CR-V from rolling backwards on a hill when you move your foot off the brake to the accelerator pedal. Handy in Seattle.

On The Road

CR-V feels spunky enough in city driving. It has average acceleration with a 0-60 time of just over nine seconds. Push the green Econ button to save gas and things get a bit sluggish, especially on hills since it backs off on the throttle response and remaps transmission shift points. EPA rated fuel economy is excellent in class, 22 mpg city, 30 highway.

To visualize efficient driving, light bars that look like parentheses surrounding the speedometer turn green when you re driving efficiently and white when you re late picking up the kids from daycare.

At higher speeds there s less road noise now- thank you Honda- just don t expect Buick-like serenity. In city driving CR-V is pretty agile with a suspension that s a good blend of comfort and sport. Not loads of road feel but for a small ute it s fun to fling about. Disk brakes at all four corners stop securely. U-turns are a breeze.

Department of the Interior

The cabin is a tasteful and conservative place to spend miles and time. There are more cubby holes than seats so there s plenty of places to loose your sunglasses. The covered center console is big enough to swallow a small purse. Instrument panel plastics may be hard but everything looks good. Folding armrests on the nicely bolstered front chairs keep people comfy though my wife finds the lumbar positioning on Honda s seats annoying. It s why there are test drives.

iPod and Bluetooth phone integration is standard on all CR-Vs, so is a back up cam with three different views.

Honda calls the screen i-MID and like a busy parent it handles a lot of chores. It houses a trip computer and you can load a picture for personalized wallpaper. Connect an iPhone with a Pandora app and there s streaming music complete with album art. Hook up a Blackberry or selected Android phones and it will read incoming text messages. No, you can t get Pandora through Android and no, texts won t be read by iPhones.

Other i-MID pages allow tailoring of the cars features such as lighting and how the car locks and unlocks. Generally i-MID is easy to operate- listen up luxury car manufacturers- though in my keep it didn t like displaying FM radio info such as song and artist. Also, the screen s ethereal blue glow reflects onto the dashboard, which then reflects onto the upper windshield. It often looks like the aurora borealis up near the rear view mirror.

Other gripes? The six-speaker audio system is average and if you want XM you have to move to the EX-L model with its improved sound system (note- the base system gets only four speakers). The sunroof is small when compared to the panoramic glass roof of Tucson and Sportage. Keyless ignition? Not available. On the other hand, a DVD entertainment system, heated leather seats, automatic dual-zone climate control, and sat nav are on the option list.

Easy Loading

CR-V is aimed squarely at women with young families and to help load child seats and squirming kids into the back seat, the rear doors open very wide, nearly 90 degrees. The cushion itself is a bit flat but there s a good amount of space, leg and foot room won t be a problem for adults. Two seat pockets, a folding armrest with cupholders, and door storage help keep things organized. The floor is nice and flat. The only shortcoming is the lack of a power port for phone charging.

One feature I really liked on the outgoing CR-V was a vertically moveable shelf that spanned the width of the cargo area. Unfortunately that s gone, Honda says owners just weren t that into it. Under the cargo floor is a spare tire, useful on forest service roads, where AAA might not find you. Bag hooks and a storage nook are nice too.

The best trick comes from the rear seats that drop flat with one tug of a lever in the trunk (or a strap on the lower seat cushion). I suggest watching the video, it s an interesting ballet. This feature makes CR-V very useful, more than you might imagine.

As far as cargo room, the previous generation CR-V swallowed a lofty 12 bundles. Eyeballing it I was skeptical the new one could match that but somehow, generation four continues the legacy of a dozen packs.

Real world use finds the space extremely useful. I picked up my son and his friend, stranded miles from home with a flat bicycle tire in a rainstorm. By flopping down the larger side of the 60/40 seats, both boys and their bikes were comfortably on their way home to a mug of hot chocolate. Yes, I had to remove the front bike tires.


Let s touch on design for a moment. I haven t been a fan of Honda s direction lately but CR-V gives me hope. The overbite is gone from the grille, the tailgate is less busy and the D-pillar with integrated tail lamps has a stronger sense of purpose. Nice to see balanced purposeful lines from Honda again. A couple of my neighbors mistook it for a Volvo, which tells me Honda is improving and the Swede has finally shed its box-on-wheels image.

Competition has never been tougher in the compact sport ute market and a new Ford Escape, Mazda CX-5 and Toyota RAV4 are on the horizon. There s also the fact that CR-V is not the least expensive in class. But it has a great reputation, terrific utility and that new sense of style to win shoppers over. It won t be much of a surprise to find this comfortable runabout vehicle on the most popular list again.

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