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The fourth generation Honda CR-V was developed, according to large project leader Akio Tonomura, to be efficient (“excellent fuel economy and upscale ride feel”), functional (cargo capacity and high versatility), and confident (providing a sense of security and ergonomics).

Looking @ the 2012 Honda CR-V

Introducing the fourth generation of the compact crossover that has perennially been a favorite the world over.

Although the Honda CR-V has been available in the U.S. market since 1997 (the first-gen appeared in Japan in 1995), and even though it is sold in 160 countries and a cumulative 4.9-million of them have been sold, chances are good that you don’t know what, if anything, the three letters signify.

According to Akio Tonomura, the large project leader, or chief engineer, for the fourth-generation, 2012 CR-V, the name had its origin in the design brief for the original vehicle. They were to create a “Comfortable Runabout Vehicle.”

And it seems as though they were fairly pleased with that concept, because for the 2001 second-generation vehicle, the concept was, Tonomura said, “More CR-V.” And in 2006, for the third, it was “Next CR-V.” That vehicle, he said, was “highly acclaimed around the world.”

The vehicle has done unquestionably well in the U.S. market, even under some questionable economic condi-tions. According to Autodata (motor, in 2010 203,714 CR-Vs were sold. That was followed by the Ford Escape at 191,026, Toyota RAV4 with 170,877, and the Chevrolet Equinox at 149,979. In 2011, CR-V sales remained strong, with a dicing back and forth between it and the Ford Escape. According to John Mendel, executive vice president, American Honda, the CR-V was the best selling vehicle in its category from 2007 to 2010, and in the 2011 J.D. Power and Associates Initial Quality Study, the CR-V came in second in the “Compact Crossover/SUV” category,” behind the Honda Element.

Which is to say that the CR-V is a solid performer in its category, so Tonomura and his team had a considerable challenge on their hands in working to develop the vehicle that would replace the solidly successful forerunner.

“We traveled the world,” he said, trying to capture the voice of the customer. One of the things that they found was that there was a considerable change in mood and expectations since the third generation vehicle came out. Not only was there the 2008 economic slump that lingers on, but there was, he said, a number of people who had become more environmentally aware and trying to reduce their energy use and CO2 emissions. “Their lifestyles had become restrained . . . They’d feel guilty if they were not acting responsibly . . . But they still want things,” he said.

So they worked to develop a vehicle that is, in his words, “efficient, functional, and confident.”

The theme for the fourth-generation CR-V: “Super CR-V.”

In effect and execution, the vehicle is one that is predicated on improving what preceded it, addressing the needs and interests of the customer base, not necessarily the critic base. For example, the vehicle is equipped with a 2.4-liter, 185-hp four cylinder engine and a five-speed automatic transmission. When asked why Honda is not offering a six-cylinder engine in the vehicle, James Jenkins, the 2012 CR-V product planner answers, simply, “The customers never asked for more power. They want better fuel economy.” So they increased fuel economy by 4.8% in the city and 11.1% on the highway by making improvements to the chassis, aerodynamics, mass, and powertrain. (Yet they also boosted the horsepower to 185 from 180.) What about a hybrid?, Jenkins was asked. “The customer is price conscious and likes the price. Adding a hybrid would add to the price point.” The CR-V has a five-speed automatic transmission. The 2013 Ford Escape will be equipped with a six-speed. “Our customers don’t count gears,” Jenkins pointed out.

One could argue that customer—after factoring things like mpgs, quality, reliability, durability, and resale value—is probably more interested in cargo capacity and the availability of Internet radio (Pandora).

CR-V Front

The exterior design of the 2012 Honda CR-V is modified from the previous-generation crossover largely through: (1) deeper sculpting of the body sides and (2) a new front fascia, which features a three-bar grille and multi-reflector halogen headlights that are more deeply set into the body. The car is lowered by 1 in. on 4WD models and 1.4 in. on 2WD models (65.1 and 64.7 in., respectively). As the overall width remains the same at 71.6 in., there is a more planted character because of the height reduction. (Although the vehicle is lower, the interior volume for passengers is not reduced. In fact, the passenger volume is 101.5-ft3, which is up from the previous generation’s 100.9-ft3. The moonroof opening mechanism was even redesigned to reduce the size of the package for headroom considerations. However, there is some room reduced: when the 60/40 second row seat back is folded down: in the last generation it was 72.9-ft3, and it is now 70.9-ft3, although the cargo room behind the second row (i.e., with the seat back up) is increased to 37.2-ft3 from 35.7-ft3.)

CR-V Back

Around back, the resemblance to the previous generations remains thanks, in large part, to the taillamps that extend vertically up the D-pillars (the vertical taillamps have been on the vehicle from the start). The base of the lamps form around the body side. There is a rear spoiler above the backlight that contains an LED array for the CHMSL. The design of the tops of the taillamps coordinates with the spoiler for aero effects. (Other aero enhancements include the use of under covers beneath the engine, behind the front subframe, and under the passenger compartment and cargo area. Because of different ways of measuring the coefficient of drag, Honda doesn’t reveal its Cd numbers. Chief engineer Tonomura did say, however, that compared to the last-generation model, it is improved by 8%.) Also in the back is a wide-view rearview camera; it is located just above the license plate on the tailgate. On navigation-equipped vehicles the camera display—top view, 130° view or 180° view—is shown on the 6.5-in. navi screen; on all other vehicles it is shown in the 5-in. Multi-Information Display (i-MID) located in the center of the instrument panel. (As for visibility forward: the seating position and shape of the hood are such that there is a short forward “invisible length,” or distance between the ground and the point the driver can see it. And while on the subject of visibility, the driver’s side side-view mirror has an additional convex surface on the outer side to add 5.5° of visibility.) Speaking of the tailgate, it is manually operated. There are two gas-charged hydraulic struts to facilitate the opening and closing. There is a 360° gasket around the opening for sealing. As the tailgate opening is the largest opening on the body, structural reinforcements were added to the area. The cargo floor/lift-over height is reduced by 0.8 in. for easy loading. (Similarly, the door sill design has been modified to provide a better step-over angle for ingress and egress.)

CR-V Engine

The CR-V is powered by a 185-hp, dual overhead cam 2.4-liter in-line four cylinder engine It produces 163 lb-ft of torque at 4,400 rpm. Even though there are horsepower (5) and torque (2) increases compared with the previous generation, there is improved fuel efficiency for both FWD (23/31 mpg, up 2 city and 3 highway) and AWD models (22/30 mpg, up 1 city and 1 highway). The engine features a two-piece die-cast aluminum block and bearing cap. The engine upper has cast-in iron cylinder liners and there is two-stage honing performed to provide an ultra-smooth cylinder surface; the lower has a cast crankshaft carrier with ferrous-carbon bearing-cap inserts. The aluminum pistons have a low-friction coating applied in a dot pattern. The forged-steel crankshaft journals are micropolished to reduce friction. The engine uses i-VTEC to adjust both the camshaft phase and the valve lift, timing, and duration for fuel economy improvements and emissions reductions (the engine meets CARB Ultra Low Emission Vehicle-2 standards and Federal Tier 2-Bin 5). There is an electronic drive-by-wire system that uses a DC motor to control the throttle butterfly position predicated on factors including the pedal position, throttle position, vehicle speed, engine speed, and engine vacuum. This system also facilitates the shifting of the five-speed automatic (i.e., coordinating the shift points with the throttle opening).

CR-V Chassis

There is MacPherson strut suspension in the front and a multi-link suspension in the rear. There is a 20-mm diameter tubular stabilizer bar in the front and a 19-mm diameter solid stabilizer bar in the rear. The polypropylene 15.3-gallon fuel tank is located forward of the rear suspension. Steering is via a “Motion-Adaptive Electric Power Steering System.” What this means is that (1) there is a rack-and-pinion steering gear with an electric motor wrapped around the steering rack and (2) the steering system works with inputs from the Vehicle Stability Assist system. So this means, for example, that in the event of braking hard on a slippery surface, there will be corrections to driver steering inputs to keep the vehicle going where intended, correcting oversteer and understeer as needed. The electric steering system also contributes to fuel efficiency, as it doesn’t require a hydraulic pump and draws power from the engine on an as-needed basis. There are disc brakes on all four wheels; a four-channel ABS system is used. The vehicle features a new all-wheel-drive system that transfers torque only when needed (e.g., when cruising at highway speeds, there is no need). The Real Time AWD with the Intelligent Control System consists of the conventional front-wheel-drive system, a compact transfer case that distributes torque to a propeller shaft running the length of the vehicle, the rear differential, an electronically controlled hydraulic pump, a multi-plate clutch (similar to one in an automatic transmission), and left and right rear-wheel driveshafts. When the controller determines that torque needs to be sent to the rear wheels it activates the electric motor that drives the pump, which operates the clutch. Because this system works in concert with the Vehicle Stability Assist system and the electric power steering, it has access to additional inputs so the system is able to be actuated before wheel slip, as in using a G-sensor to determine that the vehicle is going up a hill and consequently adding torque to the rear for smoother performance.