Changes to the 2012 CR-V from the 2011 are evolutionary rather than revolutionary. All essential styling cues remain the same, with marginal adjustments to dimensions more than anything else.
Front view is a little sleeker, rounder, with a more rakish shape to the headlights. The grille still sports three horizontal bars but wider spaced. The lower valance follows the same general outline, but it's more pronounced. Fog lights are pretty much the same place as on the 2011. The hood sculpting reverses from convex to concave. Fender blisters are bolder, giving the new CR-V a stronger stance.
Side silhouette is almost identical, for the most part, save for a one inch lower roofline and a one inch shorter overall length. Sculpting across door lowers is less linear, more recessed with a slight coke bottle-ness. Wheel arches are fuller and more sharply defined. The rearmost side window pinches down to a tapered trailing edge, accenting the rear taillight and backup cluster that now wraps around into the rear quarter, breaking up somewhat the added sheetmetal in the C-pillar (the vertical body panel between the roof and lower body behind the rearmost side window). Full round door handles over oval recesses easily accommodate gloved hands.
The rearview of the 2012 CR-V looks complete, like the stylists knew where they wanted to go when they started and finished the job. The 2011, in contrast, showed a generic backend for smaller SUVs, with a piece of glass sandwiched between the trademark CR-V vertical taillights and perched on top of an uninspired, conventionally stamped sheet of metal bracketed by basic backup lights and reflector elements. Drooping suspension and spindly drive mechanicals visible to following drivers may well have been sufficiently robust, but were somewhat short of reassuring visually. The 2012 CR-V leaves all that behind, if you will. Proportions are right, with the backlight (rear window) fully integrated into the liftgate's lower half. A thin strip of brightwork tops the license plate recess that itself snugs into the upper half of a scalloped recess spanning the liftgate from one fender to the other. The vertical taillights each look to be a single piece and are inclusive of the backup and running lights. Tires properly positioned relative to the rear fenders match the front end's solid stance. The matte-finished lower valance masks all but the beefiest of the rear suspension underpinnings.
At first blush, the 2012 CR-V interior comes across as an elegant upgrade from the 2011's. Some buyers might be disappointed, however, when they get in touch with some of the materials Honda has used in apparent cost-cutting efforts.
Seats are comfortable, with adequate if not remarkable thigh support. The leather is a little short of luxurious but no less so than what trims seats in competitively priced comparatives SUVs. Door armrests are padded. Door-mounted map pockets are molded to hold a beverage can or water bottle, but aren't especially deep, so no cups, please, unless topped with sipper caps.
That one inch lower roofline, though, as helpful as it might be for slipping through the air, also means occupants lose an inch of headroom from the 2011 model and fall behind the primary competitors, the Toyota RAV4, the Hyundai Tucson, the Ford Escape and the Chevrolet Equinox, by at least that much. Occupants hold their own in legroom, however, except for the Equinox, which gives occupants around an inch more than the new CR-V.
The center console now extends forward all the way under the pod holding the shift lever, adding usable storage space in the form of a longer and deeper, covered storage bin, one large enough, the Honda folk promise, to conceal a good sized handbag. Small trays are tucked into each side of the lower part of that extended console. The lower portion of the dash curves outward from the more subdued shift lever pod in graceful arcs toward the doors, which themselves repeat the arc cues.
The screen that serves either as the control panel for the audio or the nav system display parks front and center in the upper dash directly below a deeply recessed, smaller screen that handles the duties of the onboard computer and the rearview camera on the EX-L with the nav system. Not only is there a rearview camera, but it's a multi-angle unit that lets the driver choose between a top view and either a 130-degree or a 180-degree view. All views have superimposed guidelines to aid the driver when backing up, although they are fixed and don't bend to indicate track at the current steering wheel angle as they do on some systems.
On each side of the large circular speedometer that dominates the instrument cluster is a thin light strip that glows green to signal when the engine is optimizing fuel economy. It's attractive, looking like a giant parentheses around the speedometer. Mostly intuitive knobs, buttons and rocker switches on the dash and steering wheel manage audio and climate control functions. The automatic climate control system on the EX-L works well. Pressing a Sync button resets the two-zone system to one temperature, which is useful, but the indicator light showing this minor issue has been fixed is so bright as to be distracting, the sort of thing we'd expect to see in a cheap compact car.
As new and fresh as the dash looks, it also hints at Honda's efforts to shave costs on the 2012 CR-V. Nearly all surfaces are hard plastic. The surfaces are visually pleasing, with upscale-looking graining and metallic-like finishes, but the feel is, shall we say, maybe not cheap but clearly low cost.
On the other hand, Honda spared little when it came to engineering the rear spaces. The cargo area, which by the way holds more foot-square boxes than all the competitors but the RAV4, sports four tie-downs and a very thoughtful, molded-in bracket down near the floor at the rear for storing the EX's and EX-L's retractable cargo cover when it's not in use. Honda also managed to give the rear seats true, one-step fold-down systems, activated by pulling either a lever on the sides of the cargo area or a strap on the outboard side of the rear seat bottoms. However, the bad news is that when the rear seats are folded the cargo area is no longer perfectly flat as it was on the previous-generation model. This may make the CR-V less attractive to dog owners. The previous-generation CR-V led the class on this feature, but the new-generation model does not appear to do so. Last but far from least, the backs of the rear seats are beveled on the outboard edges so the shoulder straps on the seatbelts naturally slip around the seatbacks when they're raised from their folded positions. This is such a simple yet elegant solution to this perennial gripe about folding rear seats that it's amazing it hasn't been thought of before now. Kudos to Honda's engineers for making life just a little easier.