These haven't been the best of times for Honda.
The Japanese tsunami disaster and, more recently, the devastating flooding in Thailand, have hit the company hard, resulting in manufacturing cutbacks and component shortages for products throughout the companies' range. Like many Japanese companies, Honda relies on small, mom and pop type factories for many of its components, and even something as innocuous as a lack of electrical connectors can bring the company to a standstill. This is actually case with one of Honda's suppliers in Thailand, which makes – or made – various electronic bits and pieces and has been virtually wiped out by the flooding there.
As a result, Honda is running at about 50 per cent of its usual capacity for both motor vehicles and motorcycles, and some models simply aren't available because the company hasn't got all the necessary parts to build them. Paraphrasing the Queen, Honda Canada executive vice-president, Jerry Chenkin described 2011 as an "annus horribilis" for his company. We once again have to ask our customers to be patient and we will get the vehicles out to them as soon as possible, he commented at the launch of the new 2012 CR-V in California.
Perhaps that's why the company is playing it safe with the new CR-V. This is one of Honda's most successful models, and they have sold over a quarter million of them in Canada alone, since its introduction, in 1997. There have been some changes for 2012, yes, but this more of a tweaking than a full-on overhaul for the compact SUV.
The most noticeable difference is found in its styling. The front end has been cleaned up, and the rear roof-line, at the taillights, has received a re-make. Strongly reminiscent of some Volvo models, the back end has massive tail-lights, with the window glass being extended rearwards, at the back. The result is a more substantial looking, but not necessarily more attractive, iteration of one of the company's best sellers, with a little more cargo capacity than its predecessor, and slightly smaller overall dimensions. It's a fraction shorter, with a lower roof height.
Speaking of storage, the new CR-V will now have a redesigned rear seat foldaway feature. Just pull on a lever, and everything folds away in the floor for a perfectly flat rear cargo space. No fumbling with various straps or knobs one control does it all. So now, the new CR-V can accommodate longer loads than before. A slick feature and actually kind of overdue.
Offered with front-drive or Honda's "Real Time" all-wheel-drive, the CR-V will be powered as before by a 2.4 litre four cylinder engine that develops 185 horsepower some 5 hp more than the last generation. Honda decided to stick with a four-banger rather than installing a V6 because, according to their research, four cylinder SUVs outsell V6 models by a two to one margin. Reading between the lines here, this could also be attributed to supply problems, and Honda has hinted that a V6 for the CR-V is not out of the question in the future. Nor is a small-displacement diesel, as far as that goes.
The other factor here is fuel economy. Four cylinder engines are just thriftier than V6s, by a considerable margin, and these days, with gas hovering around the buck-fifty a litre mark, that makes all the difference.
As far as pricing goes, Honda will be holding the line, with the new CR-V being priced at between $26,000 and $36,000 depending upon options and extras. So: no price increase for the CR-V for 2012.
The standard equipment list has been taken up a notch, with things like a a rear-view camera, heated seats, steering-located audio controls, air conditioning, hill start assist, a traction control system, and Bluetooth coming with the base LX model. This could be in direct response to Korean manufacturers, who have managed to outsell virtually all their Japanese rivals by offering more car for the buck and giving even their base models all the necessary modcons.
One interesting note here. You can order a goodie known as SMS, which allows you to plug your personal hand device into a USB port, and enter one of six replies to anyone that has texted you on your phone. Since you don't actually text back, per se, this apparently falls within the anti-texting-while-driving laws in B.C, Ontario and elsewhere. Here's a better idea: shut the damn thing off.
As you climb the model range, the CR-V will come with things like leather interior, power sunroof, climate control, XM radio, a navi system, and so on. Honda has also added three new colours to its palette: red, white, and blue.
It's difficult to overstate the importance of the CR-V to Honda. This is one of the models that made the company what it is today in Canada. It's also one of the most reliable vehicles on the road, and has been the benchmark for other manufacturers since the beginning. I can't tell you how many new model introductions I've attended where the CR-V has been named as the one to beat in this category.
Despite the various supply and infrastructure problems, Honda expects to build at least 800 CR-Vs a day in its plant, in Alliston, Ontario, and it was actually supposed to be ready for showrooms right about now.
As it is, it'll be January at the very earliest before it goes on sale in Canada. "We hope the worst is behind us", added Jerry Chenkin.
AT A GLANCE
Engine: 2.4 litre four cylinder
Transmission: Five-speed automatic
Drive: Front-wheel drive & all-wheel-drive
Horsepower: 185 horsepower @ 7000 rpm
Torque: 163 foot-pounds @ 4300 rpm
Price Range: $26,000 � $36,000 (estimated)
Fuel Economy: 9.2 city/ 6.6 hwy. Regular gas
Alternatives: Toyota RAV4, Ford Escape, Volkswagen Tiguan, Nissan Rogue, Mazda Tribute, Chev Equinox, Jeep Patriot, Subaru Forester, Kia Sorento, Hyundai Santa Fe.
Positives: Clever new back-seat arrangement, no price increase, still very driveable, bound to be reliable.
Negatives: Uglier than before, supply problems.