By Chris Chase
Concept vehicles are the ones normally seen at auto shows, often-radical styling exercises that suggest what’s in store for a carmaker’s future models. Honda’s concepts of late, though, have been more down-to-earth vehicles providing a very accurate preview of a coming-soon production model. Proof can be seen in the concept for the two-seat CR-Z hybrid (seen at the 2007 Tokyo auto show), and more recently, in the Civic concept (essentially a production model with blacked-out windows) that made the auto show rounds earlier this year.
Honda’s latest preview is of the 2012 CR-V Concept, unveiled July 25th. The CR-V is Honda’s entry in the compact crossover/SUV category, an important one in North America and one in which Honda has been a very important player since the first CR-V was introduced way back in 1997. This so-called concept is another thinly-veiled production model, the giveaway being Honda’s pronouncement that the 2012 CR-V will go on sale in Canada (and presumably in the U.S., too) early next year – far too soon to allow time for significant design changes.
The styling isn’t a total departure, but Honda’s being less cautious than with the 2012 Civic that just went on sale. Honda has more latitude here than it did with the Civic: the CR-V is important, but the Civic is practically the poster child for small cars in Canada. The concept’s front-end treatment is a kinder, gentler version of that found on the ungainly, unloved Accord Crosstour. The rear, from what’s visible of it in the single front three-quarter image Honda provided, retains the current model’s basic look, with bumper-to-roof taillights, but otherwise looks like a cross between the Volvo XC60 and Kia Sportage, neither of which are bad designs to crib style ideas from.
Based on the company’s press release, it seems Honda will stick with its strategy of offering a single four-cylinder engine in the CR-V, despite most of its competitors’ offering six-cylinder or turbocharged four-cylinder powertrains in uplevel models. Honda doesn’t say anything about performance upgrades compared to the current CR-V, but does boast of “top-of-class” fuel economy. Sounds impressive, but don’t expect miracles; a ten per cent improvement over the current front-drive model’s figures of 9.8/7.1 L/100 (city/highway) would be a generous estimate. The current CR-V is offered with just one transmission, a five-speed automatic. My guess is Honda will stick with it for 2012; the Sportage and Tucson already come with six-speed automatics, and the Toyota RAV4 still uses a four-speed with its four-cylinder engine.
Inside, Honda promises a “more accommodating and spacious design” and a lower cargo floor. The latter is the more interesting statement, as the CR-V is already one of the better vehicles in its class, along with the Toyota RAV4, for ease of cargo loading.
Honda’s on an unfortunate streak lately with many of its brand-new models being duds in the marketplace. It has had better luck redesigning existing successful vehicles, though, and the redesigned CR-V should do just fine. A lower price would help, and I do think Honda will cut the CR-V’s price for 2011, in order to keep competitive with Korea’s Kia Sportage and Hyundai Tucson – popular, well-designed vehicles that undercut the Honda by a significant amount. The 2011 CR-V’s MSRPs start at $26,290 for the base LX FWD model, and top out at $35,390 for the EX-L with navigation.
Notably, Honda will offer the CR-V in a Canada-exclusive Touring trim, and the 2012 model will be the first CR-V to be built at the company’s Alliston, Ontario manufacturing plant.