2012 Honda CR-V

SAN DIEGO — If you liked the previous Honda CR-V crossover you will surely be pleased with the all-new 2012 model. You probably won't detect much difference in performance or appearance — the powertrain is a carryover and the styling evokes the same theme as the third generation — but the 2012 Honda is decidedly more sophisticated with numerous technology upgrades, more standard equipment, a quieter interior and a smoother ride.

Since the third generation introduction in 2007, the CR-V has been the top selling sport utility in the country, so a radical remake was not in the cards. In remains to be seen if the CR-V formula will be enough to maintain its lofty position against an onslaught of new crossovers including the 2013 Ford Escape and the 2013 Mazda CX-5.

What will sell the Honda is its pleasant nature, its pleasing drivability whether around town or on the freeway, a comfortable and stylish passenger compartment, and its friendly controls and gauges.

The new CR-V looks every bit as big as its predecessor, but in fact it's about an inch shorter. Nothing is lost in passenger room, however, which is very adequate for the compact segment, and cargo space is up to current standards with 37 cubic feet of luggage capacity behind the seats and a generous 71 cubic feet with the rear seat folded.

Honda has done extremely well without a V-6 option, and it will continue to offer just one engine, the familiar 2.4-liter 4-cylinder. Honda has upped the horsepower by five to 185 and increased gas mileage between one to four miles per gallon depending on front wheel or all-wheel drive. If not class leading, it will be very competitive at 23/31 in front-wheel format.

But we came away after about 150 miles of mountain driving and highway cruising feeling that we were behind the wheel of a third generation model instead of a new generation vehicle. Much of this perception had to do with the carryover five-speed automatic. We kept thinking that an upgrade to a six-speed transmission, which has become the standard of the industry in virtually every segment, would have given the CR-V better performance in certain situations and surely would have added a mile or two in fuel economy.

On the plus side, the all-wheel drive system has been improved. Honda engineers said the new system does not have to wait for the front wheels to lose traction before torque is shifted to the rear. This should aid in winter driving conditions.

A highlight of 2012 CR-V is the interior, which has been significantly upgraded with new, high-quality looking materials, and with pleasing fit and finish. Controls are very intuitive and gauges proved easy to read.

Honda gets kudos for including a high level of equipment on the new CR-V including a backup camera, USB audio connection, Bluetooth streaming audio, steering wheel audio controls, sound system with CD player and Pandora interface, and automatic headlights and keyless entry. One neat feature — one-latch easy folding seats.

The new CR-V is a very pleasing small crossover that if history is the judge will be very reliable and will carry a solid resale value. But we wonder if Honda has done enough to stay ahead of new products from its competitors.

The CR-V will start at around $21,000 and go on sale in mid-December.

— Jim Meachen