Exterior styling, thus, is vanilla — plain, but elegantly simple and functional. The lower chin of the CR-V’s front end curves upward, allowing the wagon to traverse shallow ditches, potholes, and steeply banked driveways without scrapes or dings — a defense enhanced by an overall vehicle ground clearance of 6.3 inches.
The rear hatch must have been designed by someone who actually spends Saturdays at Tuesday Morning, or other shopping-mall stores. It comes all the way down to the load floor, making it easy to lift the hatch and load cargo. It is so simple and easy, it makes you wonder why all utility vehicles’ hatches aren’t designed that way.
Step inside. Vanilla turns to beige and mocha, at least in the EX-L model driven for this week’s column. It is a comfortable, pleasant space, albeit not the least bit luxurious. You actually twist an ignition key, as opposed to pushing a button, to start the CR-V — which is available with front-wheel drive or what Honda calls “real time all-wheel drive with intelligent control.” We’ll return to that later.
What is important here is that Honda has given us in the new CR-V a passenger cabin that puts the “personal” back in personal transportation. There are so many storage places, so easily accessible. Slipping behind the steering wheel is like putting on a favorite multi-pocketed coat, or slinging a purse or other carryall over your shoulders and going on about your business. You have your stuff. You know where it is. You go.
There is something wonderfully reassuring about that, as if you are driving a vehicle that was expressly designed for you, as if the people who put together the CR-V knew you or, maybe, lived with you for a while.
They must have lived with somebody. How else could they have come up with a front-mounted sunglasses holder affixed with a conversation mirror that allows you, preferably when parked, to look directly at the rear passengers who are talking to you without turning around? The mirror also comes in handy for keeping a quick eye on youthful, misbehaving rear-seat passengers when the CR-V is in motion.
I truly like this one. There is something organic about it — a wagon that becomes an integral part of you each time you drive it. And I don’t mind terribly that it is available only with a 2.4-liter in-line four-cylinder engine (185 horsepower, 163 foot-pounds of torque).
The CR-V (Civic recreational vehicle” or “compact recreational vehicle,” your choice) did well enough up and down the New Jersey Turnpike. It behaved splendidly on the twists and curves of Storm King Mountain near Cornwall, N.Y. And when unseasonably warm winter weather suddenly turned brutally cold and icy, the CR-V’s optional “real time all-wheel-drive” system more than proved its intelligence — instantly, electronically sending power from front to rear wheels whenever and wherever extra traction was needed.
Correction: Some online headlines in last week’s column on the Cadillac SRX wagon referred to an improved V-8. It should have referred to a new 308-horsepower V-6. Also, the 2012 Cadillac has a curb weight of 4,227 pounds. I mistakenly stated its gross weight, curb weight plus passenger and cargo load, of 5,467 pounds.