Compact SUV title fight to take intriguing turn
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A major auto show like last week's clam bake at Los Angeles will always bring out the crowd-pulling attractions, like fantastical concepts, rocket-launcher sport machines, and uber-luxury land yachts.
But we're not going to discuss any of them. Well, at least not today.
Because one of the most compelling story lines to emerge from the show concerns two nameplates with more working class roots - Ford Escape and Honda CR-V.
Both Escape and CR-V debuted in their next-generation finery at Los Angeles, and both are huge sellers, which sets up a doozy battle for segment supremacy in 2012.
Escape is actually the top selling SUV in North America and has dominated the Canadian compact crossover sales segment for years, with its combination of keen pricing, roomy confines, and rugged, good looks.
Honda CR-V is a perennial top-three contender, currently just behind Hyundai Santa Fe (YTD), and has always impressed with a refined and efficient engine, easy handling, reliability, and not-going-to-bug-anybody looks.
When the new versions get to battle, it will be more about style and technology.
The Escape's new style eschews its previous, traditional SUV profile, for one that's sleeker and more like others in its segment.
The shape is about 10 per cent more aerodynamic.
And here's a partial list of some of its new technologies: a tailgate that can open with a "kicking motion" from your foot; a 4WD system that can slow the vehicle when cornering too fast; your choice of two direct-injection, turbocharged powerplants (2.0-litre and 1.6-litre EcoBoosts), and an updated version of the current 2.5-litre; and second-generation MyFord Touch.
The 2012 Honda CR-V will move away from the "quasi minivan" look, and gets a more muscled and sporty vibe. Its new AWD system is more able to precisely figure out traction requirements and how to mix the torque between the four wheels. The sole powertrain is the highly-evolved Honda 2.4-litre i-VTEC "four" and a 5-speed automatic tranny.
Interesting new CR-V developments include: Eco Assist, which teaches you to drive "greener"; ECON Mode, which alters the powertrain in a more green way; standard Bluetooth hands-free interface; rearview camera with top view; satellite-linked navigation system with bilingual voice recognition; and a SMS text messaging function, which can read texts over the audio system, and allow drivers to respond with one of six pre-set text messages.
New CR-V production starts early in 2012 at Honda's plant in Alliston, Ont.
The 2013 Escape will arrive a bit later, in the spring.
By the end of the 2012 we'll definitely see who made the most of their new interpretations.