If one of your New Year's resolutions was to be more honest and you just bought Honda's new 2012 CR-V, you may be up a creek without a spark plug.


You see, you'll want to tell inquisitive friends and neighbors that the SUV you just bought is all-new. And the 2012 CR-V certainly looks like it.

It has a degree of styling and refinement that just didn't exist in the three previous generations. It also rides and handles with confidence born out of recent engineering and development.

Yet tucked away beneath the truly all-new interior and exterior is an engine and transmission that are largely carry-overs from the previous version.

But if you don't tell it's not all-new, I won't. Besides, people will be too busy commenting on the 2012 CR-V's many admirable qualities — and its price tag that starts at $23,105 — to notice your nose growing longer.

Helping to keep your conscience somewhat clear is the fact that the powertrain has at least been updated. A 2.4-liter, four-cylinder engine still powers the CR-V, and it's still paired with a five-speed automatic transmission. But Honda tweaked the engine to produce five more horsepower and two more pound-feet of torque, for totals of 185 and 163, respectively.

Engineers also worked to reduce friction on both the transmission and the engine to make them more efficient. The result is an appreciable bump in fuel economy — 3 miles per gallon better on the highway.

Front-wheel-drive CR-Vs now get 23 mpg in the city and 31 on the highway, while models with the optional full-time all-wheel-drive are rated at 22 mpg and 30 mpg, respectively. During a week of mostly highway miles in an all-wheel drive model, I averaged 25.6 mpg on regular gas.

The CR-V's power is just enough for nearly any kind of daily driving you'll encounter. The engine runs smooth and quiet, and the whole experience of driving a CR-V is now a more enjoyable experience. Road and wind noise are less intrusive, and the CR-V's ride is comfortable yet nicely tuned to still transmit to the driver a tangible feel for the road.

The CR-V's only shortcoming on the road is the gearing of the automatic transmission. To maximize fuel economy, the fifth gear likes to stay put as long as possible before downshifting when cruising the freeway. This necessitates a hearty shove of the gas pedal when you want to pass someone.

Also noteworthy about this Honda's power is that it's not much for towing. Buyers looking to tow more than the CR-V's 1,500-pound limit don't have the option of choosing a larger engine, as buyers of the Ford Escape or Toyota RAV-4 do.

But this was also the case on the previous CR-V, and consumers bought that model by the bushel. It's likely Honda didn't want to mess with success; from 2007-2010, CR-Vs outsold all other SUVs on the U.S. market.

Ford's Escape finally knocked the CR-V off its throne in 2011. Ford was able to do this in part because the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan threw Honda a production curveball from which the company is only now recovering. This hurt sales of many of its vehicles, including the previous CR-V.

Cost probably was another factor for the powertrain carry-over. Without a heavy price tag for research and development on a new engine and transmission to pass to consumers, Honda can throw more content into the CR-V and increase the base price only $400.

The result is the two-wheel-drive LX model that comes standard with tech goodies like a backup camera, Bluetooth, keyless entry, a 160-watt stereo, a feature that reads your text messages to you and a full-color screen at the top of the dashboard for the trip computer and stereo display.

On the EX-L model with navigation, that color screen also displays turn-by-turn directions in concert with the nav system's own screen below it.

The rest of the CR-V's interior is straightforward and adorned only by necessity. Although the dashboard materials are hard plastic, they're textured to belie their economy. The entire cabin's design and layout are more modern and sophisticated than the third-generation CR-V. Interior space is about the same.

Seating in the CR-V is a comfortable affair, if you're up front. But the rear seats and their church-pew flat seat backs left a little to be desired over long rides. At least space isn't an issue; 6-foot-plus passengers are easily able to ride in the back with plenty of legroom and headroom. Plus, the floor is flat so the middle passenger can enjoy a trip without chewing on their kneecaps.

Also nifty is an all-new flip-and-fold feature for the rear seats that's standard on all CR-Vs. When cargo trumps rear passengers, owners can pull a lever in the cargo area or a strap by the rear seat cushion. In a quick motion with all the choreography of a Russian ballet but none of the blisters, the rear seat cushion flips up, the headrests flip down, and the seat back folds to the floor. The result is an almost flat cargo area that swallows just under 71 cubic feet of gear, a small decrease from the previous CR-V.

Just watch your head as you load that cargo area; the rear hatch opens only so high, and anyone above 6 feet tall will need to duck a little to stand under it. I have a dent in my head to prove it.

Like the interior, the exterior gets a thorough redesign. It too is a more complete, mature look versus the previous CR-V. Both the front and rear have a broader, confident finish to them, which does well to imply that the CR-V costs more than it actually does.

In fact, the $30,605 sticker price of the loaded CR-V EX-L all-wheel-drive model I tested is $300 less than the same model cost for 2011. In addition to the aforementioned features, it included heated leather seats, moon roof, Pandora Internet radio and automatic climate control.

Safety features on all CR-Vs includes six air bags, traction control, anti-lock brakes and a tire pressure monitoring system. The 2012 CR-V was named a top safety pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Most are being built in Honda's plant in East Liberty, Ohio, though consumers may see origins of Japan, Mexico and Canada on a few window stickers.

So if the 2012 CR-V is not truly all-new, it's new in the right places to help it claw back that SUV sales crown. It looks, rides and sips gas like a new vehicle, even if the hidden bits are carry-overs.

If you want to tell people it's all new, you have my blessing. After all, there are other resolutions that are easier to keep. Happy new year, Pinocchio.

david.undercoffler@latimes.com