Agreed. I'm much much happier with how things work now, even the lesser importance of population.
The wheel WAS a very clever method of managing sliders (which many games have sliders), but ultimately your empire shouldn't be able to produce industry out of labs, or research out of farms... regardless of how much you "coerce" them.
Furthermore, it put undue power unto population... ultimately I just didn't find that realistic... in the past population directly related to more power, industry, and military might, but with automation at our current level, let alone the future level, this relationship has broken down significantly, and more people does not equate to more industry or military capacity. At least not directly, and infrastructure takes on a more important role.
So yeah, I find Crusade to be a vast improvement.