Honda CR-V Hybrid: The Little Electrified Crossover That Could
While many internet commenters are screaming "More Power" from fast models they don't actually buy, Honda is still selling loads of its compact crossover to normal people.
Practical crossovers are a smart buy for plenty of drivers, and Honda's CR-V has quietly been America's best-selling crossover over the past 23 years. Without having to throw in a bunch of incentives to move them from dealer lots, Honda's little crossover offers a stack of good features, high fuel economy from its hybrid platform, and has plenty of versatility at a reasonable price. If you can't have the Civic Type-R I reviewed a couple months ago becuase you have to spend under $40,000 in a more practical manner, the CR-V is a good consolation.
For 2020 Honda bumps up the CR-V Hybrid's EV-only range, includes the Honda Sensing suite of safety features, and adds its Real-Time all-wheel-drive to the mix. During a week of testing, I gave the CR-V Hybrid a real-world examination, taking it all over town, running some errands, and playing on a few fun roads.
The Key Stats
Honda's CR-V hybrid gets a naturally-aspirated 2.0-liter iVTEC powerplant that offers 143 horsepower and 129 lb-ft of torque, rather than the 1.5-liter turbo that pumps out a heartier 190 horsepower and 179 lb-ft of torque supplied to the conventionally-powered models. I wish Honda stuffed the more punchy turbo engine in the CR-V hybrid, as the additional power would be welcomed by my right foot.
Paired with Honda's Drive Force Transfer system, there's no conventional mechanical transmission, torque converter, nor CVT in the CR-V Hybrid. Instead the CR-V hybrid directs power from the electric drive motor or gasoline engine to the wheels via four fixed-ratio gear sets and a lock-up clutch. Honda claims this system optimizes performance and improves fuel economy while better balancing power transfer between the gas engine and electric motors.
With EPA fuel economy estimates of 40/35/38 (city/highway/combined) in the hybrid versus 27/32/29 in the non-hybrid, the CR-V offers more tame fuel sipping while only having to spend about $1,000 more. With the added battery packs and trick drivetrain on-board, the CR-V hybrid weighs in at 3,763 pounds compared to the conventional engine-packing CR-V's 3,569 pound curb weight. In Touring trim, my Radiant Red CR-V Hybrid rang up an MSRP of $37,170 including the destination charge.
Good Errand Running Capabilities
With just enough ground clearance and a taller cabin, getting in and out of the CR-V is easy for adults or kids of any size. Once you're seated, you'll see a practical interior that's immediately easy to use. Honda's cockpits might get a few gripes for not being as cool as some of its competition, but intuitive layouts have been a big part of the company for ages. Seats are comfortable with good support, and in the Touring trim you'll enjoy soft leather and heated front seats, with the driver seat getting 12-way power adjustments and two memory settings.
Honda takes a clean approach to the CR-V's exterior. Lines are sharp, and don't have any rough edges or mismatched angles. It's still a pretty basic crossover, so don't expect to catch any second looks at a stoplight, but the overall package is tidy. New headlights, fog lights, and daytime running lights contain LEDs, look cool, and provide a ton of visibility. As a compact crossover, the CR-V's space is plentiful, with a big rear storage area, but because the battery packs have to be stashed away, you compromise an extra cargo area that pops up under the rear tray while losing the spare tire.
The CR-V hybrid's 2.0-liter four banger is a bit slow, considering there's an extra bump of electrified torque, and I'm curious how much better the performance would be with the 1.5-liter turbo instead. If you're running around town, a push of a button next to the transmission selection buttons--that you'll quickly adjust to--will engage the CR-V's EV mode to quietly buzz from shop to shop at reasonable speeds, so long as you don't plant your right foot to the floor. I like that the EV mode stays engaged up to highways speeds too, as opposed to another Japanese OEM's system I recently drove. Steering gets a subtle electric assist, and keeps inputs light and easy while not feeling too artificial. Ride quality is smooth and responsive enough, and Honda nailed the damping for the little crossover. In any condition, the suspension rides along perfectly, and the all-season Continental tires wrapped around stylish 19-inch wheels provide decent grip and confidence.
Behind the scenes, the powertrain is doing some complicated work to keep your driving engagement seamless whether you're in hybrid or EV conditions. Honda's Drive Force Transfer is a remarkably different hybrid setup that seamlessly improves your driving experience. During normal cruising speeds--at times when the conventional engine is more efficient--the drive motor and engine are connected with a lockup clutch to vary degrees of drive to the wheels in perfect harmony. If you're buzzing around in EV mode at lower speeds--when the battery power is dispatched--the clutch is disconnected from the gas engine to reduce mechanical friction, which normally steals efficiency from other hybrid models.
The hidden picnic table is no more. I always liked that feature in older CR-V models.
Stacked With Practical Features
Honda gives the CR-V lots of smart features to make life easier when you're trying to drive along. As plenty of OEMs are loading up cars with tech for the sake of tech to pad margins while bumping up sticker prices, Honda keeps the CR-V simple and reasonable. A neat mirror pops out from the sunglass holder pocket above the rear view mirror so you can keep an eye on the kids while they're throwing toys and food everywhere between sessions of pulling each other's hair in the back seat.
Busy parents will appreciate the ease of keeping the key in their pocket or purse while knowing the CR-V smart entry system locks the doors when they walk away and unlocks when they walk up. When your hands are full, the CR-V's hands-free tailgate will open with a quick swipe of your foot under the rear bumper. Folding the rear seats is handled from the rear storage area with an easy to use handle rather than an electric mechanism, but hey, that saves money.
Four USB ports are provided, with two each front and rear, and Qi wireless charging is given a dedicated pad up front and out of the way of the cupholders and center console. More manufacturers need to take note, as plugging in devices while using storage spots and cupholders is a common practice. Honda's infotainment and navigation system is a little bland, with a look that's somewhat dated, but it's intuitive and includes Bluetooth connectivity, decent audio quality, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are included as standard.
Honda Sensing gives the CR-V a suite of safety features including adaptive cruise control, collision mitigation braking, lane keeping assist, and road departure mitigation as a standard package, rather than some companies that make better safety packages an additional cost option. With an overall five-star score from NHTSA, the CR-V upholds Honda's safety reputation.
Not Exciting, But It Gets The Job Done.
If you're making the move to a reliable and flexible crossover, be satisfied that Honda gives you a solid car in the CR-V. It's better to drive than most in class, when other manufacturers are giving drivers a really boring driving experience, and the price is spot-on.
With added fuel economy and popularity in offering a hybrid model, Honda provides a versatile EV mode coupled with the practical hybrid package. If you truly want a hybrid in your driveway, you're only paying a little more over the conventionally-powered model, but I think the extra horsepower and torque in the turbocharged non-hybrid is good for those who are transitioning from a car that's a bit more fun. Either way, you don't be disappointed with the CR-V.