The all-new 2023 Honda CR-V redefines the segment once again, and this time, it includes styling as one of its key attributes. Add in the hybrid powertrain, and the CR-V raises the performance bar even higher.
The styling of the CR-V has been thoroughly reworked starting with the silhouette. The A-pillar sits far more rearward to extend the length of the hood and create a more traditionally proportionate and balanced shape. Its curves along the sides are mostly horizontal, delivering a premium stance, and naturally flow into the front and rear ends.
The angular face, with its quad LED headlights, shows off the newness of the CR-V and offers a contrast to the restrained and horizontal body sides. The tail lights retain the familiar vertical bar and are equipped with angular crisp LED lights that contribute visually to its physically wider stance. The dual chrome exhaust outlets are a nice touch – although once forbidden on a Honda hybrid – and help to instill a bit more sportiness. In fact, the only way to get a CR-V Hybrid (the one to get!) is to have one with the word Sport slapped on the tailgate.
Marketing tactics aside, the CR-V Hybrid is indeed more spirited than the standard turbocharged CR-V, although Honda doesn’t offer a plug-in hybrid version to complete with the impressive straight-line speed of the RAV4 Prime – the hot rod of this segment. Around town and on the highway, the Honda hybrid delivers enough oomph (especially at low speed) for worry-free highway merging and it does so without any droning engine noise – thanks to its novel transmission.
It may be easiest to see the powertrain as being comprised of an engine that serves as a power generator and the go-pedal serves to simply control the amount of electrical juice flowing to the traction motor. Among the advantages of this arrangement is that the CR-V Hybrid can deliver truly steady acceleration yet still be able to adjust the engine RPM for quick “shifts” to avoid engine droning and deliver a sound that is actually appealing. No other (non-Honda) vehicle can make that claim. And as icing on the cake, the transmission can lock in step with the engine for an extremely efficient transfer of power at highway speeds. Its overall EPA-estimated 37 MPG was easy to achieve during its week of heavy stop-and-go driving as well as highway steady driving. Over the standard CR-V, the Hybrid delivers a savings of $400 per year plus, you’ll be filling up far less often with a range of over 500 miles.
To prove the livability of the Hybrid’s unique powertrain arrangement, the CR-V Hybrid went on a demanding road trip from Denver to Santa Fe (and back) where the altitude rarely dips below one mile and the highway’s extended climbs, along with 75-mph speed limit stretches, put the system’s control logic and its power-delivery effectiveness under the microscope. No drum roll is needed here as the latest iteration of Honda’s arrangement of gears and clutches proves itself to be a meaningfully better powertrain. It feels premium and avoids the typical Hybrid powertrain compromises of a CVT’s constant RPM drone around town and full-throttle simulated “upshift” surges. Simply put, this powertrain has very few weaknesses and is even capable of pulling a lightweight (1,000 lb) trailer.
The chassis is almost equally as refined, however, the brakes proved to be a distracting challenge, even after spending a week driving in all types of situations. The struggle lies within the electric-servo braking technology that aims to balance all of the various inputs (motor regeneration and brake pad friction) to deliver a consistent deceleration rate and feel. In the real world, coming to a smooth stop by backing off the pedal becomes a bit of a trial-and-error test to get the intended results and can be somewhat tiring in stop-and-go traffic. During more sudden (emergency stop) applications, the response arrives quickly and the brakes feel powerful.
Going beyond the powertrain, the ride, and the handling, the CR-V Hybrid’s impressive steak continues inside. The driver will immediately appreciate the thin A-pillars, big door-mounted mirrors, and low dash that lead to a collective sense of confidence, especially in heavy traffic. And to provide a sense of ease (and to drown out the moderate road noise), the impressive Bose stereo is on board with 12 speakers. The overall design interior builds on traditional designs by locating core functions where we expect them to be and then adds a healthy dose of premium details. Sharp clicks of the knobs, even gaps, dampened buttons, a soft feeling leather-wrapped steering wheel, padded elbow surfaces, a partial digital driver information display, finger-print resistant surfaces on (most) buttons, comfortable leather seats, and a tasteful dash of contrast stitching are among this top trim’s noteworthy details. The CR-V proves that there is more to just having a long list of features.
The ride is an excellent balance of firmness and compliance and the body rarely feels unsettled going over large fast-speed dips or sharp impacts. Even when darting through an intersection, the CR-V Hybrid holds the turn and resists understeer admirably. Just don’t expect rally car status as this all-wheel-drive system is one of Honda’s more basic set-ups (far less capable than those of the Passport and Pilot) with a focus on slippery-surface traction, a low overall cost, and driveline efficiency. Simply being able to get all-wheel-drive, however, is new to the CR-V Hybrid, as last year’s model was front-wheel drive only.
Also baked into every CR-V is the ability to carry a bunch of stuff. It has been a champion of packaging efficiency and usability for decades and this generation dutifully carries the torch. From its wide-opening rear doors to its roomy rear passenger space and spacious cargo area, the CR-V feels like it goes the extra mile to ensure it doesn’t make life more complicated than it needs to be.
This particular CR-V is the Sport Hybrid and sits at the top of the range – for a breakdown across the trims, see my article at Carsdirect.com – and it rings in around $40,000. That strikes me as an impressive bargain.
The new CR-V Hybrid nails it in nearly every key category – proof of its ability to deliver a premium and modern crossover without having to reprogram our habits or give up any of our conveniences. The CR-V Hybrid is so good that it not only improves upon almost every aspect of its former self but also the entire mid-size crossover segment.