More power, more fuel economy — more fundamental goodness
BY MARK MAYNARD
The Honda CR-V hits a sweet spot of wholesomeness among compact SUV crossovers. It is poised, comfortable and rich in clever engineering and function. And this year, the automaker raised its relevance with a gasoline-electric hybrid model, making it the most powerful and fuel-efficient CR-V in the lineup.
Launched in 1997, the CR-V has brought Honda 5 million sales and is currently the No. 2 retail-selling SUV in America, Honda says. With nearly 15 percent of compact CUV sales, the CR-V also has some of the lowest incentives in the segment and Honda’s focus on retail sales over fleet can mean a higher resale value for the customer. Currently, the CR-V has a $500 customer loyalty offer for lease or purchase and other Honda offers are here.
The CR-V Hybrid is Honda’s fourth gasoline-electric model (along with the Accord, Insight and Clarity sedans) and among just two mainstream hybrid competitors in the class of small SUVs: the Ford Escape and Toyota RAV4.
But its hybrid powertrain is a variation on those used by the competitors. Their more common “parallel hybrid” system uses the gasoline engine to assist the electric motors and hybrid battery.
Honda uses a two-motor hybrid system that is more electric in its application by using one motor to power a motor-generator that powers the CR-V while the other motor acts as a generator-starter. It has reduced complexity and frictional losses, Honda says, because there is no conventional transmission.
The system can operate as either a series or parallel hybrid. The gasoline engine, electric generator-motor and electric propulsion motor work together routing power through the single-speed direct-drive transmission. It is a relatively lightweight and compact system that spends more time in EV-only mode, Honda says, which results in higher city fuel efficiency.
The CR-V Hybrid is sold in four trim levels, same as the gasoline-powered model: LX, EX, EX-L and Touring.
With standard all-wheel drive, starting prices range from $28,970 to $37,170, including the $1,120 freight charge from Greensburg, Ind. Depending on trim level, the CR-V Hybrid is $1,200-$2,320 more than the comparable gas model.
Standard Hybrid features include automatic climate control and automatic high beams, LED headlights, smart locking and push-button ignition and a cargo roller cover.
The top-line Hybrid Touring tester included such extras as leather-trimmed upholstery, nine-speaker audio system (with Apple CarPlay or Android Auto), wireless phone charger, heated seats and steering wheel, 12-way power adjustable driver’s seat (but just four-way adjustable for the front passenger), power moonroof and 19-inch alloy wheels with Continental CrossContact LX Sport all-season touring tires.
In addition to six air bags, new this year is the Honda Sensing suite of safety and driver-assistive technologies, standard on all CR-Vs (and soon to be integrated on all Hondas). The suite includes Collision Mitigation Braking with Forward Collision Warning and pedestrian sensing capability; Road Departure Mitigation with Lane Departure Warning; Adaptive Cruise Control with low-speed follow; lane Keeping Assist.
Honda’s warranty coverage is 3 years or 36,000 miles bumper-to-bumper (with roadside assistance) and 5 years or 60,000 miles for the powertrain. Hybrid components are covered for 8 years or 100,000 miles.
The powertrain integrates a 143-horsepower, 2.0-liter DOHC i-VTEC Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder with a 181-hp permanent-magnet propulsion motor for a combined 212 hp. Total foot-pounds of torque adds up 232 lb.-ft., with peak pull from 0-2,000 rpm. (That compares to the gas model’s turbocharged 1.5-liter four-cylinder with 190-hp and 179 lb.-ft. torque from 2,000-5,000 rpm.)
The majority of the time, the CR-V Hybrid operates as a series hybrid. Its 181-horsepower propulsion motor drives the wheels while the gasoline engine (connected to the electric generator-starter motor) functions as an onboard electrical generator, supplying power to the hybrid battery and the propulsion motor.
The system manages power by shifting through three drive modes — EV Drive (electric only), Hybrid Drive (series hybrid) and Engine Drive (parallel hybrid). The system automatically selects the best mode for the conditions with no input from the driver.
Depending on the state of battery charge, the hybrid system applies the usual hybrid assets of auto stop-start at idle, regenerative braking and steering-wheel paddle shifters to increase downhill braking regeneration in four increments of resistance.
The drive modes
EV Drive: All-electric driving occurs when starting from a stop, during light cruising and acceleration, and when braking. The gasoline engine is off when in EV Drive mode and is decoupled from the drivetrain to reduce friction; power is supplied by the 1.4 kWh lithium-ion battery pack.
Hybrid Drive: Operating as a series hybrid, the system uses the electric propulsion motor with the gasoline engine to supply electricity through the generator motor to the propulsion motor, and it helps charge the battery.
Engine Drive: During light-load cruising, the Atkinson-cycle engine provides propulsion, sending power directly to the drive wheels. This allows the hybrid system to use the gasoline engine and, if needed, the electric propulsion motor to boost power.
The CR-V Hybrid has fuel-economy estimates of 40 mpg city, 35 highway and 38 mpg combined, on the recommended 87 octane. (The gasoline CR-V with AWD has ratings of 27/32/29 mpg.) The 14-gallon fuel tank provides good range and is the same size for gas or hybrid models.
My mileage average had been stuck at 33.4 mpg with much highway driving, but when I spent more in-town driving, the rating climbed quickly to 34 mpg. It likely would have gone higher with more in-town driving, but whether it would reach 38 mpg is a question owners can answer.
The two hybrid competitors have slightly better EPA mileage ratings — 43/37/40 for the Escape AWD and 41/38/40 mpg for the RAV4 AWD.
But there is enough about the CR-V to overlook a few miles per gallon difference that can be made up with careful driving.
The Hybrid model gets special attention for soundproofing. There is thicker insulation on the hood, dash and firewall, and additional sound-absorbing materials are used in the front wheel wells. The Active Noise Cancellation feature in the audio system reduces low-frequency booming at lower engine speeds.
Around town, the cabin environment is calmed with the whirring tone of the electrified sound machine when in EV Drive. On the highway, there is more wind and road noise, likely due to the ride height and tires.
The Hybrid’s driving experience will feel very much like the standard model, but with more direct acceleration force. The regenerative braking engages with consistent pedal force, which in some systems can feel like an abrupt on-off switch at low speeds.
The direct drive transmission is CVT-like in its mission but without the rubber-banding of power on takeoff.
The suspension was tightened to support the added 200 pounds of electrification components, raising the curb weight to 3,708 pounds. But the ride quality is uncommonly supple for a small SUV. It is not sport-tuned, but there is enough control and tire patch for enthusiastic carpooling or evasive maneuvers.
The turning circle is modest at 37.4 feet, curb to curb (compared to 39 feet in the Escape or 36.1 in the RAV4).
The elements of the Honda Sensing allow near Level 2 semi-autonomous driving. Though it is technically just an assist system, requiring hands on the steering wheel, the lane-keeping calibrations keep the CR-V well centered in the lane. Other such systems can allow the vehicle to drift across the lines — and then the system chides the driver with alarm tones for not paying attention.
The rest of the CR-V experience is Honda tidy, enhanced by smart engineering. The upright cabin structure provides uncomplicated sightlines over the hood and over the shoulder. The leather-trimmed upholstery is high quality and soft to the touch with perforated centers for breathability. The doors open a few degrees farther (than some mainstream vehicles) to ease entry and exit; and the back-seat doors open to nearly right angles, which is a huge help in loading toddlers in car seats.
The driver area is well focused for eyes-on-the-road access to controls. But there is room for improvement in the touch screen access. While the screen is reasonably large at 10 ¾ inches wide by 5 ¼ inches deep, the actual viewing area is much smaller. The image for the rearview camera, for example, is just 5 inches wide by 3 ¼ inches deep, but it includes wide angle and curb views.
Headroom of 38.8 inches with the sunroof (40.1 inches without) should accommodate most tall drivers, particularly with the Touring’s 12-way power driver seat. (Honda should at least provide a six-way seat, adding height adjustment, for the front-seat passenger, rather than just a four-way seat.)
Because the gear-shift lever has been replaced with a drive-by-wire button grouping (and easy to use), the floor console is put to more efficient use. The sliding-top armrest console has two-level storage, with a sliding shelf above the box, which has a 12-volt plug. The wireless charging pad is in clear sight and easy reach, with adjacent 1.5- and 1.0-amp USBs. Large visors slide and have large lighted and covered vanity mirrors.
There should be few complaints from those in the back seats, which seem to have more support and padding than others in the segment. Rear leg room is long at 40.4 inches and the seatbacks recline about 2 inches. The transmission tunnel is very low for more comfortable three-across seating when necessary. And there are two 2.5-amp charging USBs. The wide fold-down armrest has a pair of cup-can holders with generous bottle storage in the doors.
The CR-V Hybrid loses some cargo capacity due to the placement of the hybrid battery under the floor, where a spare tire would go. And while it eliminates the two-level cargo floor and spare tire (and adds a tire-inflator system) there is still a lot of hauling space. The liftgate opening is 42 inches wide and 33 inches tall with a depth of 38 inches or up to 6 feet with the 60/40 seatback folded. There’s good access for bicycles and other large and awkward parcels. Extras include two seatback-release handles, two side lights and a standard roller cover.
Why CR-V Hybrid?
The basic gasoline-electric hybrid is a no-brainer experience of shift into Drive and go. The CR-V system applies some driver-selectable modes to squeeze more mpgs, when fuel-economy is the goal. I found it engaging to use the regen and other modes to recupe lost tenths of a mile.
While there is a line of accessories and a couple of optional wheel styles, I like that the starting price is the as-tested price. There are no other factory option packages to add. And while the Touring is the loaded choice, the EX-L is close in its content at a cost savings of $3,200.
A big separator for the CR-V Hybrid is its fundamental goodness and refinement that reinforce a perception of long-term quality and durability.
2020 Honda CR-V Hybrid
Body style: compact, 5-passenger, 5-door AWD sport-utility
Engine: 143 hp 16-valve DOHC i-VTEC Atkinson-cycle 2.0-liter 4-cylinder with 129 foot-pounds of torque at 3500 rpm
Propulsion motor: 181-hp, AC synchronous permanent-magnet; 232 lb.-ft. torque from 0-2,000 rpm
Total system power: 212 hp
Battery pack: 1.4 kWh, air-cooled lithium-ion
Transmission: single-speed direct drive
Fuel economy: 40/35/38 mpg city/hwy/combined; 87 octane
Fuel tank: 14 gal.
Cargo space: 33.2-68.7 cu. ft.
Front head/leg room: 38.8*/41.3 in. *40.1 inches, w/o sunroof
Rear head/leg room: 39.1/40.4 in.
Length/wheelbase: 182.1/104.7 in.
Curb weight: 3,7008 lbs.
Turning circle: 37.4 ft.
Towing capacity: not recommended
Standard equipment includes: keyless locking and push-button ignition, leather-trimmed upholstery, power moonroof, multi-view rearview camera, 12-way power driver’s seat with 4-way lumbar, 4-way power front passenger seat, heated front seats, 7-inch touch-screen display audio, Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, 9-speaker audio system, wireless phone charging pad, automatic high beams, active noise cancellation, LED fog lights, power (heated) side mirrors with turn signals, conversation mirror with sunglasses storage, locking glove box, floor mats, hands-free power tailgate, walk-away auto lock, cargo area lights and roller cover, 60/40 folding back seat, 19-inch alloy wheels
Safety features include: 6 air bags; Collision Mitigation Braking with Forward Collision Warning and pedestrian sensing capability; Road Departure Mitigation with Lane Departure Warning; Adaptive Cruise Control with low-speed follow; lane Keeping Assist; hill-start assist; stability and traction controls; brake assist and brake-force distribution
Base price: $37,170, including $1,120 freight charge; price as tested $37,070
Options on test vehicle: none
Where assembled: Greensburg, Ind.