It’s good that Honda hasn’t fallen prey to the same addiction to large grilles as the rest of the industry.
The 2020 Honda CR-V Hybrid is like a nice date night that doesn’t go overboard, financially speaking. Let’s say you want to treat yourself, but you’re not going all-out with a trip to one of those stuffy, three-figure-per-plate steakhouses. Maybe you want to spend just a smidge more money than usual and get down with some approachable, quasi-upscale cuisine, like a Cooper’s Hawk or a Wildfire, because you deserve something nice every once in a while. That’s what Honda’s new electrified SUV feels like: a satisfying dinner out that doesn’t break the bank for the middle class.
LikeEasy on the eyesEasy on the roadEasy on the gas
Don’t LikeMediocre infotainmentNo spare tireLags competitors in fuel economy
While the entire Honda CR-V line received a visual refresh for the 2020 model year, the new-for-this-year Hybrid trades paper napkins for cloth with a few unique bits that make it feel a little more upscale than any other variant. The new grille integrates nicely with my tester’s LED headlights and the revised lower fascia that adds in some flashy fog lights, arranged in a bar shape on the Hybrid versus the standard CR-V’s round guys. There’s also some special badging, because who doesn’t love patting themselves on the back, as well as a tailpipe that’s tucked higher up into the body.
Slide through one of the CR-V’s doors, though, and that’s where the higher-end appreciation really kicks in. Honda has done a great job revising the crossover’s cabin for 2020. On the aesthetics front, I’m particularly impressed with the matte-finish faux wood trim scattered about, a finish usually reserved for more expensive cars (with actual wood). The dashboard, while largely plastic, contains some attractive faux stitching, and there are plenty of interesting angles that make the CR-V feel a little less mass-market than it is. Heck, even the “floating” infotainment screen looks pretty great here. The fit and finish feels a step above CR-Vs past and competitors current.
2020 Honda CR-V Hybrid makes a compelling case for itself
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But function matters more than form when it comes to a family car. Thankfully, there’s plenty of it here. A revised center console incorporates an impressive amount of junk-tucking room, and I like the sorta-open-air modularity of the sliding trays that cover the under-armrest cubby. The cup holders are voluminous, both on the door panels and in the center console, and Touring models like my tester get an iPhone-compatible Qi wireless phone charger tucked under the push-button transmission controls.
The second row has decent storage, as well, but the real benefit to being back there is legroom, since Honda offers a couple inches more of it than the competition can provide. I’m 6 feet tall, and I definitely wasn’t wanting for space, which means kids should have even more room to faff about. While the additional hardware required for the CR-V Hybrid doesn’t eat into cabin space, it does take a smidge of cargo capacity. At 33.2 cubic feet, the hybrid crossover’s storage space is about four cubic feet smaller than the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid’s, and it’s about six cubes behind the regular ol’ CR-V. The Honda is, however, ahead of the Ford Escape Hybrid, which has just 30.7 cubic feet of stuff storage. If you’re looking for a spare tire, you won’t find it, since Honda ditched it in favor of the hybrid hardware — a problem the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid doesn’t seem to have, since it still rocks a backup.
The crux of the CR-V Hybrid is hidden under the body. It relies on the same two-motor hybrid system that’s in the Honda Accord: A 2.0-liter, Atkinson-cycle I4 gas engine mates to a 1.4-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery and a pair of electric motors to produce 212 horsepower and 232 pound-feet of torque, making the Hybrid variant the most powerful CR-V in the garage. All-wheel drive is standard, and power routes to all four corners by way of something Honda calls an eCVT, although it’s not really a proper pulley-based continuously variable transmission, as it uses a clutch to permit direct engine-to-drivetrain propulsion under light loads only.
This means most of the time the CR-V Hybrid is operating, the electric motors provide the propulsion while the engine sits in the background, focusing on keeping the small battery topped off. This Honda does offer an EV-only mode, but like most traditional gas-electric hybrids, it’s only usable for a mile or two at a time. This electric-forward focus means every start is smooth and laden with torque, and that immediacy continues to factor in at higher speeds, making for easy on-ramp hustle or slow-driver passing. When it comes time to juice up, the engine will kick on in the background — the fact that the engine revs don’t correlate to road speed can be a little discombobulating at first, but it’s easy to get used to, even if the engine does rise to a mild clamor at times when more charging is necessary. Nature of the beast, I suppose.
Pushing buttons isn’t my favorite way to shift gears, but packaging is important when you’re trying to make the most of every spot in the cabin.
Multiple powertrain modes are on offer, including the aforementioned EV mode, but they’re not very useful. Econ tamps down user inputs in the name of boosting efficiency, and while it works, it leaves the CR-V Hybrid feeling a little pokey. There’s a Sport mode, which improves throttle response and uses a sound synthesizer to boost its aural profile, but this tech just feels like a gimmick to me — that’s not the point of this SUV whatsoever, and we all know it. There is, however, active sound cancellation, which feels far more appropriate in this use case.
The remaining corners of the CR-V Hybrid’s driving experience return to the dining-out metaphor, providing an upscale experience with a palatable price tag. My Touring-trim tester rocks the largest wheels on offer at 19 inches. They’re wrapped in suitably meaty 235/55 Continental CrossContact LX Sport all-season tires, which do a great job of soaking up nasty road bits that the steel springs cannot. The steering is nicely weighted, and it turns the wheels — about all the praise needed on a mass-market crossover. The brakes are very well tuned, blending friction and regeneration into smooth deceleration; if you love using momentum to top off the battery, the wheel-mounted shift paddles let you increase or decrease the regenerative braking to suit.
The EPA estimates the 2020 CR-V Hybrid at 40 miles per gallon city and 35 mpg highway — great numbers for an all-wheel-drive crossover that, in my experience, are easy to achieve without the lightest foot on the block. In context, though, this Honda’s meal remains good, just not as good as what’s available across the spectrum of restaurants. The Toyota RAV4 Hybrid, by comparison, is more efficient at 41 mpg city and 38 mpg highway, while the Ford Escape Hybrid rings in at 43 highway and 37 city.
See all those orange bits? Don’t touch those.
Great safety tech, OK infotainment
One part of the Honda CR-V Hybrid’s technological complement that will certainly earn accolades with families is Honda Sensing, the automaker’s suite of active and passive safety systems. This collection is standard on every CR-V, adding automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane-departure warning, lane-keep assist and adaptive cruise control. The systems work great, with ACC delivering smooth inputs while LKA doesn’t wrestle for control of the wheel to keep the vehicle centered in its lane. Honda’s LaneWatch camera has finally fallen by the wayside in favor of proper blind-spot monitoring, which is a welcome replacement that’s way less distracting in practice.
As the top trim on offer, my Touring tester comes bedecked with every tech upgrade available. The wireless device charger is positioned well and keeps the phone from inadvertently sliding around and losing its inductive connection. Weirdly, though, the two USB-A ports in the front offer a paltry 1 and 1.5 amps, the former of which isn’t even enough to maintain a net positive charge if a phone is running processor-intensive apps like Waze or Google Maps through Apple CarPlay or Android Auto (the latter integrations are standard on all but the base trim). The rear seats, however, rock a pair of quicker-charging 2.5-amp USB-A ports, which should be the standard all around.
This CR-V also packs a 7-inch touchscreen infotainment system. It’s not the latest, greatest version of Honda’s Display Audio hardware, so the graphics look like they’re about a decade old, if not more, especially in the face of flashier getups from Ford or Toyota. Responsiveness is suitably quick, and the volume knob’s return is definitely welcome, but it’s high time Honda updates its telematics here. The backup camera’s resolution could stand to be a little higher, too.
One screen that doesn’t disappoint, though, is the one that replaces the gauge cluster. In addition to sporting a unique power meter that lets me know whether the CR-V Hybrid is producing motive force or recuperating energy, the cluster displays all matter of pertinent information — from the hybrid system’s workings to whatever’s on the radio — front and center to minimize distraction.
Honda’s Display Audio is in dire need of some updated graphics. Practically every competitor leaves Honda in the dust in this arena.
How I’d spec it
At $37,070 (including $1,120 for destination), the 2020 Honda CR-V Hybrid’s highest trim is actually less than today’s average new-car transaction price, meaning you’re getting hooked up with an appreciably posh experience at a mass-market price. Thus, the Touring is the CR-V Hybrid model I’d choose, since it’s loaded with great features like Qi charging, parking sensors, a hands-free tailgate and rain-sensing wipers. Budget-minded folks will still find plenty to like on other trims, though. Pure value-seekers can grab a base CR-V Hybrid for just $28,870, with the EX and EX-L splitting the difference between the extremes.
Down to brass tacks
Honda’s two biggest competitors in this space are pretty well packed in their own rights. The Toyota RAV4 has blockier looks, more efficiency and a more modern infotainment system, but it feels a little less upscale than the Honda. The Ford Escape is pretty much the same, offering more miles per gallon than the Honda, but its cargo space is smaller and its interior appointments don’t feel as well bolted together as Japanese competitors.
The 2020 Honda CR-V Hybrid is a great way to treat yourself and your family on a budget. For a sensible amount of money, you get an interior and a ride that borders on luxurious, while the pragmatically minded among you will have plenty to appreciate in terms of storage, efficiency and standard tech.