Most of the attention on the 2020 Honda CR-V focuses on the new hybrid powertrain, the first time the Japanese automaker has offered a gas-electric version of its hugely popular compact crossover in the US. And yeah, that makes sense – Honda builds solid hybrids, and frankly, an electrified CR-V is overdue.
In our first drive of that car, we wrote that “it's hard to argue against the CR-V Hybrid” and the modest $2,000 premium it carries. But while this might be the trim to get, Honda is continuing to offer the gas-only model with the same aesthetic improvements. This lightly refreshed model may not return the same impressive fuel economy as its new-for-North America counterpart, but it remains a smart choice for consumers that need a reliable, comfortable, and affordable crossover companion.
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Honda will tell you that it updated the CR-V's front bumper, grille, and headlights for 2020, but good luck distinguishing this from the 2019 model. The changes are very subtle, but that's A-okay – the CR-V is a cleanly styled, attractive compact crossover. That said, even the addition of new colors (including the Honda Civic's Aegean Blue Metallic, which is particularly striking on the small SUV) does little to help the 2020 CR-V stand out.
Then again, Honda’s offering has always been a bit more anonymous relative to the competition. But the decision to only lightly touch up the CR-V feels more concerning as rivals grow more assertive with their exterior designs. The Toyota RAV4 and Ford Escape both enjoy far more zesty designs, while the Mazda CX-5 remains the most attractive vehicle in the class. If style is important, the updated CR-V doesn't do much to distance itself from predecessors.
The changes to the cabin are similarly subtle. Honda reworked the center console, making room for an available wireless charge pad and more accessible USB charge ports, but that's about it. This is a clean, pleasant cabin with its soft plastics and faux wood. But like the exterior, there's little verve to the design – it's functional, but a bit dull.
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That functional cabin design lends itself to comfort. The seating position, steering wheel adjustments, and even the location of the arm rests make for a comfy driving experience. The front chairs are soft and well cushioned, and there's plenty of leg and head room in the front row.
The mostly flat floor in the second row makes fitting three adults in back a realistic possibility on short trips. The seatbacks are comfortable, even if the bottom part of the bench is less plush. There's a whopping 40.4 inches of rear legroom, easily beating the competition from Ford, Toyota, and Nissan by multiple inches – only the Mazda CX-5 comes close, and even then, it's down eight tenths of an inch on the Honda.
There's adequate cargo space for passengers in the front row, with a big cubby behind the cupholders and sizable door pockets. The 39.2 cubic feet of cargo space in back is average for the segment when the seats are up, although that space grows to an impressive 75.2 cubes with the second row folded flat.
In general, quality throughout the cabin is solid, aside from one particularly grating element: the gear lever. This feels like the same mechanical gear lever Honda has used on the CR-V for decades, eliciting a satisfying thunk while shifting between Park, Reverse, Neutral, and Drive. But the side-mounted release trigger rattles and the overall assembly feels cheap. Say what you will about button-operated shifters, but we'd much prefer the CR-V Hybrid's arrangement.
Underway, the ride is comfortable enough, but it's the lack of noise that matters. The CR-V does an excellent job of limiting wind, road, and tire noise.
The heart of the CR-V's tech suite is not great. There are two displays – a 7.0-inch screen in the instrument cluster and a 7.0-inch touchscreen in the center stack – although neither is especially high in graphical quality.
There's a vertical row of touch-capacitive buttons to the left of the screen for switching quickly between navigation (if equipped), audio, communication, and the home screen. These respond adequately, but actually interacting with the screen is a painful experience. The display is slow to respond to inputs, which is especially grating as Honda forces owners to use the screen for even the simplest functions, like changing radio stations. At least there's a volume knob and separate controls for the climate.
On the bright side, Honda doesn't offer a single optional extra on the CR-V, aside from a $1,500 all-wheel-drive system. Every trim comes with all its equipment as standard, so when you order a CR-V Touring like our tester, it comes fully loaded. That certainly reduces the stress of the buying process.
Every gas-only CR-V features a turbocharged 1.5-liter engine and a continuously variable transmission. We like each version of this powertrain (despite some issues), be it in the Accord, the Civic, or here in the CR-V. The 190-horsepower four-cylinder packs 179 pound-feet of torque, available starting at just 2,000 rpm.
The gas engine feels willing off the line, and it remains that way at reasonable engine speeds. Push too hard and the torque does fade – it peaks at 5,000 rpm, well short of the nearly 7,000-rpm redline – but around town, the CR-V has more than enough twist to move all 3,569 pounds of mass. If we had one complaint about the CR-V, it could use a more powerful engine option to compete with the turbocharged CX-5 and the 2.0-liter Escape.
The CVT is eager to engage and it's so refined underway that we eventually forgot there's a belt-driven system at work. This certainly isn't a case where we miss a conventional gearbox.
Aside from the excellent powertrain, the CR-V driving experience is utterly unremarkable. The steering is light and lifeless, although the dead zone isn't so large that this crossover feels wayward or difficult at highway speeds. The suspension tuning has a clear focus on ride comfort, so don't hop in the CR-V expecting CX-5–like agility. Handling is ponderous and dull, with plenty of roll, squat, and dive. Like the steering, there's little feedback through the chassis.
The Honda Sensing active safety suite is standard on every version of the CR-V. That means forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning, lane-keeping assist, adaptive cruise control, automatic high beams, and blind-spot monitoring. LED headlights are also standard on the top-dog Touring. It's a very comprehensive suite of technology.
In practice, the CR-V's systems are smart and helpful. The steering assist nudges rather than pushes, reducing stress on long journeys. There's enough adjustability in the forward collision systems too, so that there's little motivation to switch the nannies off.
With all-wheel drive, our CR-V Touring returns 27 miles per gallon city, 32 highway, and 29 combined. Despite the small-displacement turbocharged engine, the CR-V runs willingly on 87-octane fuel.
Those figures are average for the segment. The 1.5-liter turbocharged three-cylinder in the Ford Escape AWD is good for 26 city, 31 highway, and 28 combined, while the naturally aspirated Toyota RAV4 nets 27 city, 33 highway, and 29 combined. The Nissan Rogue returns 25 mpg city, 31 highway, and 27 combined, while the Mazda CX-5 earns just 24 mpg city, 30 highway, and 26 combined.
The 2020 Honda CR-V starts at $25,050 for a front-drive LX. Our all-wheel-drive Touring is as pricey as a CR-V can get though, ringing up at $33,250 for the trim, then an additional $1,500 for the all-wheel-drive system and $1,120 in destination charges. Out the door, this range-topping CR-V AWD demands $35,870.
That sum is competitive with the segment. Fully loaded examples of the RAV4 XLE Premium and Nissan Rogue SL both come in at $36,380 and $35,955, respectively. A Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring is a slight bargain at $34,365, although it's also available in plusher trims with more power. The CR-V does undercut the three-cylinder Ford Escape Titanium, though, which calls for $38,195 with everything but the 2.0-liter Ecoboost engine.
Gallery: 2020 Honda CR-V Touring: Review
2020 Honda CR-V Touring AWD