Honda is on a tear updating all of its most popular models, including the company’s best-seller, the CR-V small crossover. Motor1.com Editor-In-Chief Seyth Miersma already drove the 2023 CR-V, which boasts a turbocharged 1.5-liter inline-four with 190 horsepower and 179 pound-feet of torque, and our resident tall man came away impressed with its comfort and refinement.
But now it’s time to put the CR-V Hybrid through its paces. Honda says the crossover is an important step toward its full-EV future (even if the CR-V isn’t actually capable of any long-range, fully electric driving). Perhaps more to the point, the electrified crossover is an improvement over its already-good predecessor, meaning Honda should have no trouble convincing returning lessees to come back for more – and hopefully conquest a few Toyota and Hyundai shoppers. That the efficient hybrid is only available as a stylish Sport or a fully equipped Sport Touring should add to the appeal for those concerned more for fashion than frugality.
Verdict updated in June 2023 following a seven-day loan. A vehicle's ratings are relative only to its own segment and not the new-vehicle market as a whole. For more on how Motor1.com rates cars, click here.
|Quick Stats||2023 Honda CR-V Hybrid Sport Touring|
|Engine||Atkinson-Cycle 2.0-Liter Inline-Four / Dual-Motor Hybrid|
|Output||204 Horsepower / 247 Pound-Feet|
|Drive Type||All-Wheel Drive|
|Fuel Economy||40 City / 34 Highway / 37 Combined MPG|
|Price As Tested||$39,845|
Gallery: 2023 Honda CR-V Hybrid
The 2023 Honda CR-V is a nice improvement over its predecessor, with a flatter hood and more favorable dash-to-axle ratio that give it a refined, expensive appearance. Vertical taillights return yet again, but they look more intricate and Volvo-like than ever. The greenhouse and roofline also conspire to give the CR-V more than a passing resemblance to the XC60, not a bad car to imitate.
Since the Hybrid is only available in Sport and Sport Touring trim, that means it gets a unique front bumper with geometric lower intake garnishes; gloss black mirror caps, roof rails and grille accents; stainless steel exhaust outlets; and dark gray rear bumper trim. Gloss black wheels are also standard – 18 inches on the Sport and 19 inches on the Sport Touring. I prefer my wheels in silver or gray, but otherwise, the Hybrid is a notch or two more attractive than the turbo, which is available only in EX or EX-L trims.
Like the non-hybrid CR-V and many other Honda products, the stylish interior hides the HVAC vents under a slick mesh strip (rendered in dark silver and surrounded by a piano black bezel on the sporty-styled Hybrid). The overall interior design is clean and simple, and materials are class-competitive throughout – hard plastics down low and nice, soft-touch materials where your eyes and elbows are most likely to hit.
Black leather upholstery is standard on the Sport Touring, while the Sport gets black cloth with orange stitching and accents. The old CR-V hybrid’s pushbutton shifter has been replaced by a conventional gear lever that’s familiar and easy to use. Residing above it are Audi-like climate controls and a 7.0-inch touchscreen on the Sport (with volume and tuning knobs) or a 9.0-inch unit on the Sport Touring – volume knob only.
Honda’s hybrid system bundles a torquey traction motor and an efficient generator into one compact integrated power unit (IPU). The design places the motor and generator side by side, rather than in tandem as they were on the old CR-V Hybrid, to improve packaging efficiency and power output. The results are plainly evident on the spec chart, with the IPU generating 247 lb-ft all on its own, up 15 from the outgoing model. In conjunction with the efficient 2.0-liter gas engine, the system makes 204 hp using a new industry combined measure – the old hybrid made 212 ponies using the old standard, a number that would drop to 201 if rated today.
The added grunt is most obvious when driving around town, where instantaneous electric torque makes it easy to squirt away from stoplights and turn in front of traffic safely. The CR-V Hybrid doesn’t have a battery-only drive mode, as one might find on the competitive RAV4 Hybrid, but you can choose between Eco, Sport, and Normal drive settings, with the former prioritizing the electric motor as much as possible. Press the accelerator too far or deplete the battery too much and the gas engine fires up with a fair amount of noise, but little vibration.
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As nice as the CR-V Hybrid is in suburban confines, it loses some luster once it’s time to hit the open road. Ascending one long hill with a 55-mile-per-hour speed limit, the gas engine droned incessantly. Unlike some hybrids, the gas engine rarely drives the wheels directly. Usually, it fires up to charge the battery, while the electric motors in the IPU handle propulsion. But to do so when climbing a grade, the Atkinson-cycle ICE unit must run at high sustained RPMs that fill the interior with some unfortunate racket. The IPU does include two fixed gear ratios that the engine occasionally operates, primarily in steady-state cruising.
Things got better on the downhill side of the grade, where the gear selector’s maximum-regen “B” setting kept speed in check while recuperating plenty of energy for the battery. But here again, there were some surprisingly harsh noises coming from under the hood, even though the 7.0-inch digital instrument cluster indicated I was driving in purely electric mode. That's because when the battery is fully charged and can't accept any more regen, the IPU engages one of those aforementioned gear ratios to rotate the engine and provide some vacuum braking. A fuel cutoff means the car is still in EV mode, but the engine is technically running.
The CR-V Hybrid’s city-friendliness is yet more evident in its EPA ratings. With front-wheel drive, it gets 43 miles per gallon in the city, 36 on the highway, and 40 combined, while the all-wheel-drive version gets 40 city, 34 highway, and 37 combined. Notably, the highway number isn’t much better than the turbocharged, gas-only version, which achieves up to 34 mpg with front-drive or 32 with all-wheel drive. And although its peak torque is lower, the turbo maintains its 179 lb-ft up to 5,000 rpm – the hybrid model very obviously runs out of steam above 2,000 rpm.
Keeping Its Composure
Regardless of where you’re driving, the CR-V Hybrid offers impressive suspension refinement. While not the typical oeuvre of the family crossover, the Honda can handle the occasional winding road thanks to good body control and accurate steering, and it soaks up expansion joints and rough pavement with a taut whump that feels premium. If you’re lucky enough to be driving around with the gas engine shut down, the cabin is nicely isolated from the outside world, with limited tire roar or wind noise – door-mounted side-view mirrors help, says Honda.
Really rough roads do upset the CR-V somewhat. The firm suspension tuning makes itself known over washboard surfaces with a bit too much up-and-down transmitted to the passengers, and diagonal obstacles like railroad tracks seem to upset the crossover’s balance a bit. It does take a lot of provoking to get the Honda out of sorts, but the genteel Hyundai Tucson Hybrid handles bad surfaces better (though without any semblance of cornering verve on smooth roads).
The CR-V Hybrid’s interior is nicely sized, with 38.2 inches of headroom and 41.3 inches of legroom up front, matching the old hybrid’s footwell space but giving an extra 0.2 inches to noggins. In back, there’s 0.6 inches more legroom for a total of 41.0, but headroom has fallen from 39.1 to 38.2. Still, there’s enough space for four adults to get comfortable thanks in part to a rear backrest that reclines up to 10.5 inches. The cargo area provides 36.3 cubic feet of luggage room with the seats up or 76.5 with them folded, respective improvements of 3.1 and 3.0 cubes relative to the old hybrid (though down a bit on the turbo CR-V).
Playing The Short Game
Around town, the CR-V Hybrid is a very nice piece of machinery, with the same dashing style and practical cabin as its turbocharged sibling but much-improved fuel economy and better low-end torque. If it had the same levels of refinement once that gas engine fired up – as it does most of the time you’re on the highway – then it would be an unqualified winner. But the thrashy mill under the hood detracts a bit too much from the driving experience once speeds rise, with only moderately better efficiency on the open road.
Adding to the frustration is a somewhat high price. The base, front-wheel-drive CR-V Hybrid Sport starts at $33,695 including its $1,245 destination charge, an increase of $1,340 over the comparably equipped CR-V EX with the non-hybrid turbo. All-wheel drive is a $1,500 option on the Sport, but it’s standard kit on the $39,845 Sport Touring, which is $4,840 more than a turbocharged, front-drive EX-L and $3,340 more than one with all-wheel drive. By comparison, the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid starts at $30,910, while the Hyundai Tucson Hybrid is $31,045, and both offer better fuel economy, though less involving handling.
In my Frankencar dreams, the CR-V Hybrid would bundle the pleasant 1.5-liter turbo with that torque-rich electric unit, giving zero-emissions grunt at the low end and a smooth rush of power once the gas engine wakes up. But that car doesn’t exist, no matter how much I wish it did. The 2023 Honda CR-V Hybrid is an undeniable style play thanks to its crisp, sporty design cues, and the city and combined fuel economy are clear winners over the standard CR-V. But I suspect that most folks who can live without gloss black wheels would be better served by the cheaper, better-composed non-hybrid model, especially if the occasional road trip is on the menu.
CR-V Hybrid Competitor Reviews:
2023 Honda CR-V Hybrid Sport Touring