Honda's popular crossover tested in top-spec Touring trim
Words and pictures by Mitchell Weitzman
Honda's CR-V crossover shares a ubiquity rivaled by few. Like a Subway restaurant, you see them everywhere, and you can count on any of them for their affordable dependability (as long as Subway doesn't drench your Classic Italian in mustard). In fact, Honda sold nearly 400,000 CR-Vs in the United States last year, trailing only arch nemesis Toyota's RAV4 in sales, but not by much. For reference, there are only 24,000 Subways in the country.
After spending a week with the Hybrid Touring model, I found it to be an appeasing car, doing most everything well, but not anything particularly great. Possessing a singular or, dare to dream, plural attributes that score as excellent could make a vehicle like a CR-V too interesting. Playing it safe with a sales leader is never a bad play. Why risk an unnecessary fake field goal?
This being a hybrid, you probably want to know the fuel economy - that is the point of buying a hybrid, right? Well, this hybrid does return good efficiency, but I'd hardly call it great in this new decade. The EPA rates the CR-V Hybrid at 40 MPG city and 35 highway, but in my modest driving, I averaged only 32 overall and the freeway at 70 MPG returned only 31. Good numbers these would have been ten years ago, but now, and compared to a RAV4 Hybrid, they are underwhelming. It is still better than the non-hybrid CR-V, but it's not significantly better.
Performance and the nature of the hybrid powertrain are seamless, being remarkably better than the agricultural creations of yesteryear. Power delivery is smooth and uninterrupted in regular driving, highlighting the benefits of what a hybrid system can offer. Pulling away from a stop, the CR-V feels almost eager even. Because of this and the decent throttle responses, the CR-V makes day-to-day driving an easy and thoughtless experience. At higher speeds, the Honda begins to show a lack of grunt. 0-60 needs 8 seconds, but 50-70 is a long 5 seconds, and 50-70 uphill a dramatic 8.6 seconds as the CR-V Hybrid struggles to make progress above 50 MPH. It's clear that hills are its mortal enemy.
Wound all the way up, the smooth inline-four cylinder engine makes a ruckus as the CVT transmission holds engine speed at constant redline, but it is both less grainy and less annoying than the buzzy blenders found in hybrid Toyotas. So that's good at least. Though, if cruising and you mash the accelerator, there is a prolonged, multi-second delay before anything happens and it gives you the full beans - more like half-baked beans. Having the driving mode in a so-called 'sport' decreases the lag when nailing it, but it's still noticeable.
The CR-V hybrid is not capable of any kind of extended EV mode that some others are now sporting. Where a RAV4 Hybrid was able to drive up the quarter-mile hill in my neighborhood on my way home completely in EV mode, the CR-V Hybrid would never switch to electric; I only ever noticed the complete reliance of battery power through parking lots. Allowing for more electric-only driving would surely increase the MPG, which is perhaps the RAV4 Hybrid's party trick in the gas mileage race.
Road manners are well behaved for the most part, with decent steering and handling for this class of car. AWD provided extra surety and erased any chance of torque steer from the front wheels wriggling the steering wheel from your hands. It'd be silly to talk about the CR-V Hybrid's handling like I would a sportscar so I won't, but it just doesn't provide the same confidence and natural ability as something like a Mazda CX-5 does. Conversely, on a long trek through the golden plains north of Sacramento, the CR-V did feel solid on the road, absorbing bumps well despite (and thanks to) the Hybrid's stiffer suspension needed to combat the extra weight of the battery and hybrid system onboard. Being stiffer allowed for better control than what I remember the last CR-V I drove exhibited.
Inside you'll find quality materials throughout, this being the top-shelf 'reserve' or 'barrel select' of CR-Vs. You'll be treated to a leather steering wheel and leather-trimmed seats. Padding on the door panels and other materials felt and appeared to be nice for price point, I think even besting a RAV4's interior trimmings. The overall cabin design motif is safe and modern, though the onboard infotainment seems last-generation. It's okay, Toyota's own RAV4 infotainment is at least generation older still. Adult passengers had no complaints about space in the back seat and found it a pleasant place to spend time on a journey to Sacramento for boutique frozen yogurt. The rear cargo area will easily accommodate anything from your bi-weekly run to WinCo, but it is marginally smaller than the non-hybrid variant.
All the safety bells and whistles to protect you are, of course, included in this Touring model, combining adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, and collision warnings. However, the rear view camera is atrocious. It looks like the video of an iPhone, like, the first ever iPhone. And at night, the digital noise renders it almost useless. I also noticed the hollowness of shutting doors on the CR-V, an underlying trait to remind that this is an affordable car.
I do have to point out the annoyingly bad center console design, though. It's an armrest that folds up to reveal a sliding tray, as the armrest itself offers no storage. So to access anything, you have two steps: Fold the armrest up, and then slide the tray. You can use the tray for setting belongings, but then they annoyingly slide around. If they slide onto the rear half of it and you go to open it, you'll slide the front piece into your things, potentially crushing your glasses when you want to access the main storage. Ask me how I know this. What's wrong with a normal armrest/storage combo?
I do think buyers will prefer the looks of the CR-V to the edgy, incongruous angles of the RAV4. In Sonic Gray (a pale gray with a hint of blue to it), I rather like the appearance of the CR-V, especially with the attractive 19" wheels on this Touring example. Compared to the round blobs of CR-Vs past, it's a thoroughly modern design that does well to tread the path of being inoffensive, but not boring.
Perhaps the biggest selling point of this particular CR-V is the as-tested price of $35,950 all fully-loaded. A more comparable spec of RAV4 Hybrid will be several thousand dollars more, with flagship Limited models costing well into the $40,000s. So, for what you get, this is good value. Shame it doesn't provide more value in the way of better fuel economy. While it is a more efficient CR-V, it is noticeably off from the pesky RAV4 Hybrid's MPG benchmark.
So there you have it, a perfectly capable hybrid crossover that does the basic duties of a car entirely fine and well, but lacks any real spark to inflict real desire. But, for those needing a nicely equipped and nice looking crossover/small SUV with good gas mileage, in that perspective, the CR-V Hybrid makes a lot of sense.
The Road Beat Rating: 4/5
As-Tested Price: $35,950
Pros: Good economy, well equipped and well priced top-spec model
Cons: Good, but not great economy, lacking performance
Verdict: A favorite for a reason, the CR-V Hybrid does most things well, but lacks any shining virtues