America has fully embraced the crossover, and the Honda CR-V is one of the most popular examples within the U.S. market. After introducing the refreshed 2020 CR-V late last year, Honda now adds to the lineup with the first-ever CR-V Hybrid. Offering all the convenience and utility of the gas-only model, the 2020 Honda CR-V Hybrid boasts more power, better drivability and considerably better fuel efficiency than its gas-only counterpart.
2020 Honda CR-V Hybrid Review
Introduced in 1997, the Honda CR-V has become the best-selling model in Honda’s U.S. lineup, representing more than a third of all Honda sales. For 2020 the CR-V has been updated with new front and rear styling, updated wheels and a range of new standard safety features.
Spotting the Hybrid
The CR-V Hybrid is distinguished from the non-hybrid by a unique front bumper design, 5-element LED fog lights (except on the LX trim), a blue-tinted Honda badge on the front and hybrid badging on the grille, front fenders and rear fascia.
“The Honda CR-V is the best-selling CUV over the past two decades and the updates we’ve made to the 2020 model, including a new hybrid-electric variant, solidify its position as a leader in the compact SUV market,” said Henio Arcangeli, Jr., senior vice president of automobile sales at American Honda. “The CR-V Hybrid also signifies our direction to bring Honda hybrid-electric technology to all core models and to invest in the production of electrified vehicles in America,” Arcangeli noted.
The 2020 Honda CR-V Hybrid is available in four trim levels: LX, EX, EX-L and Touring. All CR-V Hybrids come with all-wheel drive as standard equipment.
All 2020 Honda CR-V Hybrids also have standard Honda Sensing, a suite of advanced safety and driver-assist features. These include automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, road departure mitigation, lane-keeping assist, adaptive cruise control and automatic high-beam headlights.
Honda CR-V Hybrid LX
With a base retail price of $27,750, the CR-V Hybrid LX standard equipment includes automatic climate control, smart entry and pushbutton start, a USB port, a rearview camera, a 4-speaker audio system, body-color door handles, LED headlights and 17-inch alloy wheels.
Honda CR-V Hybrid EX
Priced at $30,260, the EX upgrades the LX with heated front seats, a power driver’s seat, a 7-inch display, an 8-speaker audio system, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, a power moonroof, remote engine start, two rear-seat USB chargers, rear cross-traffic alert, LED fog lights and 18-inch wheels.
Honda CR-V Hybrid EX-L
Upgrading to the EX-L at a price of $32,750 adds leather trim, a power passenger seat, a heated steering wheel, ambient lighting and a power liftgate.
Honda CR-V Hybrid Touring
The top-level trim of the CR-V Hybrid, the Touring has a price tag of $35,950. Upgrades over the EX-L include a 9-speaker premium audio system, wireless device charging, rain-sensing wipers, GPS navigation, a hands-free power liftgate, front and rear parking sensors, roof rails and 19-inch alloy wheels.
Under the Hood
Honda equips the CR-V Hybrid with the third generation of its two-motor hybrid system. The hybrid powertrain teams two electric motors with a 2.0-liter Atkinson-cycle engine for a combined output of 212 horsepower. That’s 22 more horses than the non-hybrid CR-V. The unique system uses one of the electric motors as a generator/starter motor, which works with the electric propulsion motor and gas engine without the need for a transmission or gear changes.
Not only is the CR-V Hybrid more powerful than the non-hybrid version, it offers a hefty improvement in fuel economy. The CR-V Hybrid is rated at 40 mpg city / 35 mpg highway / 38 mpg combined; the non-hybrid CR-V has ratings of 27 mpg city / 32 mpg highway / 29 mpg combined.
Unique Hybrid Powertrain
In most driving situations, the CR-V Hybrid operates as an electric vehicle with the gas engine acting as a generator with the electric motor providing propulsion. However, under certain conditions — such as steady cruising on the freeway — it can be more efficient for the gas engine to provide propulsion, which it does seamlessly via a clutch. This combination of series and parallel hybrid operation is one of the reasons Honda’s hybrid system is so efficient.
Three drive modes are available for the 2020 Honda CR-V Hybrid, selectable by the driver on the center console next to the gear selector: ECON, SPORT and EV. The ECON mode adjusts the throttle response to provide better fuel economy, while SPORT mode provides a more responsive throttle combined with drawing more power from the batteries for quicker acceleration. The EV mode will keep the vehicle operating on electric power alone for about a mile, depending on load and battery charge level.
Unlike the standard CR-V, the CR-V Hybrid gets a shift-by-wire gear selector that contributes to a cleaner overall design. Combined with a nicely integrated display screen, the interior looks modern. In the top-level Touring trim, the wireless charger is conveniently placed front and center with two USB ports for additional charging.
The display screen is clear and easy to use; it has quick shortcuts to navigation, audio and phone. Honda did bring back the volume knob after repeated requests, but the audio tuning knob still needs to return. Climate controls are separate for quick and easy access.
During our press drive, we spent most of our time in the CR-V Hybrid Touring with the leather-trimmed seats. The seats are a bit too stiff for our tastes. That combined with short seat bottoms makes them somewhat uncomfortable after spending a few hours behind the wheel.
The CR-V Hybrid works well as a 5-passenger crossover with a decent amount of legroom and headroom for rear-seat passengers. Although the middle seat is a bit tight, the nearly flat floor makes it a bit more palatable. Rear seats can be folded flat for additional cargo-carrying capability.
The CR-V Hybrid offers an impressive amount of cargo space for a small crossover. The battery pack for the hybrid system sits below the cargo area, so no space has been infringed upon.
On the Road
With its additional power and unique powertrain, the 2020 CR-V Hybrid is much nicer to drive than the standard CR-V. Acceleration is noticeably stronger, and overall the hybrid feels more responsive — thanks in part to the high torque provided by the electric motor. Full throttle does result in buzzy engine noise, but overall the CR-V Hybrid rides smoothly and quietly.
Unlike many non-plug-in hybrids on the road, the CR-V Hybrid can travel up to a mile on EV mode alone. This may not seem like much, but it makes a difference when sitting in traffic. With a light right foot, the CR-V Hybrid can be kept in EV mode up to 40 mph without much difficulty, avoiding the gas engine and its associated emissions altogether for a short distance.
CR-V Hybrid Fuel Efficiency
During our press introduction, Honda arranged a test loop for attending journalists to compare the standard CR-V fuel economy to the new CR-V Hybrid, with significant results. In the standard CR-V we were able to achieve 37 mpg with considerable effort that included very light acceleration and lots of coasting. The 2020 Honda CR-V Hybrid achieved better than 45 mpg without any additional driver effort.
Acoustic Vehicle Alert System
Since the 2020 Honda CR-V Hybrid is often completely silently when maneuvering in parking lots or during other low-speed operations, the Acoustic Vehicle Alert System generates a unique sound from a speaker in the front bumper to warn pedestrian that there is a vehicle near. The sound gets generated at speeds below 16 mph. Although it certainly does its job, the sound is akin to an alien spaceship and not terribly pleasant. A fun feature would be to let drivers choose the sound that alerts pedestrians from a few finely curated and preapproved files, thus making the CR-V Hybrid considerably more entertaining.
2020 Honda CR-V Hybrid Off-Road
During our press intro, we had the opportunity to test the all-wheel- drive system of the CR-V Hybrid compared to its primary competitor, the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid. Where the RAV4 uses an electric motor to drive the rear wheels, the Honda system is mechanical — basically the same as in the non-hybrid. The result: when the front wheels lose traction, the rear wheels engage a bit quicker with the mechanical Honda system rather than the electronic system in the Toyota. However, both systems are perfectly adequate for most consumers.
Right for You?
There are many reasons why the Honda CR-V is so popular — the small crossover makes excellent use of space and offers the latest in high-tech entertainment and safety features. The hybrid CR-V is more powerful than the standard gas version, drives better, and is considerably more fuel-efficient, which raises the question — why buy the non-hybrid? Priced about $1,200 more than its gas-only counterpart, the CR-V Hybrid is a great option for those desiring the utility of an all-wheel-drive 5-passenger crossover that boasts outstanding fuel economy.
Overall CRV Hybrid Rating: 8.5
Pros: Improved driving dynamics; excellent fuel mileage; standard safety features.
Cons: Stiff front seats; buzzy under full throttle; strange pedestrian alert sounds.
Bottom Line: This popular crossover gets even better thanks to the new hybrid variant.
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