First Drive: Honda’s 2020 CR-V Hybrid Sips Fuel and Offers Big Utility

March 23, 2020 by John O'Dell

Honda’s compact CR-V small crossover is one of the top-selling vehicles in the U.S. Now the Japanese automaker has added a hybrid version that provides serious competition for Toyota’s popular RAV4 hybrid.

There are plenty of hybrid cars for the fuel-conscious shopper to choose from. But that’s not the case for those who favor small SUVs and don’t want to pay for a luxury nameplate.

But the world is changing. The 2020 CR-V Hybrid brings the number of choices in the segment to three. Toyota’s redesigned RAV4 Hybrid, introduced in 2019, and the new 2020 Ford Escape Hybrid round out the segment.

For consumers, it’s great news. All three are highly competent, roomy, fuel-efficient crossovers.

CAPABILITIES

While crossovers aren’t really trucks, they fulfill that function for many owners – carrying groceries, camping gear, sporting equipment and other goods in their cargo bays and even towing small trailers.

The CR-V Hybrid can do most of that – it isn’t rated for towing. But it can handle sandy, wet, gravelly and snowy roads with relative ease, thanks to its standard all-wheel-drive.

FUEL EFFICIENCY

It does it while delivering stellar fuel efficiency.

The CR-V Hybrid isn’t the leader – both the RAV4 and Escape hybrids are EPA-rated at 40 mpg in combined city and highway driving. But the Honda’s 38 mpg combined rating (40 mpg city and 35 mpg highway) is nothing to sneeze at.

In flat terrain with a light load, the CR-V Hybrid can easily outdistance the EPA numbers. We recently achieved 40.2 mpg without babying the throttle on a 55-mile city route around Tucson, Az.

Later, we hit a steep, twisty mountain road. Fuel efficiency dropped to the low 20 mpg-range on a lead-footed drive up 9,159-ft. Mt. Lemmon outside of Tucson. It soared above 90 mpg on the way back down. The combined average for an 81-mile drive up and down the mountain and back was 33.2 mpg.

TRIMS AND PRICING

The 2020 CR-V Hybrid comes in the same four trim levels, and with mostly the same features, as the non-hybrid models introduced a few months ago.

The base LX hybrid, with 17-inch alloys, cloth seats and a 5-inch infotainment display, starts at $28,870.

The EX, with 18-inch alloys, a power moonroof, heated front seats, a 7-inch infotainment display and an upgraded audio system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto starts at $31,380.

Bump up to the EX-L, at $33,870, for leather upholstery, heated steering wheel and a power liftgate.

The Touring adds goodies such as 19-inch alloys, navigation, a premium audio system, wireless phone charging and roof rails and tops the line at $37,070. Prices include Honda’s $1,120 destination fee.

POWERTRAIN

The CR-V Hybrid uses a version of the same two-motor hybrid system that’s won accolades for the Accord. A 2.0-liter gas engine is teamed with a pair of electric motors – one works as a generator and starter, the other as the main propulsion motor.

CR-V Hybrid

The CR-V Hybrid uses Honda’s two-motor gas-electric system with a mechanical all-wheel-drive system.

Honda added the all-wheel-drive system it uses in the non-hybrid. That makes the CR-V Hybrid its first gas-electric model in the U.S. with all-wheel-drive. The system sends up to 40 percent of available torque to the rear wheels when the stability control senses then need.

The hybrid system’s two electric motors handle assignment of torque to the wheels, replacing a conventional transmission. That let Honda replace the shift lever with pushbutton gear selection.

The powertrain has a heavy emphasis on electric drive. Unless you are cruising at a steady speed on the highway, the CR-V Hybrid is probably running as an EV, the gas engine humming away in the background, working as a generator to power the electric motor.

For very short periods at low speeds, the CR-V Hybrid also is capable of all-electric travel with power for the electric motor coming from the 1.4 kWh hybrid battery. It is recharged by the engine and also with energy captured by the regenerative braking system.

DRIVING MODES

There are several driver-selectable drive modes. Sport accentuates throttle response for quicker acceleration; Econ dampens throttle response to help save fuel. EV forces the system into all-electric mode – but works only if the battery has sufficient charge.

The CR-V Hybrid also has paddle shifters mounted on the back of the steering wheel. They increase or decrease the degree of regenerative braking, with more regeneration slowing the vehicle more aggressively. It is not a one-pedal system, though. It takes conventional braking to bring things to a stop.

Peak system output is 212 horsepower and 232 pound-feet of torque. That makes the hybrid the most powerful – and quickest – member of the CR-V family.

Non-hybrid versions use a turbocharged 1.5-liter engine with 190 horsepower and 179 pound-feet of torque.

ON THE ROAD

Hondas are well-regarded for their road manners and the CR-V Hybrid is no different.

On our drive up Mt. Lemmon, with long sections of rain-slicked asphalt, we pushed hard. On every curve and hairpin bend, the vehicle went where pointed with minimal body roll and no hint of oversteer.

Acceleration is smooth and while the engine sometimes runs faster than your speed would indicate as it serves its generator function, the low-pitched growl is easy to live with.

The hybrid weighs about 200 pounds more than the non-hybrid CR-V. To handle the extra poundage Honda engineers stiffened the suspension. That combination makes the CR-V Hybrid feel solidly planted on the road while still delivering a very comfortable ride.

2020 Honda CR-V hybrid rear view

Hybrid-specific design touches include integrated exhaust ports in the chromed lower rear bumper. (Photo: Honda)

SAFETY

All of the CR-V Hybrids come with the Honda Sensing suite of driver assistance systems: Full range cruise control with stop-and-go; lane departure warning and lane-keeping assist; front collision mitigation and crash warning with pedestrian recognition. All but the LX also have a blind-spot warning feature.

NHTSA has given the hybrid a 5-star crash safety rating and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has awarded it a hard-to-get Top Safety Pick rating.

TECHNOLOGY

Honda’s infotainment system works, but it is slow and clunky when uploading features from apps such as Apple CarPlay and even Honda’s own HondaLink.

The hybrid is awash in USB ports, two for the front seat occupants and two for the rear seating compartment.

CARGO

The hybrid’s battery takes up the underfloor space that gives the non-hybrid CR-V best-in-class cargo room. But it doesn’t impinge on passenger space, and still leaves the hybrid with a flat cargo floor and plenty of room for stuff.

With the rear seats up, the CR-V Hybrid’s primary cargo bay is 33.2 cubic feet, versus the RAV4’s 37.5 cubes. With rear seatbacks folded flat, the Honda delivers 68.7 cubic feet, for a virtual tie with the Toyota’s 68.8 cubic feet.

INTERIOR

The 2020 CR-V Hybrid is part of the fifth-generation CR-V family introduced in 2017. The interior changes are evolutionary. The CR-V boasts segment-leading interior space. It has loads of leg and headroom. But the cabin is narrow and drivers of larger dimensions might find things a bit cramped.

interior CR-V

A pushbutton array handles gear changes and driving modes for the CR-V Hybrid. (Photo: Honda)

Honda redesigned the center console bin to open up to stow large items such as purses and laptops.  The instrument gauge is hybrid-specific. There’s no shifter, just a series of pushbuttons.

The comfortable and supportive front seats are heated except in the base the LX, the driver’s seat is power adjustable in all trims, and the EX-L and Touring get a power passenger front seat as well.

Interior fittings and trim are high-quality, with plenty of soft-touch material highlighted by chromed pieces. All but the LX get some fairly realistic-looking faux wood inserts.

Ryan ZumMallen May 31, 2019
The 2019 Honda Passport is an approachable off-road crossover that delivers adventuring features at a price beginners will appreciate.

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