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Petrol-electric SUV isn’t exciting, but what CR-V ever was? Comfy, refined, spacious and dynamically competent, with respectable performance and drivability

Our Verdict

Honda CR-V 2018 road test review - hero front

For its fourth-generation, Honda moves its long-established CR-V into full-size family SUV territory

  • First Drive

    Honda CR-V Hybrid 2019 UK review

    Petrol-electric SUV isn’t exciting, but what CR-V ever was? Comfy, refined, spacious and dynamically competent, with respectable performance and drivability
  • First Drive

    Honda CR-V Hybrid AWD SR 2018 review

    Hybrid tech makes its debut in the grown-up CR-V family SUV, and makes amends for the limitations of the petrol model
Matt Saunders Terminalsecurity
7 February 2019

What is it?

The Honda CR-V has reached something of a zenith with this first-ever hybrid version of the new fifth-generation model.

I’m not sure this super-sensible, practical, grown-up family SUV has ever felt more rational, more serious or less exciting than it has become by the edition of Honda’s latest petrol-electric powertrain. You might even say that ‘peak CR-V’ has finally been achieved. In the car’s own super-sedate, marvellously boring way, that’s quite something to behold.

You won’t find a modern passenger car with much less sporting pretense about it than this. Consider, for example, that it has a powertrain with two electric motors (the main ‘drive’ one producing some 181bhp) and a 2.0-litre petrol engine (which produces 143bhp at maximum power) and yet Honda apparently can’t tell you how much power or torque that powertrain makes as a combined whole. That says a lot about how much CR-V customers are expected to care about such things, doesn’t it? Not even a fraction of half of a jot, bless 'em.

The car’s new ‘multi-mode drive’ hybrid propulsion system is interesting because, unlike older Honda hybrid set-ups, it aligns the piston engine in series upstream of the electric motor, rather than in parallel when it might have driven into a shared transmission; because that transmission consists not of CVT-like planetary gearing but instead of a single-speed ratio onto which the combustion engine is coupled by an electronically governed clutch; and because, when the car’s running in hybrid mode, there’s no connection between the combustion engine and the wheels at all.

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A third ‘engine drive’ operating mode (the others are EV and hybrid) allows the 2.0-litre lump to mechanically connect to the gearbox when the car is cruising at higher speeds and running under higher loads – but most of the time, it really is the car’s 181bhp electric motor and only that doing the driving.

What's it like?

Like its 1.5-litre turbo petrol range-mate, the CR-V Hybrid has a particularly spacious, comfortable and solid-feeling cabin which, while it doesn’t broadcast its perceived quality quite like an equivalent Audi or Mercedes, certainly ensures that its integrity percolates slowly into your awareness. The car carries its lithium ion drive batteries under the boot floor, and so - while you can’t have one of these with seven seats, nor even a spare wheel – onboard space for five isn’t adversely affected (there’s loads), and boot space is pegged to a slightly reduced 497 litres.

On the move, it scores highly on cabin isolation, mechanical refinement, ride comfort, handling stability and all-round ease of use – and better in many of those ways than the regular petrol version. Not that any of the aforementioned ought to come as a turn-up for the books.

But that hybrid powertrain does have the capacity to pleasantly surprise in some ways, offering better drivability and part-throttle responsiveness than petrol-electric hybrid powertrains have so often tended to – albeit without ever threatening to make the CR-V an interesting car to drive.

Step-off feels entirely EV-like - super-smooth, fairly responsive and seamless in its initial acceleration - because of the total lack of declutching or gearchanging that’s going on. The car doesn’t run for long, either in terms of distance travelled or throttle travel probed, before the petrol engine starts. That engine runs very quietly, though, and while it’s always spinning in closer proportion to the demands made by your right foot than in any useful relationship to prevailing road speed, it doesn’t resort to apparent over-revving until you’re at least fairly close to the pedal stop.

Part-throttle performance is strong enough to make the car feel well within itself in give-and-take daily traffic, as well as punchy enough for overtaking and urgent motorway accelerating. On real-world economy, meanwhile, our test car returned just over 45mpg on a mixed route. The more of your motoring that you do in traffic, and the more practiced you get at keeping the car running on electric power when possible (it’s not quite as easy as in a Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, but close), the better your economy return should get.

The car’s ride is impressively quiet and, being on the softer side of the SUV class’s dynamic spectrum, makes for body control that’s fine at lower speeds but slightly fussy over an uneven surface, and that can get a bit choppy at a brisker clip. Handling is secure and as precise as it needs to be; which, because you’re never inclined to hurry this car along or feel even remotely encouraged by the wider driving experience, needn’t be all that precise.

Still, there’s little about the way this car navigates a corner, a junction or a busy supermarket car park that’s likely to offend you, or that you’re even likely to notice. And, on the latter score, that’s entirely as Honda intended.

Should I buy one?

Honda CR-V customers must be a pretty steady, conservative bunch who like a sensible, rational, mature proposition. I heard a story about one such long-standing owner so worried about the various buttons on the dashboard of his car that he wouldn’t press any of them until he’d read about the function it performed, at length, in the driver’s handbook. These are people who like to know what they’re getting. And they’ll be getting exactly what they’re expecting in this car: nothing more, but not a shred less.

In a broader sense, though, there’s certainly enough roundedness, real-world efficiency and drivability about this powertrain to make the hybrid option the new CR-V of choice; to suggest it’ll work well in the other forthcoming Honda hybrid models into which it’ll be levered; and to make for a fine advert for taking your family motoring at the calmest, gentlest and most laid-back pace going.

If the last part of that equation sounds like it might suit you, don't let the £37,000 price tag of our test car put you off the idea: the entry-level front-driven version (which is more economical than the AWDer) starts from under £30k.

And if it doesn't sound like you? Then feel free to consider something more frivolous - but only once you’ve had a long, hard look at yourself in the mirror.

Honda CR-V Hybrid AWD EX specification

Where Stapleford, Leicestershire Price £37,305 On sale now Engine 4cyls in line, 1993cc, Atkinson Cycle petrol; electric motor Power 143/181bhp (petrol engine/electric motor) Torque 129/232lb ft (petrol engine/electric motor) Gearbox Single speed automatic Kerb weight 1726kg Top speed 112mph 0-62mph 9.2sec Fuel economy 51.4mpg (NEDC Correlated) CO2, tax band 126g/km (NEDC Correlated) Rivals Toyota RAV4 Hybrid, Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV

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Comments
36

7 February 2019

Seems like a very practical and clever choice. Family SUVs aren’t about sporty handling. Only shame with the hybrid is lack of 7 seat option.

jer

7 February 2019

With a nice interior. Is the future of chip tuning pursuading to the petrol and electic to work togther more often!

7 February 2019

Given how many diesel CRV’s used to be bought for towing.... well does it?

8 February 2019

You make a good point, Adrian. Only rated for a maximum 750kg on a braked trailer. Won't be much use to caravanophiles.

7 February 2019

....one thing they all have in common: They don’t go wrong and run forever.

Steam cars are due a revival.

8 February 2019

Agreed TheKrankis, they don't go wrong and run forever, are cheap to insure and repair and when all's said and done that's what most folks want in their daily driver. I have owned three CRV's, currently still have two, its the SUV equivalent of the Honda Accord, ie Best in Class (at least here in the USA). I grew up on VW Golfs, these CRV's are a similar value proposition; above average build quality and reliability, superior design and engineering, and affordable. Buy one, you won't regret it for a day. Really pissed we don't get this version here in the USA.

8 February 2019
Thekrankis wrote:

....one thing they all have in common: They don’t go wrong and run forever.

 

So why are you on your ninth?

7 February 2019

So basically the same drivetrain as an OUtlander PHEV but without a decent sized battery and the ability to plug in?

8 February 2019
Clarkey wrote:

So basically the same drivetrain as an OUtlander PHEV but without a decent sized battery and the ability to plug in?

Yes and no. The gain of being able to run an Atkinson cycle engine at revs of peak efficiency independent of wheel speed in bursts as a generator, but without the half ton weight penalty of the big Outlander battery. Seems to work well.

8 February 2019
The Apprentice wrote:

Clarkey wrote:

So basically the same drivetrain as an OUtlander PHEV but without a decent sized battery and the ability to plug in?

Yes and no. The gain of being able to run an Atkinson cycle engine at revs of peak efficiency independent of wheel speed in bursts as a generator, but without the half ton weight penalty of the big Outlander battery. Seems to work well.

But the larger Outlander only weighs about 120kg  more than the CRV? (The battery pack is approx. 230kg)

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