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Hybrid tech makes its debut in the grown-up CR-V family SUV, and makes amends for the limitations of the petrol model

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 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
  • First Drive

    Honda CR-V 2018 review

    For its fourth-generation, the Honda CR-V grows in size and now offers a choice of five or seven seats, but slims down in terms of engine choices
Tom Morgan, Online Reviews Editor
16 November 2018

What is it?

It was already the first Honda SUV to offer seven seats, but now the fifth-generation CR-V has scored a second debut: it becomes the first SUV from the brand to be sold in Europe with a hybrid motor.

Honda is even going so far as to call the intelligent multi-mode drive (I-MMD) powertrain the most important one it has launched in the past decade. As it filters through to the rest of the range, it will play a big part in helping the company hit its goal of two-thirds of all sales across Europe being alternative fuelled vehicles by 2025.

Now that diesel engines are entirely absent from the CR-V line-up, it also becomes the de facto option for customers who prioritise fuel economy. So no pressure, then.

The hybrid system uses two electric motors in addition to a 2.0-litre i-VTEC petrol engine: one for propulsion, producing 181bhp and 232lb ft of torque, and another for generating electricity that gets stored in a lithium ion battery. All are connected through a direct transmission with single fixed gear ratio, which Honda says allows for smoother torque delivery.

The car dynamically switches between EV, hybrid and engine drive modes, with the former drawing power solely from the battery. In hybrid drive mode, the engine supplies power to the generator, which in turn supplies it to the propulsion motor. Only in engine drive mode is the petrol motor connected directly to the wheels via a lock-up clutch.

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The car switches between all three dynamically to maximise battery power, and to keep the engine in its optimal power band for as long as possible. Any excess shove it creates in hybrid mode is diverted to recharge the battery, and the battery can assist in engine mode for a boost to performance. It equates to a 0-60mph time of 8.8sec in front-wheel-drive guise, and 9.2sec for the all-wheel-drive model. Top speed is the same, at 112mph.

Honda expects the lion’s share of sales to be for the all-wheel-drive version, and it’s the one we’ve tested here. An equal split is also predicted between petrol and hybrid models, although with only £800 separating them, Honda is doing everything it can to make the hybrid more appealing to customers.

What's it like?

Driven in EV mode, the CR-V hybrid delivers silent, linear acceleration, with the combustion engine seamlessly joining in or taking over when required. Torque isn’t delivered as a huge shove like some electric powertrains, and pushing hard will force the petrol motor to engage.

Engine noise has apparently been tuned to sound more natural, but while it doesn’t need to constantly rev high like a CVT, it does an uncanny impression of a leaf blower at moderate speeds. Not unpleasant, but not unnoticeable either. For city centre driving, you hear nothing beyond a low hum.

The petrol engine only really revs high under full throttle acceleration, but quickly quietens down again once you lift and the electric motors take over. You have to really hustle it for the engine noise to become constant, and that isn’t in keeping with its efficiency ethos.

It might lack the gears to shuffle through, but the hybrid still finds a use for the wheel-mounted paddle shifters: they simulate engine braking by increasing or decreasing the amount of regeneration applied to the brakes, and are largely effective. You can’t quite use them in lieu of the brake pedal, but attentive drivers will be able to maximise their range with very little effort.

This powertrain feels like a middle ground between noisy CVTs and completely mute EVs, and as a result the hybrid is a more refined drive than the 1.5-litre petrol.

The extra weight of the hybrid system hasn’t had a detrimental effect on ride quality, which remains quiet and comfy, albeit not to the same level as the segment best.

In most other respects, the hybrid is nigh-on indistinguishable from the petrol CR-V, with all the implications that brings. The family SUV category is filled with models unafraid to make a statement with their styling, which can leave the Honda feeling a little humdrum.

The cabin is spacious and well-equipped, even borrowing its dash-mounted park, neutral, reverse and drive buttons from, of all things, the NSX hybrid supercar. The digital instruments are comprehensive, and can be configured to show engine modes swapping in real time, but the graphics feel a little dated.

Our mid-spec SR model came with a leather interior, keyless start, parking sensors, a rear view camera, blind spot warning and a 7.0in infotainment system as standard.

Honda’s Sensing safety suite is also standard across the range, with low-speed collision avoidance, lane keep assist and adaptive cruise control. Unlike the petrol version, though, here there’s no option to bump the seat count up to seven.

Should I buy one?

Anyone yet to be sold on the CR-V’s middle-of-the-road styling is unlikely to be convinced by the addition of a new engine to the range.

For those more concerned with functionality, however, Honda has priced the hybrid to make it a tempting alternative to the 1.5-litre model. Given that it promises improved fuel economy, running one for even a moderate period would make more financial sense than the petrol alternative, although the lack of a seven-seat option here could be an issue for some.

The more willing powertrain is also less intrusive than the petrol during daily driving. It’s not any more engaging but, as a practical family SUV, this CR-V largely fulfils its brief better than its range-mate.

Honda CR-V Hybrid 2.0-litre i-VTEC AWD SR specification

Where Seville, Spain Price £34,545 On sale January Engine 4 cyls, 1993cc, petrol, electric motor Power 181bhp (total output) Torque 232lb ft (electric motor) Gearbox Single-speed automatic Kerb weight 1672kg Top speed 112mph 0-62mph 9.2sec Fuel economy 51.4mpg CO2 126g/km Rivals Volkswagen Tiguan, Skoda Kodiaq

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Comments
23

16 November 2018

After 20 years persevering with and refining its original IMA mild hybrid system, the adoption of an all new full hybrid is a big deal - and one which warrants a full description. From the text it sounds like this is effectively a series hybrid (which is probably a first in a volume production car), but with a direct drive lock up to minimise power losses when cruising. I’m not sure if the description of a single speed automatic gearbox is accurate, since the description suggests that there isn’t a gearbox at all, merely some means of engaging a mechanical drive. I think Terminalsecurity readers need to know exactly how thi system works and how it compares with Toyota’s longer established HSD system.

17 November 2018
LP in Brighton wrote:

.... I think Terminalsecurity readers need to know exactly how thi system works and how it compares with Toyota’s longer established HSD system.

Just Google "Honda two motor hybrid system" and it's all there.

17 November 2018

The powertrain is essentailly the same as an Outlander PHEV just with a small battery instead of a medium sized one, so the engine runs more often but it doesn't carry the high weight penalty, the lack of gearbox saving a bit more weight to comensate for the battery.

Like the Outlander, the CR-V can only move off under motor drive because its too slow to clutch in the engine without stalling it. The engine will be fixed high geared to assist with higher speed cruising. At moderate speeds the engine will run for short periods at optimum efficency, charge the battery and then shutdown whilst the motors run off the battery and cylce like this.

Its interesting because at lower speed the engine kicks in to boost the motors (extra generator current), whilst at high speed the motors kick in to boost the engine.

0-60 sounds a shade sluggish, but Honda can be quite conservative so I wouldn't be surprised if it can better this,  having once seen a stock i-cdti 140bhp engine on a dyno doing more like 155bhp

Really looking forward to testing one.

17 November 2018

When a top engineering car maker like Honda chooses a new drive system it’s a very interesting and important move. Big SUV’s require massively heavy battery packs as a pure BEV so this petrol hybrid is a worthy solution to getting rid of diesel.

I’m slightly disappointed that Honda didn’t offer “plug in” charging, though I’m aware much recent publicity about drivers failing to do this has somewhat discredited plug in hybrids.

The kerb weight seems relatively modest for a medium sized SUV with hybrid technology, so “well done Honda” for that. The acceleration seems a bit disappointing, looking at the combined output figures, but maybe that’s not an issue in this class of vehicle.

I wonder what the real world fuel economy benefits of this system are, though?

Aussie Rob - a view from down under

17 November 2018
Aussierob wrote:

When a top engineering car maker like Honda chooses a new drive system it’s a very interesting and important move. Big SUV’s require massively heavy battery packs as a pure BEV so this petrol hybrid is a worthy solution to getting rid of diesel.

I’m slightly disappointed that Honda didn’t offer “plug in” charging, though I’m aware much recent publicity about drivers failing to do this has somewhat discredited plug in hybrids.

The kerb weight seems relatively modest for a medium sized SUV with hybrid technology, so “well done Honda” for that. The acceleration seems a bit disappointing, looking at the combined output figures, but maybe that’s not an issue in this class of vehicle.

I wonder what the real world fuel economy benefits of this system are, though?

There would be no point in the expense of making it plug in, the battery is only good for 3 miles tops. Honda's aim was that the engine on average would only be running 50% of the time.

The one (for me) disadvantage of this system is it relies on the engine for heat as I have seen no mention of electric heating. I have had 4 years of getting in a pre-warmed, defrosted, demisted car every day, going to be horrid to give it up! (Outlander has powerful electric heating so can preheat without the ICE by remote control)

17 November 2018

That The Apprentice’s comment that “the battery is only good for 3 miles” is compatible with a claim that “the engine would only be running 50% of the time”

Either I’m missing something here, or it’s only journeys of 6 miles for which that could be true?

And, accepting the battery pack is very small (one reason why the kerb weight is relatively modest) maybe it should be bigger - say by another 150kg - so that “plug in” is worthwhile?

For sure, purchase incentives should only apply if the electric range exceeds, say, 50km but maybe that’s already the case in the UK?

As to how you make owners plug them in, well you’re not going to pre-heat/cool the cabin unless the car IS plugged in, or the battery will be flat just from running the climate control.

Robbo

Absolutely no EV incentives here, btw, more probable that our government will carry out its threat to raise a levy on electric vehicles because they’re not paying petrol tax.

Aussie Rob - a view from down under

17 November 2018
Aussierob wrote:

That The Apprentice’s comment that “the battery is only good for 3 miles” is compatible with a claim that “the engine would only be running 50% of the time”

Either I’m missing something here, or it’s only journeys of 6 miles for which that could be true?

And, accepting the battery pack is very small (one reason why the kerb weight is relatively modest) maybe it should be bigger - say by another 150kg - so that “plug in” is worthwhile?

For sure, purchase incentives should only apply if the electric range exceeds, say, 50km but maybe that’s already the case in the UK?

As to how you make owners plug them in, well you’re not going to pre-heat/cool the cabin unless the car IS plugged in, or the battery will be flat just from running the climate control.

Robbo

Absolutely no EV incentives here, btw, more probable that our government will carry out its threat to raise a levy on electric vehicles because they’re not paying petrol tax.

Its only a just over 1kwh battery. How it works. In a normal car the engine drives the wheels directly, through a gearbox you 'try' to match an efficient engine running speed to the speed the vehicle is doing at the time. Most the time this is a compromise.A hybrid like the Honda removes that direct attachment, the engine can run free at a preset speed independently as an electrical generator but where it is producing more power than needed but efficiently. The extra is turned into electricity by the generator and stored in the battery. When the small battery is full the engine shuts down for a while and the battery powers the electric motor (which is why its quite powerful in itself, 180bhp). when the battery gets low, the engine kicks in again and recharges it rapidly. So on average half the time the engine is on, half off.The reason for this is in a normal car the speed the engine runs at, at any time is a compromise on the speed to match the road speed and may not be efficient.

In the Honda, the engine will generally only run at fixed speed where it has been designed to be its most efficient. It can be designed without any regards for low rev torque as its never needed, the motors do low speed drive exclusively.

In the Honda as vehicle speed increases, the engine being directly coupled into the drive via a clutch has to run at a higher revs anyway and is more into its efficient zone, so as speed increases the ratio of EV mode to Engine mode decreases, no point wasting energy on conversion losses when the engine is working well anyway.this is why the top speed is quite limited, the engine when coupled in is basically 'stuck' in about 4th gear (as there is only one gear) so if you imagine the normal range of speeds you can drive at with the engine in only in 4th. At this time the motors can provide the boost you would get normally from changing down gears when you need to accelerate hard.

Early reports elsewhere are that the CR-V can do a real 50mpg, not bad for a 4.6metre 1.7 ton 4WD drive PETROL SUV.

 

17 November 2018

Thanks for the explanation, it all makes sense (unlike the Terminalsecurity article which confused me!). 

Interesting to see that once again Honda has gone for a simple, light and cheap solution, though the objectives of keeping the petrol engine working at fairly constant revs and under reasonable load and recovering electrical energy during braking are similar to what Toyota seeks with its Hybrid Synergy Drive. And presumably Honda too uses a high efficiency Atkinson cycle type engine optimised for medium speed and load. This would help offset the power losses inherent in using a generator and motor as a transmission system during acceleration. 

It will be interesting to see how these two hybrid systems compare.

20 November 2018
Its as if you had a great grasp on the subject matter, but you forgot to include your readers. Perhaps you should think about this from more than one angle.

17 November 2018
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