There are many reasons why the Honda CR-V is the best-selling SUV (suitable pause, cue gravelly voice)…in the world. Here’s another…
It was a race few knew about. In 1999, Honda introduced a compact and odd-looking coupe known as the Insight. Most, with the exception of a good number of appreciative aficionados, will have forgotten it.
It was the first hybrid car to officially go on sale in the UK, beating the ubiquitous Toyota Prius to our shores by a matter of months. The rest, as they say…
Since then, most of Honda’s automotive range has received the hybrid treatment at one point through their respective generations, so it's perhaps surprising that we've had to wait so long for the company's first hybrid SUV.
Introduced to the UK in 1995, the current, fifth-generation Honda CR-V went on sale in 2017. At that time all diesel versions were dropped thanks mostly in part to the government’s misguided but nonetheless successful campaign against diesels.
The CR-V was last year given a mid-life refresh. Along with that refresh came the introduction of this hybrid variant for those seeking greater efficiency and economy.
Apart from the levelling out of a few overly sharp creases, the 2019 refresh pretty much left the CR-V’s design alone. Darker chrome and light lenses grace all variants of the updated model whether they bear the hybrid drivetrain or just a conventional engine. There is the more graceful integration of the fog lights into the front bumpers, too.
To set the model apart from the rest of the CR-V line-up, the Hybrid gets ‘Hybrid’ badging, as well as an exclusive blue Honda shield in the grille.
Step into the updated CR-V Hybrid and you'll notice little difference inside from regular petrol-powered versions. The gear selector is gone, with drive mode selection buttons in its place, and there's a digital dashboard that provides information on fuel economy, driving mode and battery range, but the layout is generally the same as any other CR-V.
That's no bad thing. The CR-V has an attractive and well-ordered dashboard that favours common sense over sheer style, and many will prefer its conventional layout to rivals such as the Peugeot 3008 and Citroen C5 Aircross.
The most striking difference you will notice between the CR-V Hybrid and other versions is in its significantly lower noise level. This is especially the case when nipping about town in EV Drive mode, but the absence of a traditional gearbox means engines revs don’t soar as often as they do in CVT-equipped petrol models.
The Hybrid rides at least as smoothly as petrol versions, too, soaking up the road nicely, delivering comfort to match the serene environment.
Practicality and space
With family life in mind, the biggest difference between the Hybrid and petrol CR-Vs is that the former comes without a seven-seat option. This is due to the space required to accommodate the lithium-ion battery pack, which is situated beneath the boot floor and also serves to marginally reduce luggage capacity from 561 to 497 litres.
Even that reduced figure still comes close to matching the 520-litre Peugeot 3008, and you still get a flat loading bay and the option to enlarge the boot when the rear seats aren't required. So, there’s very little loss of practicality to be fair.
Elsewhere, the CR-V Hybrid is just as accommodating as any other version, with loads of space for front and rear seat occupants and an uncluttered floor that means even the centre rear seat passenger has somewhere to place their feet. The driving position is set high, too, with excellent visibility that makes it surprisingly easy to thread the CR-V through narrow urban roads.
Trim grades & equipment
The Hybrid comes in the same four trims as the regular CR-V: S, SE, SR, and EX. Front-wheel-drive is available in the first three, with all-wheel-drive an option on the SE and SR (as tested). The EX is all-wheel-drive only.
All models have the ‘Honda Sensing’ package of driver aids, which includes autonomous emergency braking (AEB), forward collision warning, lane keeping assist and lane departure warning, adaptive cruise control and traffic sign recognition. A set of 18-inch alloys is standard throughout the range, too.
SE trim adds parking sensors and a rear-view camera, plus Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, while SR introduces blind-spot and cross-traffic monitoring, smart entry and start, active cornering lights and lavish leather trim.
The top of the range EX adds a heated steering wheel, a head-up display, a hands-free powered tailgate, heated front and rear seats and a panoramic glass sunroof. With all-wheel drive, this top-spec model is reckoned to be the biggest seller, but the SE with front-wheel-drive is the best value choice.
The Hybrid CR-V uses Honda’s 2.0-litre i-VTEC petrol engine and a lithium-ion battery pack that sends electricity to a powerful electric motor. While hybrid systems like that of the Toyota Prius use a CVT automatic gearbox, Honda's rather clever ‘intelligent Multi-Mode Drive’ (i-MMD) setup uses a 'motor/generator' in its place, delivering smooth, seamless acceleration.
There are three driving modes; Engine Drive, Hybrid Drive and EV Drive, with decreasing reliance on petrol power.
When Engine Drive is engaged, the motor-generator and electric motor are locked to provide a direct mechanical drive from the petrol engine to the front wheels – typically at high motorway speeds. In Hybrid Drive mode, the petrol engine turns the motor-generator but is disconnected from the wheels. Instead, electricity generated is sent to the electric drive motor as well as topping up the battery. EV Drive, meanwhile, uses the battery alone to power the car for short distances. Honda claims that clever software allows the Hybrid to switch between the power modes almost seamlessly, and this seemed to be the case on our test.
Total system power is 181hp and the hybrid's respectable 0-62mph time of 8.8 seconds won't break any speed records. Enthusiastic drivers will note the steering wheel paddles, but these are used to adjust how energy is recuperated from the motor-generator and regenerative braking system, rather than to make manual gear changes. There’s a 'Sport' mode that is claimed to offer a sharper throttle response, but its effect is superfluous and inclusion pointless.
On the road
The CR-V Hybrid is designed with comfort in mind, so the suspension is tuned to cushion you from the road – a job it does exceptionally well, although it does wallow about a little too much during quick directional changes.
No Honda CR-V is in its element on a country lane and the Hybrid adds a further 100kg to the SUV's already bulky frame, with additional body lean as a result. However, the steering is sharp and precise.
There's no doubt this is a car designed to keep you calm and relaxed, which it does well thanks to the decent refinement and cushy ride.
Test week stats
During the course of our week with the Honda CR-V Hybrid, presented in SR all-wheel drive, we drove a total of 412 miles over a variety of M, A and B roads at an average speed of 28.3mph. The average fuel consumption was recorded at 47.8mpg, which is 93% of the official 51.4mpg (combined WLTP data) for the AWD variant.
In Hybrid form, Honda's fifth generation CR-V aims to reach a wider audience than the previous generation model's diesel engines ever did. This petrol electric powerplant is quieter and greener and it shares all the improvements of more conventional CR-V variants. We found this car hard not to like.
* Browse our top leasing deal on the Honda CR-V Hybrid.