While I’m sure there are more, I really think of two other vehicles when I contemplate direct competitors with my Mazda CX-5: The Toyota RAV-4 and the Honda CR-V. All have a very similar profile, similar interior design, a hyphen in their name and all are categorized as compact SUVs or CUVs, as they say in the biz. They are all also phenomenally popular, offering a large interior for the wheelbase and overall vehicle size along with a lot of flexibility with storage, transportation and passengers. When Honda offered to loan me the 2020 CR-V Hybrid for a week I was doubly intrigued: How would the CR-V compare to my Mazda CX-5 and how do hybrid engines work in the Honda world given this is the first model year of the CR-V with a hybrid option? It took a bit for me to warm to some of the design oddities of the CR-V but it definitely is a solid CUV option, a worthy competitor in the class.
Let’s start with an exterior photo. This is the Sonic Gray 2020 CR-V Hybrid TRG:
For the record, my daughters loved this color. Grey with just a hint of blue. Quite beautiful in person! Oh, and that acronym “TRG”? That’s not an acronym at all, it’s an abbreviation for Touring, in case you’re curious. As you can see, the vehicle sports an aggressive front grill design and cool lighting design, even for daytime running.
While it’s estimated about 15% of all cars sold in the United States are now electric or hybrid, most car buyers still don’t realize that the driving experience with a hybrid or EV engine is dramatically better than all but the most expensive internal combustion gas engines. With its continuously variable transmission these vehicles just have a smooth acceleration whether you’re going from 0-30mph or 60-75mph. In other words, yes, the Honda CR-V Hybrid is great fun to drive, and the hybrid system alleviates a lot of the problems with the otherwise underpowered 2.0 liter, 4-cylinder engine. The non-hybrid? I expect it’s not going to be anywhere near as fun to drive.
UPDATE: Honda informs me that the CR-V Hybrid doesn’t actually have a transmission, CVT or otherwise. It is a direct drive system, either from the electric motor to the drive wheels or, when the lock-up clutch is activated, from the gasoline engine to the drive wheels.
The other benefit of a hybrid, of course, is better fuel efficiency. As you can see in this front gauge close up, I averaged a respectable 35.6mpg over a few hundred miles of driving:
I liked the simple digital oriented gauge layout too. Very easy to see your current speed – probably the most important datum from a glance at your dash – and with a bit of closer viewing, the very top shows your current driving style and whether you’re helping charge the electrical subsystem (braking, coasting) or opting for more power (accelerating, driving aggressively).
Indeed, the Honda designers had some fun with the design of the entire front driver’s control area:
There’s a lot to talk about here, so let’s zoom in on some specific areas, starting with the gear controls that were the most bizarre of any vehicle I’ve driven in a while. No shifter, not even a steering wheel stick, just a bunch of oddly shaped buttons:
To reverse you needed to push the button towards the floor but the other gears were a push inward. I couldn’t help wondering why did they do this? once I figured out the basics of how to work with this control system in the vehicle. After a bit it does get to be pretty easy to work with and certainly a few days into driving the CR-V I was shifting into reverse (which also causes the car to produce a delightful humming sound to warn people you are backing up), drive, and park without really thinking about it. Still, why not have a short shifter on the dash?
Of course, one reason for this is to move the shifter off the center console area between the driver and passenger seats. Which frees it up to have a storage tray, cup holders, even a wireless Qi charger as you can see in the earlier photo.
Another place Honda innovated is with the controls on the steering wheel itself:
Took a while to realize that the +/- control by my left thumb allowed for an easy volume control, but it wasn’t until a week into driving the Honda CR-V Hybrid that I discovered that next/previous track controls were hidden within the circular arrow controls. Me? I would have had a mirror image button on the right side of the steering wheel for next/prev track (the space is available) or make the circular control on the left thumb smaller so a next/prev button could be left of that control. Again, it’s easy to say “you’ll get used to it” and yes, it’s hard to design user interfaces in vehicles, but I felt that some of the steering wheel controls could more logically be elsewhere in the control area to free up space for the most commonly used interface features like next/prev. Example: Why is the steering wheel heating button on the steering wheel rather than paired with the seat warmer controls on the main dash?
Okay, let’s step away from the dashboard!
Moving around to the back of the CR-V, you can see it has a solid cargo capacity, as do all of the compact SUVs:
The rear seats also fold down in a common 60/40 configuration, allowing for lots of flexibility. Huge props to Honda for a simple and obvious way to set max lift height on the rear hatch too (it’s on the leading edge), something too many car companies ignore but that is important for people who park in compact garage spaces.
The interior for rear passengers is pleasantly organized too, with two USB-3.0 plugs and decent legroom:
No real environmental controls for rear passengers, nor seat warmers. Those might be available with an upgraded configuration, however.
Speaking of configurations, be aware that the power moonroof is rather small:
The 2020 Honda CR-V Hybrid TRG also comes with a list of safety features as long as your arm. Front and rear parking sensors, auto-off headlights, rain sensing wipers, walk away auto-lock, adaptive cruise control (a must have on all modern cars, if you ask me), collision mitigation braking, lane keeping assist system and road departure mitigation. Not only that, but remote start comes standard too, a handy feature when it gets really cold outside.
One more photo, of the rear exterior:
Lots to like about this affordable CUV from Honda, and the Hybrid system is definitely an upgrade in both the driving experience and fuel efficiency rating. Add all the safety features, anticipate having to get used to the weird gear shifting system, and you’ve got a solid option for a solo driver, a couple or a small family.
CONFIGURATION: 2020 Honda CR-V Hybrid TRG, Sonic Grey / Black, 2.0 Liter i-VTEC 4-cylinder engine. No additional packages added to the TRG configuration, so MSRP and AS DRIVEN price are the same (for once!) $35,950.00.
Disclosure: Honda loaned me the CR-V Hybrid for a week to drive in return for this writeup and review. Thanks, Honda!