By on March 17, 2020

2020 Honda CR-V Hybrid

I’m not, generally speaking, a crossover fan. That said, I’m not a full-on hater, either — I understand that sometimes people need the utility offered by crossovers. And some of the compact five-seat crossovers, the small ones that aren’t rolling barges, seem to be decent tools for automotive multitasking, at least to my eye.

Take Toyota’s RAV4. Always a hit with the public, if not with enthusiasts, and the newest version is quite good.

And just like the Accord/Camry battles that have been fought since before I could legally drive, the CR-V and RAV4 are fighters in opposite corners, duking it out for buyer’s bucks. Including those buyers who want to go green.

There are many reasons one buys a hybrid — the fuel-economy gains, the green cred, or the “green” posturing/posing — but no matter what the why is, there are buyers out there who want that badge.

Toyota has their hybridized RAV, so now it’s Honda’s turn. Yep — it’s the first CR-V Hybrid Honda has offered, at least here. Honda’s offered a hybrid powertrain overseas for a bit now.

(Full disclosure: Honda flew me to Tucson, Arizona, and fed and housed me for two nights so I could drive the CR-V. The famed racing simulator showed up, allowing me to embarrass myself in front of other journos who have a better handle on driving a virtual Indycar. The company offered a hat, which I did not take. Tourist activities such as archery were available, but I had no time to partake. It’s all about the car).

The drive days on most press programs work like this: Drive 40-70 miles in some scenic rural area with curvy roads with maybe a few miles of freeway and/or urban streets mixed in, switch, ride shotgun, eat, drive another 40-70 miles, switch, go back to hotel. Honda set this one up a bit differently. My partner and I spent most of the morning drive on Tucson’s street grid, with some mild curves on the second leg.

2020 Honda CR-V Hybrid

Which, honestly, is fine. No need to corner carve in a crossover for first impressions. Yes, a little more of a handling loop would’ve been nice, but Mrs. Jones doesn’t look much Mario Andretti. Neither does Mr. Jones. This is a grocery-getter.

[Get new and used Honda CR-V pricing here!]

The good news is, it’s a smooth one. The mild corners were well handled, and the hybrid powertrain gives the CR-V a power boost over what’s on offer in the gas model, making 212 total system horsepower and 232 lb-ft of torque. The gas CR-V checks in at 190 horsepower/179 lb-ft of torque.

The two-motor powertrain is similar to what’s offered in the Accord Hybrid, and it pairs a 2.0-liter four-cylinder with VTEC (kicked in, yo) with an electric propulsion motor. There’s also a generator/starter motor. That propulsion motor and generator/starter motor don’t use magnets made of rare-earth metals, which Honda says reduces cost and weight. Otherwise, they seem pretty normal.

2020 Honda CR-V Hybrid

All-wheel drive is standard, and there are three drive modes for the hybrid system, plus a Sport mode, along with EV (electric-only operation for up to a mile, if you’re light of foot) and Econ. Steering-wheel paddles allow the driver to control the level of regenerative braking. A front transfer case gets power to the rear, where an electronically controlled rear differential engages before the wheels can slip, and disengages when not needed in order to improve fuel economy.

There’s no conventional transmission. There is a reduction gearset, but the power/propulsion comes from the electric motor most of the time, with the gas engine acting to power the generator to supply the electricity. The gas engine does get involved directly with the wheels via a clutch during high-speed cruising but that’s about it. In city driving, the battery supplies electricity to the propulsion motor. In hybrid operation, the gas engine supplies the generator motor, which in turn supplies the propulsion motor and charges the battery.

2020 Honda CR-V Hybrid

Outside, the differences between a hybrid CR-V and a standard gas model are subtle. The Honda badges at front and rear are blue, EX trims and above have a five-LED-light design for the fog lamps, there are other hybrid badges, and the rear bumper is different. It also hides the exhaust tips. The overall look is curvy and a bit soft compared to the rugged-looking RAV4, but it’s still pleasant and equally handsome.

Inside, the gauge cluster is different, and the shifter goes from a standard T-handle to push-button. The center console is redesigned, offering three configurations. The cabin styling is mostly fine, although the push-button shifter will aggravate some and the factory nav’s graphics could use an update (I do like the text calling out upcoming cross streets, though). The wireless cell phone charger is well-placed, and the controls are laid out logically. Oh, and yes, there’s a volume knob.

The seats were a bit stiff and flat up front. Rear legroom was plentiful, even for this long-legged editor.

2020 Honda CR-V Hybrid

On the road, the hybrid system’s operation is difficult to detect, with seamless transitions. The extra power over the gas model is noticeable, and the CR-V, while not unusually swift, pulls smoothly from a stop.

Tucson’s roads are generally in good shape, so bear that in mind, but the ride was quite smooth. Even the few patches of bad pavement didn’t disturb the proceedings too much, although tire noise became a concern.

Honda set things up so that after our morning drive, we could compare a gas CR-V to our CR-V Hybrid to a RAV4 Hybrid. The hybrid felt smoother than the gas version, which I hadn’t driven prior, to the point that I checked the odometer to make sure it wasn’t a hard-ridden fleet vehicle (it wasn’t). The RAV4 Hybrid also felt a little rougher around the edges (I don’t recall this experience from one I had on loan last fall), as well. The CR-V Hybrid out-accelerated the gas model, at least judging by seat of the pants feel, and was on par with the RAV4.

2020 Honda CR-V Hybrid

I measured the fuel-economy of all three on the same route and came up with 31.9 mpg in the gas CR-V, 38.2 in the CR-V Hybrid, and 41.9 in the RAV4 Hybrid. Honda suggested we use the cruise control to take our feet out of the equation in order to get more consistent numbers, but I forgot, which is fine, as I rarely use cruise anyway. Talking with other journos, those who used cruise and/or had a light foot were seeing much higher numbers, but a few with lead in their shoes didn’t do as well as I did. As always, how you drive matters when it comes to fuel economy. The 6.3 mpg gain over the gas CR-V is still not too shabby, though.

The EPA numbers are 40 mpg city/35 mpg highway/38 mpg combined for the CR-V Hybrid. Compare that to the 27/33/29 of AWD gas models.

Pedestrians, rejoice: The acoustic vehicle alerting system, otherwise known as the “hey, I’m driving an EV here! Hear me coming!” noise that chimes in when in EV-only mode has been adapted to fit in with new regulations. Its volume increases with speed until 20 mph or so.

2020 Honda CR-V Hybrid

Safety matters in this segment. Hell, it matters in every segment, but these are family vehicles, so safety gets an extra spotlight. To that end, Honda’s suite of safety tech is called HondaSense, and it’s standard. It includes collision-mitigation braking, adaptive cruise control with low-speed follow, lane-keeping assist, and road-departure mitigation with lane-departure warning.

The Indiana-built CR-V Hybrid will come in four trims (LX, EX, EX-L, and Touring) and its price like this, including the $1,120 D and D fee: LX ($28,870), EX ($31,380), EX-L ($33,870), and Touring ($37,070).

Standard features added on to the base unit include AWD, HondaSense with remote start, 17-inch wheels, USB, keyless entry and start, LED headlights, cargo cover, and automatic climate control. Available features on EX include LED fog lights, blind-spot information with rear cross-traffic alert, memory driver’s seat, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, 18-inch wheels, moonroof, rear USB ports, and dual-zone climate control. Walk to the EX-L for heated steering wheel, leather seats, power liftgate, and HomeLink. Step to a Touring like the one I drove for front and rear parking sensors, 19-inch wheels, wireless cell-phone charging, factory nav, roof rails, rain-sensing wipers, premium audio, and hands-free liftgate.

A gas Touring model comparable to the Hybrid Touring I drove costs $35,870.

2020 Honda CR-V Hybrid

Honda threw two comps at us. A Ford Escape Hybrid Titanium costs a tad less than the Hybrid Touring I drove, and it’s more engaging in terms of handling, while also achieving better EPA numbers. But it’s down on power by comparison.

The RAV4 Hybrid Limited with Advanced Technology package costs a little more, makes similar power numbers, and has slightly better EPA numbers while offering fewer standard features overall. Both the Escape and RAV4 give up some rear-seat room and passenger volume, but the RAV has more cargo volume and the Escape has more front legroom.

If all that mattered was on-road behavior, the Escape would be a stronger choice (we’ll not mention its polarizing styling). The RAV4 and CR-V are both a little more well-rounded, in this scribe’s opinion. The choice between the two is tough. I like the RAV4 a lot, and Toyota finally got the styling right. But this CR-V is smooth and (relatively) swift.

Honda has cooked up a very, very good green crossover that doesn’t penalize those who like to pass up fuel pumps. In fact, it rewards, due to the power bump over the gas model. It’s a well-rounded package.

But so is its closest rival from Toyota. The best news we can give Honda is that this competition won’t be one-sided.

[Images © 2020 Tim Healey/The Truth About Cars]

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27 Comments on “2020 Honda CR-V Hybrid First Drive – Smooth, Green Power...”

  • avatar

    Holy crap $36k for this?

  • avatar

    I was in one of these Hybrids in October 2019.

    Seems nice enough. I like the front and rear CHROMEWORK, seems odd to NOT have the shifter in the console. Other than that, very much like other CRVs. I did NOT drive it.

    As a point of reference I currently own TWO CR-Vs same generation as this one, and THREE Highlanders.

    My CR-Vs are the ones I bought to be my CHEAP transportation. They fit that bill.

    I measure 30-34 mpg in gasoline/petrol (only;not hybrdid) CR-Vs

    I would take and drive my Highlanders every single minute over these CR-Vs. But, that’s just me.

  • avatar

    “Pedestrians, rejoice: The acoustic vehicle alerting system, otherwise known as the “hey, I’m driving an EV here! Hear me coming!” noise that chimes in when in EV-only mode has been adapted to fit in with new regulations.”

    I’d like to see a study on how often deaf people get smoked by a car because they didn’t look both ways before they stepping in front of one. I bet the numbers are very, very low. But let’s make special accommodations for hearing people who are too dumb to look where they’re going, and let’s put the cost of those accommodations on everyone else.

    Maybe this quarantine thing is bringing out my inner curmudgeon.

    • 0 avatar
      Ol Shel

      It is well known that people can rely on sound to alert them to an oncoming vehicle. We also know that people are reluctant to change their behavior. So, these unusually quiet vehicles can be equipped with a speaker to make them more apparent…

      Or, as would happen if your view were adopted, more people should die. Those people probably aren’t your loved ones, so they may not seem to have value to you. Most people, regulators included, disagree.

      I guess blind people are really in the crosshairs…

    • 0 avatar

      When I first leased my C-Max Energi, EVs and PHEVs were pretty novel. I had a fair number of close encounters with people who didn’t hear me coming in parking lots.

      By three years later, in Seattle, people were mostly cured of that habit. But I can imagine it’s still the case in places without a Tesla in every garage and a Beyond Burger in every pot.

      Edit: What on earth about the above comment triggered moderation? I didn’t cuss or even say anything controversial.

    • 0 avatar

      “But let’s make special accommodations for…”

      Yes. And I’d like to see all the “driver assistance” features disappear (become optional), as well. Why not simply look through the windows and properly operate the controls – you know, do what’s expected of a driver.

  • avatar

    Hideous. Blobby. And those wheels look HUGE – almost like a conestoga wagon wheel – too narrow – too tall – the overall look is ghastly and tacky. But it is a Honduh and that is what they build these days.

  • avatar

    Probably a great vehicle if you mainly drive in town. However, the single fixed ratio for direct drive is a little disappointing if you do a lot highway driving as there is a rapid drop in efficiency at anything above 65 MPH.

    • 0 avatar

      exactly right,carguy. I had this same powertrain in a 2017 Accord Hybrid. Amazing mileage around town and if you stayed under the speed limit on teh the HWY. I had a few tanks with 50mpg, and averaged low 40s in my usage which included a lot of local hilly driving. But mileage tanked at 75 mph.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    I like the interior, but the comment about the front seat comfort is a concern. Good that it’s smooth – my 13 Optima Hybrid is not.

    Alex Dykes addresses the MPG difference between the hybrid CRV and RAV4, and it comes down to a choice between power or fuel economy.

  • avatar

    Whoever thought that primer grey/battleship grey paint color was a good thing should be painted with it and then thrown over a cliff. Idiot.

    The outside of this thing is gut-wrenching ugly – nothing works together – and if this is as cheap feeling and tinny as a friend’s Honduh Oddity minivan, I can’t imagine why these are so popular. I swear you have to be an idiot to buy a Honduh. Back in the 80’s and 90’s Hondas were special. Now they are just tin cans with hideous styling that end up tailgaiting you in the slow lane.

    • 0 avatar

      I don’t get it either. The Accord seems like the only truly nice option (and I happen to like the styling).

      I’ve been in both current gen CRV and Forester. The Forester was significantly quieter, smoother, and with much nicer interior design/materials. But I’ve yet to see a single review that backs this up. Sure the Forester is a bit pokier, but it’s a much nicer vehicle, and neither is going to win a drag race.

  • avatar

    This type of hybrid is an excellent substitute for manual transmission people. It drives exactly like a manual transmission car with excellent responsiveness, good engine braking and direct feel — basically the same as an EV, except when the clutch is closed and the engine is driving the wheels directly. Which is the same as being in top gear with a manual gearbox. Not quite as excellent as an EV but very close and way cheaper. I have driven Clarity PHEV and Accord Hybrid with this system and both are excellent replacements for manual transmission.

  • avatar
    CKNSLS Sierra SLT

    They will sell a TON of these-at MSRP.

    Not saying I like them-but they will-SELL.

    • 0 avatar

      In this case buying my Highlander 6K+ under MSRP saved me enough not to worry about gas price for some time, until we get even. So, if I spend $1200/y on gas and CRV-h owner $675, I pay $525 more/y. But I saved on purchase $6800 min, including on taxes. For 10 years, this is $680 per year. Yes, gas price can change. But I will be driving v6 with nice sound and big and comfortable car for same money. Ah…

  • avatar

    “Honda flew me to Tucson, Arizona, and fed and housed me for two nights so I could drive the CR-V. But I sat in the super-economy section of the airplane, in a middle seat, and had a hotel room that overlooked the parking lot. I only used one towel and did not use the fitness center. I did not eat any of the complimentary snacks or bread at dinner, skipped dessert, and only had coffee and a muffin for breakfast.”

    I guess reviewing a Honda requires the reviewer (regardless of site) to overlook the hard plastics in the interior that regularly get commented on in other makes, and to overlook the majority of the shortcomings of the vehicle.

    • 0 avatar

      Amazing how every GM review mentions the hard plastics, like the reviewer just got out of their Maybach daily driver isn’t it.
      And I like this CRV. But it’s a Honda and it’s going to have hard plastics. And that’s great.
      I dislike the premium over the non hybrid price, so I’d probably pass on that.

  • avatar

    “There are many reasons one buys a hybrid — the fuel-economy gains, the green cred, or the “green” posturing/posing — but no matter what the why is, there are buyers out there who want that badge.”

    There are plenty of reasons to want a hybrid beyond fuel economy or green showboating. The two best things about my Highlander Hybrid are the powertrain smoothness, which leaves me feeling that most conventional automatics are jerky, and the ability of the vehicle to idle for long periods of time with the engine mostly off but the climate control running.

    • 0 avatar

      I agree about the transmission feel. A lot of people can’t seem to get over now having gears or the “motorboating” effect of a CVT (but it’s okay when a real motorboat accelerates that way in the water??), but I happen to like the smoothness of a CVT.

      I don’t like when a CVT has a mushy response, but that’s usually because the drivetrain group mad certain design choices, not something inherent with CVTs in general.

  • avatar

    So glad they’ve dispensed with the bulky shifter. There’s so much more useful space on the console which has been canted forward.

    • 0 avatar

      Took a second read to grasp the wonderful level of sarcasm…

      God forbid they free up the space traditionally used by the shift lever, and actually use it for storage/charging ever growing smart phones, or cup holders not under your elbow…

  • avatar
    cimarron typeR

    Tim- thats a great review including the content that really matters in this segment.Kudos to Honda for bringing along the competitors for an apples to apples comparo.

  • avatar

    I’m glad to see that the Hybrid’s engine uses port fuel injection, which should eliminate some sizable maintenance costs, down the road. The loss of a couple of mpg at these fuel economy levels is negligible .

  • avatar

    A friend has a 18′ or 19′, pretty sure it is the base model FWD with a non-turbo engine. I’ve ridden in it for several hours, and I’ve also driven one as a rental. I get why people buy them, and they do offer a lot of room and utility for a fair price. I realize my experience was with the base model, but it has a lot of issues that bother me. I don’t fondle vehicle surfaces, but it has a lot of hard and cheap plastic. The fabric seats are already showing fuzzy fraying, the engine is loud and coarse, the is a lot of road noise, the ride is jiggly, and the doors and door handles feel tinny and insubstantial. And this leaves out design issues inside and out that just bug me. Its a shame because its a car I want to like, but I don’t.

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