Honda’s CR-V has been around for decades now and over the years has established a strong reputation.
The family SUV is known for being comfortable, spacious and reliable. What it isn’t known for is its economy, at least in petrol form.
With Honda preparing to ditch diesel engines entirely, that's an issue that needed to be address, which the latest model aims to do with the introduction of a hybrid system for the first time.
Honda say that it allows the CR-V to offer strong on-road behaviour with far better economy and environmental performance than before.
Under the skin a 2.0-litre petrol engine is matched to two electric motors to offer total power of 181bhp.
In two-wheel-drive guise that’s good for 0-62mph in 8.8 seconds while the four-wheel-drive (the expected big seller) it means 62mph in 9.2 seconds.
The CR-V is a self-charging rather than plug-in hybrid so while it will run under electric power alone it’s limited to just over a mile of zero-emissions driving. Most of the time, its controls will switch seamlessly between EV, hybrid and engine-only mode to maximise its potential.
Honda estimate that at a steady 62mph cruise the CR-V will run in EV drive a third of the time and at 40mph, half the drive will be in EV mode. Official figures put the CR-V’s economy at 51.4mpg (WLTP figures will be lower) but, on an admittedly tough route, we saw mid-30s. The world might be shying away from diesels but, for comparison, our long-term Peugeot 5008 managed 48mpg and lower CO2 emissions from its 1.5-litre diesel.
The economy is, at least, better than the alternative stand-alone petrol model.
On the road the hybrid system shifts between modes unnoticed and the engine is well refined and punchy enough for a car of its size. Sadly, as with so many hybrids it’s hampered by the transmission.
Honda says the CR-V’s fixed gear transmission is unique but it acts and feels like any other CVT. Pottering around gently it works smoothly and quietly but ask the engine to work hard and you’re greeted with a booming noise completely uncoordinated with your speed that makes the engine sound like it’s working harder than it is.
The CR-V’s chassis has been heavily reworked, with new construction materials and techniques to make it stiffer and lighter than before. Honda says this has allowed improvements to ride, handling and refinement. It certainly rides well, with just the right balance of body control and pliancy to the suspension and there are no surprises in the handling department. Refinement could still be better - tyre roar was a constant companion on our test drive.
The noise intrusion aside, the CR-V’s interior impresses. Visually it’s fairly plain and its design is still some way behind the bar set by rivals such as the Skoda Kodiaq and Peugeot 5008. However, the simplicity means it is user-friendly and everything looks and feels like it has been put together with care and precision. There are also configurable storage spaces and plenty of USB charging points to serve all passengers.
Its real strength is cabin space. Rear space in particular is incredibly generous, shaming SUVs from the class above with its leg and head room. At 6’ 5” I was able to set the driver’s seat up for myself and still fit in the seat behind comfortably - and that doesn’t often happen.
Boot space, too, is generous and higher-end models come with a powered tailgate for convenience.
All CR-Vs also come with the comprehensive Honda Sensing suite of safety features, with prices starting at £30,500 for two-wheel-drive in S trim, reaching £39,050 for an all-wheel-drive EX.
Without a diesel option, the hybrid is the more sensible version of the CR-V to go for. Its inherent strengths of space, practicality and sturdiness are matched to the most economical drivetrain option.
For people making lots of short or urban journeys where diesel is weak it makes sense but for others the better economy of diesel rivals could prove more attractive.
Honda CR-V Hybrid AWD EX
Price: £39,050 Engine: 2.0-litre, four-cylinder, petrol, two electric motors Power: 181bhp Torque: 232lb/ft Transmission: Fixed-gear auto Top speed: 112mph 0-62mph: 9.2 seconds Economy: 38.2mpg CO2 emissions: 126g/km