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A Best-Seller’s Makeover

The Honda CR-V is the best-selling crossover in North America over the last 25 years. That’s a remarkable record, fueled by a core set of attributes that hasn’t changed over the past quarter-century. The CR-V has always offered buyers an amazing balance of space, versatility, features, handling, and economy – all wrapped up in a compact package and with Honda’s typical reliability and resale value.

Still, over the years, the CR-V has certainly grown, and grown up. The “compact recreational vehicle” isn’t that compact anymore; it’s downright spacious inside, and luxurious as well. Performance has increased, with a choice of turbocharged and hybrid powertrains that make the most out of every drop of fuel. And the latest CR-V is also packed with technology – from active safety features to comfort and conveniences the original model could only dream of.

The highlight of the new CR-V lineup is the all-new CR-V Hybrid, which Honda expects to account for over half of the model’s sales for the first time. We recently spent some time behind the wheel to discover how it differs to its predecessors, and how it performs in the real world.

More Luxurious Than Ever

Walking up to the new CR-V, you’re immediately struck by its more mature, grown-up styling. While the previous-generation CR-V certainly stood out from the crowd, its many curves and angles felt like they were trying a little too hard. The 2023 model, completely redesigned, is calmer, simpler, and easier on the eyes. The timeless shapes, as well as the sharply-defined pieces of jewelry, like the metal-trimmed air intakes and crisp LED lighting, give the new CR-V a premium look that belies its sub-$35,000 starting MSRP.

The impression of timeless luxury extends inside as well. For one thing, getting in and out of the CR-V is easier than ever, because of larger door openings and an easier step-in. There’s better headroom and legroom front and rear, even with the panoramic sunroof. And, much like the exterior, you’re presented with a dashboard, console, and controls that feel like they’re from a class above.

Depending on which trim level you’ve chosen, you either get high-quality fabrics or very convincing faux leather seats, accented with orange stitching on the top-spec Touring model. Regardless of trim level, the seats are long-haul comfortable, with a wide range of adjustment that makes it easy to find the perfect seating position. Out back, the large cargo is accessible through a power-operated rear hatch, and even the CR-V hybrid has plenty of storage space under the cargo floor to hide valuables.

Honda’s interior designers clearly spent time in the Audi Q5 when they designed the CR-V’s interior, and that is no bad thing. The CR-V has a simple, elegant dashboard, with a mesh panel concealing the air vents spanning the entire width of the cabin. The center console has numerous storage compartments as well as a wireless charging pad. A crystal-clear touchscreen (with matte, not gloss finish) perches on top of the dashboard within easy sight. And, praise be, there are physical climate and infotainment controls – beautiful knurled knobs for volume, temperature, and fan speed, as well as easy-to-use buttons for many functions. This is easily one of the nicest interiors on the market, certainly at this price point.

Easy-to-Use Tech

Most crossover vehicles in the CR-V’s price class offer a high level of standard equipment and technology features, but Honda has made them exceptionally easy to use. The steering wheel has real buttons and switches for operating the cruise control, infotainment system, and on-board computer. The half-digital, half-analog instrument cluster is a portrait of clarity, even while offering information on power flow, torque distribution, and a comprehensive trip computer.

Pairing your smartphone takes only a couple of taps on the touch screen, and Apple CarPlay or Android Auto operate seamlessly – and wirelessly. Unlike some European brands, the infotainment system is simplicity itself, and the vehicle doesn’t offer too many unnecessary and pointless settings for ambient lighting or system preferences. It’s just easy, and it just works. Sound quality from the Bose audio system is excellent, and it’s nice to use a real volume knob.

The CR-V is equipped with a wide array of advance driver assistance systems, as well. All 2023 models come standard with an expanded “Honda Sensing” suite. Adaptive cruise control is bundled with an active lane keeping assistant, traffic jam assistant, automatic emergency braking, and more. Indeed, the CR-V is even looking out for your back-seat passengers, as a rear seat reminder and rear seatbelt reminder are also new and standard across the lineup.

The centerpiece of the suite is a camera and radar sensor, both with wide fields of view. They improve collision prevention performance and can better recognize vehicles or pedestrians, road boundaries, and other objects. The systems can be quite aggressive about warning you of slowing traffic or obstacles up ahead – but it’s nice to know they’re looking out for you.

On the console beside the shift lever, a switch lets you toggle the CR-V Hybrid between four different drive modes. In additional to normal and economy modes, a new snow mode maximizes traction in snowy conditions, and a sport mode adds some zip to the driving experience, even allowing you to “shift” the continuously-variable transmission through some fake gear ratios.

All-New Hybrid System

The 2023 CR-V Hybrid features a massively updated hybrid drivetrain that combines a naturally-aspirated 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine with that CVT transmission and a pair of electric motors, mounted side-by-side. Honda claims this new configuration offers more power and a sportier driving feel – claims backed up by 204 hp of total system output and peak torque of 247 lb-ft.

The most powerful CR-V ever, the CR-V Hybrid is also the most refined. It is responsive and easy to drive at all speeds, and remarkably quiet when cruising. The larger lithium-ion battery also significantly increases how far it can drive on electric power alone. While the new CR-V is not a plug-in hybrid, it can cruise city blocks on pure electric power, and if you live where there’s lots of traffic, it’s surprising how much of your commute can be done without using any fuel.

Speaking of which, the CR-V Hybrid’s powertrain brings a major fuel economy benefit. Transport Canada rates fuel consumption in the city of just 6.0 L/100 km, with 6.9 L/100 km on the highway. Those are amazing numbers – and far better than the 9.1 L/100 km and 7.6 L/100 km scored by the conventional AWD drivetrain.

Like every Honda, the CR-V is surprisingly fun in the corners as well. While it’s a tall, spacious crossover, its steering is light and responsive, and the new more upright design makes it easier to place the car accurately in traffic or when rounding an on-ramp. While the ride quality is superb, making light of even the biggest bumps on city, the CR-V remains composed on winding country lanes as well. The brakes are excellent, and the transition between regenerative braking and “real” braking with the discs is seamless.

Conclusions

All in all, there’s a lot to like about the new CR-V, especially the latest CR-V Hybrid model. It still has all of the things that made previous versions popular: space, economy, versatility, and quality – all bundled into a much more upscale package than before. The Hybrid’s performance and refinement place it in a class above, and the interior quality and sophistication is amazing.

Of course, all of this capability and luxury comes at a higher price than before: entry to the CR-V lineup, with a turbocharged 1.5-litre engine and front-wheel drive, now has an MSRP of $34,790 before destination charge. Going for the full-load Sport Touring hybrid will set you back $48,890. That’s a lot more than the original CR-V – but you’re also getting a lot more.