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2020 Honda CR-V Hybrid First Drive

Good things come in small hybrid packages.

Ed TahaneyWriter, PhotographerManufacturerPhotographer

TUSCON, Arizona—The sturdy saguaro cactus is native to the Sonoran Desert and thrives in southern Arizona and western Sonora, Mexico. The car-sized cacti with balloon-like arms can live for hundreds of years, grow up to 60 feet tall, and weigh nearly 5,000 lb. The Honda CR-V has been around since 1997, can reliably last for hundreds of thousands of miles, is about 5.5-feet tall, and weighs 3,649 lb. It is now available as a hybrid model, which I'm happy to report it is even better than a regular CR-V. The compact SUV hybrid version from Honda adds a few grand to the price tag, but, depending on your daily driving habits, it can probably save you even more cash at the gas pump down the road.

The CR-V commands nearly 60 percent of Honda's ever-growing SUV sales, priced and sized above the thriftier HR-V, and below the more capable Passport and full-size Pilot. Honda is no newcomer to the hybrid scene; the hybrid CR-V joins the brand's Insight Hybrid and Accord Hybrid sedans. To help tell it apart from the standard CR-V, the Hybrid sports five-LED fog lights up front, a rear bumper with a hidden exhaust, and the more obvious Hybrid and blue-accented Honda badging.

2020 Honda CR-V Hybrid Powertrain

Under its curved little hood, a 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder, paired with two electric motors, offers a combined 212 horsepower and 232 lb-ft of torque. It's a nice step up from the 1.5-liter I-4 gas (non-hybrid) version that delivers a healthy 190 hp and 179 lb-ft of torque. There isn't a traditional transmission or CVT for the hybrid version; instead the power from the engine and motors are transferred to the wheels via four fixed-ratio gear sets and a lock-up clutch. It offers much better fuel economy over its gas counterpart at 40/35/38 mpg city/highway/combined versus 27/33/29 mpg for the AWD gas model.

The CR-V Hybrid Touring trim that I tested is priced nearly $2,000 below the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid Limited, and about $400 above a Ford Escape Hybrid Titanium. Toyota's best seller has more horsepower at 219 hp, and more cargo space at 37.5 cubic feet. The Ford has less of each at 200 hp and 30.7 cu. ft. of cargo space, but both get slightly better gas mileage than Honda's new challenger. However, the CR-V offers 33.2 cubes of cargo space and has the best passenger volume at 105.9 cu. ft., if interior real estate is more important to you.

Inside, the Touring trim features a digital gauge cluster, push button gear selector, two lighted USB ports, wireless phone charger, and a redesigned center console with three configurations and space for a small bag. It also has three drive modes: Sport, Econ, and EV whereas the gas version only offers Econ for tamer throttle response and better miles per gallon, on average. Sport mode makes the drive a tad more engaging around town, and EV mode offers up to a mile of all-electric power depending on the battery pack's charge status. When the CR-V Hybrid runs in EV mode it features an acoustic vehicle alerting system instead of the usual electric car silence. The sound reminds one of the "sounds of angels," according to some Honda staffers. To my ear, it does not—it's more like the electronic gurgle of George Jetson's flying car. There are also regenerative braking paddles on the steering wheel to control and adjust the regen battery level if you are into that sort of thing.

The cabin feels fairly roomy for its size, legroom is decent for passengers up to six feet tall, both in the front row and in the back, and the rear seats offer 60/40 split fold, and they also fold flat. Its 1.4-kWh battery pack is stowed under the cargo floor, so don't expect to find room for a spare like you would find in the standard CR-V—there's an electric pump instead. The interior is quiet on the highway and the transitions between the gas engine and electric motors is nearly seamless. But be warned, if you dare to drop the hammer on the accelerator, look out—the I-4 engine scream like a cat in heat. The CR-V handles like you would expect it to, and there is not much difference compared to the 1.5-liter version in terms of driving feel. Safety nannies include the standard Honda Sensing package which adds collision mitigation braking, adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assist, and road departure mitigation systems.

The new gas-electric hybrid variant comes with standard "real-time" all-wheel-drive, and we had the opportunity to test a Touring model in a deep-sand course. We tested it back to back with its closest competitor, a Toyota RAV4 Hybrid Limited, and it passed the challenge in flying colors; the Toyota seemed to struggle a bit more to find traction on the course. Like the non-hybrid CR-V, the hybrid's AWD system features a front transfer case that connects at the front differential and an electronically controlled rear differential that engages before wheel slip happens.

But is the CR-V Hybrid worth it? Absolutely. It may be shaped like a barrel cactus, but it will take you well over 500-miles between fill ups—and (hopefully) it won't prick you when it's time for service.

2020 Honda CR-V Hybrid Quick Facts

  • New hybrid version of the best-selling CR-V
  • Engine: 2.0-liter inline-4 with 2 electric motors
  • Fuel economy: 40/35 mpg city/highway, and 38 mpg combined
  • Four trim levels with standard AWD: LX, EX, EX-L, and Touring.
  • Price range: $28,870-$37,070 (including destination)
  • For: Practical little SUV offers great mpg.
  • Against: Engine screams like a cat in heat.
  • Best Competitors: Toyota RAV4 Hybrid and Ford Escape Hybrid
2020 Honda CR-V Hybrid Specifications
ON SALE Now
PRICE $28,870, LX; $31,380, EX; $33,870, EX-L; $37,070, Touring
ENGINE 2.0L DOHC 16-valve I-4, 212 hp, 232 lb-ft; 2 electric motors, 212 hp combined
TRANSMISSION None
LAYOUT 4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, hybrid AWD SUV
EPA MILEAGE 40/35 mpg (city/hwy)
L x W x H 182.1 x 73.0 x 66.5 in
WHEELBASE 104.8 in
WEIGHT 3,649 lb
0-60 MPH 8.0 sec (est)
TOP SPEED 120 mph (est)