2020 Honda CR-V Hybrid Review

Christian Wardlaw, Independent Expert | Aug 04, 2020

Introduction - Find the best Honda deals!

With the exception of full-size pickups from Chevrolet, Ford, and Ram, as well as the Toyota RAV4, the Honda CR-V was the most popular vehicle in America according to final 2019 sales figures. And because Honda doesn’t sell vehicles to fleets such as government agencies and rental car businesses, an argument could be made that more people like you choose the Honda CR-V over every other compact crossover SUV on the market – including the RAV4. That would make this Honda the most popular vehicle in America aside from Chevy, Ford, and Ram pickups.

But Honda doesn’t assume the CR-V’s success is a given. That’s why the 2020 Honda CR-V gets a full refresh including revised styling, more standard safety features, and a standard turbocharged engine with base LX trim. But the big news for 2020 is the addition of a CR-V Hybrid model.

Available in LX, EX, EX-L, and Touring trim levels, the CR-V Hybrid uses Honda’s two-motor hybrid powertrain. Comprised of a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine, an electric drive motor, an electric continuously variable transmission (eCVT), a lithium-ion battery, regenerative braking, and an all-wheel-drive system, the CR-V Hybrid makes more power than the standard CR-V while getting as much as 38 mpg in combined driving.

The new 2020 Honda CR-V Hybrid does, however, lose 6 cubic feet of cargo space behind the back seat and 7.1 cubic feet of maximum cargo space to make room for the battery pack. It also costs more money, Honda charging $2,700 more for the CR-V Hybrid than a standard CR-V, which is rated to get 29 mpg in combined driving when equipped with AWD.

2020 Honda CR-V Hybrid Touring Red Front View

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

For this review, J.D. Power evaluated a CR-V Hybrid Touring without any options. The price came to $37,170, including the $1,120 destination charge.

What Owners Say… - Find the best Honda deals!

Before we discuss the results of our evaluation of the 2020 CR-V, it is helpful to understand who buys this compact SUV, and what they like most and least about their vehicles.

According to J.D. Power data, 52% of Honda CR-V owners are male (vs. 51% for the segment), and the median age of a CR-V owner is 64 years (vs. 59).

Owners say their favorite things about the CR-V are (in descending order) the exterior styling, driving feel, feeling of safety, getting in and out, and interior design. Specifically, these five things about the vehicle rank highest in comparison to the compact SUV segment:

  • Fuel economy and driving range
  • Getting in and out, second row
  • Getting in and out, front seats
  • Driver’s seat comfort
  • Quality of interior materials and ability to hold personal items (in a tie)

Owners indicate their least favorite things about the CR-V are (in descending order) the driving comfort, setting up and starting, fuel economy, powertrain, and infotainment system. Specifically, these five things about the vehicle rank lowest in comparison to the compact SUV segment:

  • Power of engine/motor
  • Sound of engine/motor
  • Exterior styling
  • Usefulness of other infotainment functions
  • Using voice assistance

In the J.D Power 2020 Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study, the CR-V ranked 7th out of 15 compact SUVs.

What Our Expert Says… - Find the best Honda deals!

In the sections that follow, our expert provides his own perceptions about how the 2020 Honda CR-V Hybrid measures up in each of the 10 categories that comprise the APEAL Study.

Exterior

Styling updates to the 2020 Honda CR-V are minor, primarily evident in new aluminum wheel designs and a reworked front end with a new grille and a squared-off lower front bumper design. The rear bumper also gets some added detailing seemingly for the sake of added detailing, and other changes include darker tinting for the rear window glass, the taillights, and the chrome trim.

2020 Honda CR-V Hybrid Touring Red Rear View

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

These design modifications are unlikely to change opinions about the CR-V’s styling. If you like the way it looks, you’ll probably continue to think that way. And vice versa.

Interior

Honda continues to offer the 2020 CR-V with cloth or leather seats, and all but the base LX trim include simulated wood trim on the dashboard and door panels. This year, the CR-V gets new transmission controls and reworked center console storage for improved utility.

2020 Honda CR-V Hybrid Touring Ivory Leather Interior Dashboard

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

If you’re a fan of the CR-V’s traditional PRNDL shift lever, it’s gone, replaced by a set of buttons with a Reverse gear switch. The new transmission controls reside in the same location, though, on the pod that juts out from the lower part of the dashboard.

You should have no trouble finding a place to stash personal items. The new center console storage solutions are particularly useful, large in size and equipped with sliding trays for maximum versatility. Additional storage areas, in addition to the glovebox, include the door armrest cubbies, the bins in the lower door panels, and a compartment on the lower left dashboard panel.

The quality of the interior materials remains high, and the digital instrumentation continues from before, now enhanced with hybrid-specific data displays for the CR-V Hybrid model. Controls are easy to find, and with a short acclimation period are easy to use.

Getting In and Out

One of the benefits of buying a crossover SUV is the ease of getting into and out of them. In this regard, the CR-V excels thanks to front and rear doors that open wide and seats that are easy to slide into and out of.

In particular, the CR-V’s rear doors open to a near 90-degree angle. If you have the space to open them completely, this makes life much easier, especially if you’ve got a child who needs help getting secured in a child safety seat. Additionally, the rear seat offers a flat floor and lots of clearance, making it easy to move around while entering and exiting the SUV.

Though the CR-V Hybrid loses some cargo space due to its battery pack, it is nevertheless useful for holding all manner of items. Volume measures 33.2 cubic feet behind the back seat and a maximum of 68.7 cubic feet, figures that are still better than many competitors.

Plus, the way the space is configured is exceptionally helpful. You can easily carry four full-size suitcases on their sides and beneath the cargo cover. Once they’re in, the CR-V leaves plenty of room for duffel bags, backpacks, and a compact folding stroller.

Setting Up and Starting

Juxtaposing old-school controls with modern technology, and rendering some features and functions in unusual ways, the Honda CR-V is a mixed bag when it comes to the overall user experience.

For example, if you want to re-set the trip computer, you push on a small stalk sticking out from the instrumentation and hold it until the data re-sets. Meanwhile, in order to cycle through the different information panels in the driver information center, an occasionally irritating 2-step process using controls on the steering wheel is necessary.

The CR-V’s infotainment system can also be a source of frustration but pairing to the Bluetooth is easy enough and once you’ve gone through all of the menus and selected your preferences. Besides, you won’t need to interact with most of its deeper functions again unless you wish to change a setting.

Starting the CR-V Hybrid produces, well, nothing. As long as the battery has a decent amount of juice in it, the vehicle’s gas engine remains off until power requirements deem it necessary to automatically turn on.

Infotainment System

Honda offers a variety of infotainment systems in its vehicles. The one in the Clarity, for example, is a flat-panel display without buttons or knobs. The one in the Accord is also a flat-panel display but includes main-menu shortcut buttons and both power/volume and tuning knobs. Guess which one is easier and more pleasing to use.

With CR-V LX trim, you’ll get a 5-inch display along with Bluetooth and Pandora. Starting with EX trim, the CR-V features a 7-inch touchscreen with a design that lands between the Clarity and Accord in terms of its appearance and user experience. 

There is a power/volume knob, but not a tuning knob. And similar to the Clarity, menu functions are virtual buttons to the left side of the display screen. A tuning knob would really help, though if you select 12 radio stations and save them as pre-sets, you can cycle through them and adjust volume using the steering wheel controls.

A useful voice recognition system would also be helpful. The CR-V’s technology is basic and, on occasion, sketchy. It requires you to use specific commands in order to understand what you’re saying, and on at least one occasion appeared to “hang” while attempting to recognize what I said. It is not responsive to natural commands at all, and the long waiting time for it to recognize what you’ve said makes some features, like changing the cabin temperature, essentially useless.

Why is that? Because Honda uses big knobs and legibly marked buttons for the climate control system, suggesting that it hasn’t completely forgotten how to design to simple ergonomic standards.

Getting back to the infotainment system, it’s a good thing that Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard with EX trim and higher. They make life easier. These versions of the SUV also get text-messaging support, satellite radio, a basic version of HondaLink connected services, and more. But if you’re looking for Wi-Fi service, you’d better whip out your smartphone because there isn’t a hotspot embedded into the CR-V. Which is probably OK.

Touring trim includes navigation, a 9-speaker premium audio system that produces good sound, and wireless device charging. Given the small 7-inch display, the navigation map gets very little display space, which can limit its usefulness.

Keeping You Safe

With favorable crash-test ratings from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the CR-V feels safe because it is safe. Plus, as of 2020, every CR-V comes with standard Honda Sensing driving assistance and collision avoidance systems.

While it is commendable that Honda offers this package of driving aids as standard equipment with all trim levels, the technology itself is ready for a next-generation re-boot. For example, the adaptive cruise control can brake too abruptly when other vehicles cut into the gap ahead. The test vehicle also issued numerous false forward collision warnings due to shadows on the road and temporary roadside construction signage. Sometimes, the lane-keeping assistance system is too aggressive and/or inaccurate, requiring more effort than expected to override its operation.

In order to get a blind-spot warning and rear cross-traffic warning system, you need to upgrade to EX trim. What you cannot get in any CR-V, though, are safety features such as a rear-seat reminder system, an automatic collision notification system, SOS emergency calling, and safe teen driver settings.

Powertrain

Whereas all versions of the standard CR-V now include a turbocharged 1.5-liter 4-cylinder engine and a continuously variable transmission, the CR-V Hybrid gets a highly specialized powertrain all to itself.

By pairing a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine with an electric drive motor, an electric transmission motor, and a lithium-ion battery pack, the CR-V Hybrid supplies a combined 212 horsepower while the electric drive motor produces 232 lb.-ft. of torque. Economy, Sport, and EV driving modes are available, and the CR-V can operate solely on electricity at low speeds and for short distances.

Available the moment you step on the accelerator, the thrust of torque from the electric drive motor makes the CR-V Hybrid responsive when driving in urban and suburban environments. While negotiating weekend traffic in Santa Barbara, California, the CR-V drew plenty of attention from outdoor diners due to its unique sound when operating in EV mode.

Acceleration is strong, though the eCVT drones incessantly when you ask for more than half-throttle response, such as when getting up to speed to merge onto a freeway. Otherwise, you never really hear much of anything from the powertrain and, aside from price, there are no downsides to choosing the hybrid over the CR-V’s standard gas engine. 

Fuel Economy

Unfortunately, on a mountainous testing loop, the CR-V returned just 33 mpg in combined driving. That’s a big shortfall from the EPA’s estimate of 38 mpg, and it means the CR-V Hybrid’s 14-gallon fuel tank provides 462 miles of driving range. No doubt, with more city driving, where hybrids tend to be most efficient, the SUV would have performed better in this regard.

Driving Comfort

Offering 12-way power adjustment, the CR-V Hybrid Touring’s leather-wrapped driver’s seat is mighty comfortable. Softly padded, but offering proper support for hours behind the wheel, and facing a leather-wrapped steering wheel that is good to grip, the driver’s seat is a satisfying place to spend time.

Still, Honda needs to improve front passenger comfort levels. Touring trim includes 4-way power adjustment, but that does not include for height. This means taller people riding in that location will lack thigh support, and shorter people will feel like they’re sitting too low in relationship to the rest of the cabin.

Rear-seat passengers will be quite happy. The seat cushion provides good leg support, and the CR-V supplies a bunch of legroom and space for feet. Air conditioning vents stand ready to improve comfort levels, and dual quick-charge USB ports keep devices powered up.

Speaking of the air conditioning, the system quickly cooled the cabin and kept it that way.

Driving Feel

Like any Honda, the CR-V Hybrid is unexpectedly entertaining to drive in spite of its nearly 200 extra pounds of electric motors and battery weight. The added weight is snugged down low in the chassis, helping to lower the SUV’s center of gravity. 

In turn, and in combination with the instant torque output from the electric drive motor, this helps to give the CR-V Hybrid a bit of a slot-car feel from behind the steering wheel. Properly weighted steering and consistent response from the regenerative braking system add to the SUV’s lively driving character.

That same extra weight, however, makes its presence known when you’re driving over undulating pavement, as the suspension works harder to quell unwanted ride motions. And the Touring trim’s P235/55R19 all-season tires aren’t made for maximum grip, squealing easily in curves.

On the highway, wind noise is evident, and at lower speeds road noise encroaches on the cabin, but both traits are common in the compact crossover SUV segment. Generally speaking, neither is an issue.

Final Impressions - Find the best Honda deals!

The last time we reviewed a Honda CR-V equipped with the turbocharged 1.5-liter 4-cylinder engine and AWD, it averaged 27.7 mpg. This time around, the CR-V Hybrid returned an even 33 mpg.

With gas prices low, this 5.3-mpg improvement in efficiency might be hard to justify given the $2,700 price premium. No doubt, if you drive mainly in traffic or in an urban area, you’ll find greater economic benefit with this upgrade than our experience suggests. That’s because you’ll cover more ground using the juice from the battery than we did.

Honda also needs to “next-generation” both its infotainment system and its Honda Sensing technology. Neither is up to snuff against more modern offerings from the competition.

Otherwise, the 2020 Honda CR-V Hybrid excels when it comes to interior room and comfort, interior storage space and cargo room, and overall driving dynamics. 

Christian Wardlaw is a veteran digital automotive journalist with over 25 years of experience test-driving vehicles. In addition to JDPower.com, his work has appeared in numerous new- and used-car buying guides, newspapers, and automotive industry trade journals.

The opinions expressed in this review are the author’s own, not J.D. Power’s.

No portion of these reviews may be reproduced, distributed, publicly displayed, or used for a derivative work without J.D. Power’s written permission. © 2020 J.D. Power

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