The first thing to know about the 2019 Honda CR-V Hybrid is that its towing limit is a modest 750kg. So, if your idea of a great holiday involves pulling a caravan around the countryside, or a boat down to the harbour, then this isn’t the SUV for you.
On the subject of things that float your boat, if you like a sporty drive then you won’t find it in the CR-V. To call it lost at sea in the handling department would be too harsh – but it’s certainly happiest being captained at an unhurried pace.
Right, that’s the negatives out of the way. On to the interesting stuff, starting with the new petrol-electric hybrid drivetrain that’s now offered alongside the standard 1.5-litre turbo petrol version. The CR-V is actually the latest in a 20-year run of Honda hybrids that began with the 1999 Insight and also includes the CR-Z and NSX. This though is the first time Honda has deployed the technology in an SUV, a move brought about by the sharp decline in demand for diesel. Not only that, but the system itself is also brand new, not to mention different in design to others on the market.
HOW HONDA’S HYBRID WORKS
Like the majority of Toyota’s hybrids, Honda’s new i-MMD (that’s Intelligent Multi-Mode Drive) system isn’t one that needs to be plugged in. The primary downsides to this are that the electric-only range is restricted to a maximum of 1.2 miles, and at 126g/km for the all-wheel-drive model (its front-wheel-drive equivalent comes in at 120g/km), CO2 emissions are higher than they would be for a plug-in hybrid.
However, the benefits are also numerous. For example, you reap the rewards of the hybrid system every single moment of every single journey, rather than only those where you’ve charged the battery in advance. And you don’t need to feel guilty every time you fail to plug in because it’s raining, or the kids are screaming, or you simply forget.
That is not to say that Honda’s system is the same as Toyota’s. What distinguishes it is that, for the most part, the 2.0-litre petrol engine doesn’t actually drive the wheels, but instead powers an electric generator motor. This generator motor then either powers a 181bhp electric motor to drive the wheels, or tops up a lithium-ion battery pack, which can also power the drive motor when required. What sounds complicated in theory is simple in practice – simply leave the car in its default ‘Hybrid Drive’ mode and it’ll take care of all this energy management for you.
In addition, there’s an ‘EV Drive’ mode so you can try to coax out as much battery-only range as possible, and an ‘Engine Drive’ mode, which goes down the traditional route of using the engine to drive the wheels directly, via a lock-up clutch (there’s no gearbox as such). This comes into play at higher cruising speeds, and is Honda’s way of addressing the issue that motorway miles tend to devour an EV’s battery range like a hungry dog devours its breakfast.
DESIGN AND INTERIOR
The CR-V might not be a pretty SUV, but there’s more than enough going on in the heavily sculpted bodywork to make it stand out. It’s also a big vehicle, sitting comfortably in the class above the Nissan Qashqai and its compatriots – which also explain a starting price of £25,995 for the petrol model, and £29,155 for the hybrid.
On the inside, you can fit three adults across the rear seats with ease, and there’s more legroom than they’ll know what to do with. The boot, although reduced in size over the petrol CR-V’s, is still a generous 497 litres. Tugging a pair of levers in the boot also folds the rear seats completely flat.
The interior design is pleasant in the way modern Hondas tend to be, and the build quality is faultless. Honda might still not have quite nailed European tastes for material choice (fake wood trim anybody?), and neither the infotainment system or onboard computer are particularly intuitive to use, but generally the CR-V’s interior is a pleasant place to spend time.
DRIVING THE CR-V HYBRID
Turn the key to commence the first journey of the day and it’s difficult to ignore the noise of the cold petrol engine whirring away as it feeds the generator. Thankfully, things calm once the engine reaches its optimum operating temperature, and from then on it is quiet enough to be ignored for 90% of the time.
The exception is if you pin the throttle to the floor so that all systems combine to thrust you forward in as meaningful a way as possible. The rev-tastic result isn’t quite in Toyota’s league when it comes to lots-of-noise-for-not-much-action, but nor is it in any way stirring. Getting from 0-62mph, for the record, takes 9.2 seconds in the all-wheel-drive model we are testing, while its front-wheel-drive equivalent can do it in 8.8 seconds. Bringing that rear axle into play is done via a propshaft rather than any kind of electronic wizardry.
At a more relaxed (i.e. normal) pace, the driving experience is similar to that of an electric car. The throttle response is instant, you can gain speed without the associated increase in engine noise, and you learn how to use regenerative braking to your advantage. To this end Honda has employed what look like gearshift paddles on the back of the steering wheel to manually override the amount of regen braking when you lift off the accelerator, should you wish. Choose to ignore them, though, and the CR-V still works just fine.
Which are two words that really sum up the whole driving experience. It really is ‘just fine’, from the ride, which is just fine, in a soft, well cushioned, don’t hurry me kind of way, to the just fine (not too quick, not too slow) steering and the just fine levels of wind and road noise. Perhaps more commendably, the feel through the brake pedal is just fine too, which isn’t always the case with hybrids as they juggle between the decelerative efforts of that regen braking and traditional pads on discs.
In the past, people have tended to buy CR-Vs for their no-nonsense approach. Forget sporty handling or startling performance, and instead think comfort, space and fuss-free durability. Despite all the technical innovation, much the same can be said for this latest model, whether you go for a straight 1.5-litre petrol turbo, or this hybrid.
Indeed, it’s no great surprise that a hybrid powertrain designed around fuel efficiency rather than performance feels like a natural fit for a car of this character – nor that Honda has engineered such an accomplished system.
Bottom line is, while not cheap, the CR-V Hybrid is a great option for those who are intrigued by hybrid technology, value comfort over cornering speeds, and want it all wrapped up in something with the size and space of an SUV.
Price: Honda CR-V range from £25,995. As tested in Hybrid EX AWD with metallic paint £37,855
Power: 181bhp (electric motor)
0-62mph: 9.2 seconds
Top speed: 112mph
Fuel economy: 51.4mpg (WLTP Combined). On test 45mpg.
HONDA CR-V MODEL HISTORY
Honda CR-V Mk1
Honda launched its original ‘Comfortable Runabout Vehicle’ in 1995, although it was another two years before it came to the UK. These first-generation cars were comfortable (natch), robust and extremely practical, right down to the inclusion of a picnic table that was stowed beneath the boot floor.
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Honda CR-V Mk2
Smarter exterior styling, a diesel engine and sliding rear seats all added to the appeal of the second-generation CR-V, which was launched in 2002 into what was by then a much busier marketplace for SUVs.
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Honda CR-V Mk3
Honda ditched the CR-V’s side-hinged rear door in favour of a conventional hatchback for the third-generation model of 2007, while a four-wheel-drive system that could work part-time helped to keep CO2 emissions – and thus VED (or road tax) rates – low for a vehicle of this size.
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Honda CR-V Mk4
By 2012 Honda was on to its fourth generation of CR-V, where once again both petrol and diesel powertrains were offered. While never reaching the standards set by BMW and Audi in terms of driver engagement, these big Hondas drive with a relaxed gait, are well equipped and tend to be popular with owners.
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Honda CR-V Mk5
In late 2018 Honda introduced its fifth generation CR-V into Europe complete with, for the first time, a petrol-electric hybrid model to compete with the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid. A petrol-only model is being sold alongside this, but diesel has been dropped from the CR-V line-up as a result of falling demand.
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