2023 Honda CR-V Hybrid First Drive Review: Simply Really Good (But Electrified)

The Honda CR-V has grown up a lot since its debut in 1997, and the latest, sixth-generation Sport Touring trim is its most grown up and luxurious version yet.

byPeter Nelson| PUBLISHED Oct 18, 2022 9:00 AM
2023 Honda CR-V Hybrid First Drive Review: Simply Really Good (But Electrified)
Peter Nelson

It's hard to believe, but the Honda CR-V crossover has been roaming around since 1997 and has seen as many as five generations. It's one of the original mass appeal crossovers, which seemed to originally be championed by a healthy mix of active lifestyle enthusiasts and college professors. The model’s now been catapulted into being the brand's number-one-selling vehicle for the past five years.

This new 2023 version marks the CR-V's sixth generation, which has grown up quite a bit in terms of luxury amenities, styling, and new technology, particularly in its powertrain—it's Honda's most advanced CR-V hybrid yet. I recently drove the 2023 Honda CR-V Sport Touring, the badge's top trim with a hybrid powertrain and all-wheel drive. A good mix of light city, highway, and twisty mountain driving got me well-acquainted with this five-passenger eco-crossover, and while I don't have a whole lot of experience driving hybrids, I can confidently affirm that the future is bright for those who are in the market for one.

Victoria Scott wrote a brilliant, all-encompassing review of the 2023 gasoline-only CR-V, so be sure to read that before or after perusing through my insight.

2023 Honda CR-V Hybrid Sport Touring Review Specs

  • Base price (Sport Touring AWD as tested): $38,600 ($39,845)
  • Powertrain: 2.0-liter Atkinson Cycle inline-four | continuously variable automatic transmission | all-wheel drive
  • Horsepower: 204
  • Torque: 247 lb-ft @ 0-2,000 rpm
  • Curb weight: 3,926 lbs (+291 over the equivalent EX-L model)
  • Seating capacity: 5
  • Cargo volume: 36.3 cubic feet (76.5 cubic ft. with seats folded)
  • Fuel economy: 43 mpg city | 36 highway | 40 combined (FWD); 40 city | 34 highway | 37 combined (AWD)
  • Towing capacity: 1,000 lbs
  • Quick take: Honda’s CR-V hybrid made a believer out of an electrified-vehicle newb.
  • Score: 9/10

A Relaxing Driving Experience

The 2023 Honda CR-V Sport Touring is not a plug-in hybrid but does have all the benefits of battery EV driving if you maintain a conservative right foot. Rolling around town, it's great to hear and feel Honda's fourth-generation two-motor hybrid system whisper along and provide ample getup. Depending on the amount of load—such as being able to schlepp along with ease or take off with more urgency—the CR-V will either maintain full-electric-motor driving or switch on its gas engine for assistance.

This internal combustion component provides as much as 145 horsepower and 138 lb-ft of torque to the cause, and the transition from electric-only drive to gas-burning mode is seamless. There's never any concerning delay. Depending on speed and where you're driving, in fact, you sometimes can't tell whether or not it's on unless you look at the dash and see that the little green "EV" light is off. It even went full EV at times when I was just cruising down California's US-101 highway, depending on how fast I was going and what the grade was like.

At full tilt, the CR-V Sport Touring jumps up to 60 mph from a standstill in around 7.5 seconds. Its total power output is 204 hp and 247 lb-ft of torque with both gas and electric systems working in unison, and it always felt quick enough for passing on the highway, even up some steep mountain-carving grades. Thanks to the electric motors, off-the-line torque made it feel more powerful than it actually was.

An EV Prologue

Peter Nelson

Honda's done a lot to boost the appeal of how much of the car's motion is due to electricity. A new feature that I really dug is on the shifter, just below D—B mode. This ups the regenerative braking system's intensity, making it useful for one-pedal driving. Additionally, while keeping it in D, the steering wheel's paddle shifters aren't for changing gears (or rather, increasing the CVT's resistance), but instead, adjust the level of one-pedal driving. 1 is the default, 2 mimics the resistance of a downshift, and 3 to 4 increases it even more to help the car come to a full stop. If that sounds a little complicated, it is. I preferred to just keep it in B.

B has big appeal for anyone who likes to avoid using the brake pedal for every teeny bit of slowing down, including those among us who favor manual transmissions. It doesn't provide as much resistance as I've heard my colleagues report about EVs, but it's enough to quickly appreciate that it's there. Plus, if you're like me where you quickly become annoyed by motorists who tap their brake pedal way too much and would like to practice what you preach, B is where it's at.

It's also a solid preview of what the EV driving experience is sort of like for consumers who are thinking of eventually parking one in their driveway, which is exactly Honda's intention behind the CR-V hybrid. Show them an EV's benefits, build interest, and then have reasonably priced EVs ready for them to buy when the time comes.

Solid Dynamics

Peter Nelson

The 2023 CR-V hybrid features a 15 percent increase in structural stiffness, particularly around the floor joints and rear lower section of the body. This is to accommodate the added weight in these areas of the hybrid system, but when complemented with more rigid subframes, as well as MacPherson front and fully independent rear suspension, it makes for a surprisingly fun-to-drive crossover.

Part of the test route was a winding road through hillside wineries north of Santa Barbara, and the CR-V felt plenty confident coursing through it. The CR-V has a sport mode, but all it really does is produce a slightly more enthusiastic growl and do some minor throttle tuning—either sport or normal are fitting for the occasion. Body roll was well-controlled, steering action and feel were surprisingly good, and the brake pedal felt very solid. In fact, the chassis wrote checks at times that the all-season 235/55/19 all-season tires had a tough time cashing, which is a solid indication that chassis engineers really put in the work.

If Honda ever wanted to build a more enthusiast-centric CR-V hybrid, it wouldn't take much besides throwing on slightly stickier tires, squeezing more juice out of both powertrains, and adding a little more fun to its damping. Based on what the brand pulled off with the latest Civic Si, this ought to be considered. Even with its CVT mounted up, which is something I never thought I'd say.

Great Luxury Value

The CR-V Sport Touring's price tag of $39,845 isn't exactly inexpensive. However, where it starts to make a lot of financial sense is in its luxuriousness.

Part of the Sport Touring's weight increase comes in the form of added sound insulation on both sides of the firewall, under the hood, under the dashboard, a thicker windshield, thicker front side windows, more sound-absorbing foam, thicker floor carpeting, as well as fender and tailgate liners. Then, Honda threw in an active noise control system for good measure.

What all this adds up to is a quiet, serene driving experience that rivals far more focused luxury options that I've driven this year, such as the redesigned Mercedes-Benz C300. If Honda's going to lead more buyers towards EVs in the coming years, this is another great way to hook them—give them that quiet, isolated driving experience that EVs are known for.

Bring on the Future

After not being sure of what I'd make of the 2023 Honda CR-V Sport Touring when I was on the way to give it a go, a fun day's worth of driving later revealed that it hits all its marks.

The CR-V is smooth, comfortable, amply powerful, has an excellent ride and good handling, and is a hearty amuse-bouche for anyone considering future EV ownership. It's also spacious—my lanky six-foot-three stature had no issues climbing in and cruising along comfortably, or seeing out of it. This new sixth generation's styling is quite handsome as well. It looks athletic and modern and features some neat refinements that pay homage to its past generations—check out those D-pillar taillights.

In 2024, Honda plans to unveil the new Accord and Civic hybrids, as well as its volume EV model, the Prologue. The brand also says its goal is to sell 2 million EVs globally, per year, by 2030. Considering how solid of a stepping stone the 2023 CR-V hybrid is, it’s certainly off to a great start.

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