Honda’s been gradually evolving its entire car lineup, learning manufacturing and design tricks from its upscale Acura brand and adding tech and safety improvements all its own too. The perennially popular CR-V compact SUV got a design update for 2023 and when I had the chance to drive the 2023 Honda CR-V Hybrid AWD SP TRG, I jumped at the chance to see what was new with this best-seller. Turns out that it’s a solid upgrade and while you won’t mistake its drive experience for an unlabelled McLaren SUV (imagine!) it’s a safe and dependable vehicle that’s ready for your growing family.
As is common with international car manufacturing, over 55% of the parts for this Honda are sourced in the USA or Canada with 20% from Japan. It was actually built in Ontario, Canada, with a USA engine and a Japanese transmission. If it had a passport all its own, there’d be plenty of stamps already added. Overall I felt that the fit and finish were really good, with a few oddities that I’ll get into a bit later. Let’s start with the exterior, Canyon River Blue with a Black interior. It was overcast most of the week I drove the CR-V so the colors are a bit more muted than the vehicle in real life:
A strong and interesting front grill design with an overall exterior that looks like so many other SUVs. In fact, it’s a category that seems plagued by design lassitude with dozens of entrants that have almost identical profiles. Perhaps it’s because the designers are focused on the interior of the vehicles and maximizing passenger and cargo space, but I know I’m not alone in needing a manufacturer’s medallion to confirm an SUV’s identity when walking through a parking lot.
The standout for the CR-V Hybrid is its fuel efficiency. It’s EPA rated 40/34 and I averaged almost 39mpg for my week of mostly highway and suburban driving. On a long haul road trip I’d expect around 35mpg, which is entirely acceptable. As expected, there are lots of displays that offer useful feedback to the driver of vehicle performance. The interior is fairly classic Honda with some updates and improvements too:
In an era of buttons and knobs, I definitely appreciate the classic shifter. More interestingly, this is the first vehicle I’ve driven where the steering wheel heater button is in a logical place, not clustered with the seat warmer controls. Can you spot it? While there are so many opportunities for innovation with interior design, there’s also something to be said for a design that makes intuitive sense from the first moment you sit in the driver’s seat. I found that refreshing and will say that one of the challenges of being a car writer is that every car’s different, and not always in logical and intuitive ways. Every car writer has experienced that frozen moment when you need to access a control – like the gas door opener – but just can’t find it anywhere.
As with most cars, the area behind the shifter is power central for your mobile device and the drive mode control is immediately adjacent to the shifter:
Also like most vehicles I’ve tested, the wireless charging pad is incredibly unreliable. In fact, over 90% of these fail to consistently charge my Apple iPhone, whether because of sliding, poorly located Qi charging coils, or some other factor. I test them, but it’s a rare moment when it actually works, even when they are designed to have no slipping or sliding (the ridges on the sides of the wireless charging spot are intended to serve that purpose too, as shown above). What’s your experience with wireless charging in a moving vehicle?
The infotainment screen was a relatively modest 9″ touch screen, but it worked great and the addition of physical buttons and knobs was helpful for controlling the unit while in motion:
Notice the climate control knobs and design, however. I found that a bit clumsy, particularly with the middle ON/OFF knob. More importantly, for a vehicle that’s just shy of a $40K price tag, the knobs themselves seemed really cheap, as can be more clearly seen in this pic:
They felt and seemed like plastic with a chrome coating and it’s hard not to wonder about their longevity; how are they going to look a few years later when you’ve used that control on every drive along the way? Look at the earlier pic and you’ll see that the climate vent controls have a similar low-budget feel and design (though I liked being able to use the stick to “point” it where I wanted the air to flow). Switching to more sophisticated knobs and controls would add just a few dollars to the manufacturing cost of the CR-V and it seems that would be a very worthwhile trade-off to have a more lux aesthetic.
The main gauge display was a fairly dense mix of classic information, hybrid feedback, and lots of new data too. There’s a lot going on with this display:
One of the most interesting features of the 2023 Honda CR-V Hybrid is indicated by the light on the lower right: “BRAKE HOLD”. With this enabled, the car doesn’t roll once you stop, which is great if you’re on a steep hill. Automatic transmission – and this has a continuously variable transmission that’s common in hybrids – aren’t supposed to roll on hills, but we all know that they can still creep forward or backward in certain situations. Brake Hold stops that and it’s actually a bit disconcerting on first use. You stop. Once you touch the gas, of course, you’re back in motion but I tried this on a few fairly steep hills and it was great. It would be a wonderful addition if you were driving in San Francisco, that’s for sure.
The overall drive experience was entirely acceptable, with a lot of pep going from a full stop, but then you realize that it’s a modest 2.0L 4-cylinder engine because 10mph-30mph (accelerating onto a highway, for example) is a bit weak. Once you’re up to speed, it’s an entirely acceptable and reasonably agile drive experience, however. I also took it up into the Rocky Mountains for some high-altitude mountain driving too, and it performed very well overall, with a few uphill spots where it was a bit underpowered. Nothing a typical driver wouldn’t learn to compensate for while chatting with their passenger or listening to the latest hits from Sirius XM, however.
Where the Honda CR-V Hybrid really shines is with the comfort; it surprises with lots of legroom for rear passengers:
The above is with the driver’s seat almost completely back (I’m a tall driver). The back seat was quite comfortable for adults, which is a rarity in the world of compact SUVs. This is particularly great for families because those little tykes don’t stay little so having room for teen and young adult legs is a great benefit.
There’s also plenty of cargo space in the very back too, and a typical 60/40 split back seat:
You could definitely make it home after even the most enthusiastic Costco run. I also appreciate the side wells for placing items too, that’s where my cartons of milk ended up after shopping trips to help ensure they don’t slide around while heading home.
Overall I was quite impressed with the 2023 update to the venerable Honda CR-V Hybrid. Excellent fuel efficiency (you don’t need to be suffering through California gas prices to appreciate 38mpg), lots of interior space, oodles of safety features and a lot of smart design touches. The interior could do with a little tweaking to make it feel a bit more luxurious, but it’s a solid option at the price and certainly has an entirely acceptable curb appearance too:
It’s definitely one to check out if you’re in the market for an all-wheel drive compact SUV. One last point, confusingly Honda also has its HR-V lineup, leading many potential buyers scratching their heads, trying to figure out the difference. They even look quite similar, but the secret is in the size: The CR-V is a bit bigger in size: it’s 5 inches longer, 1.1 inches wider, and 3.1 inches taller. Unless you for sure want the smallest possible SUV from Honda, I would suggest you look at the more advanced CR-V, and if it’s still too small, the Honda Pilot is the supersized SUV.
2023 Honda CR-V Hybrid AWD SP TRG, powered by a 2.0L Direct Injection 4-Cylinder Engine and CVT transmission. BASE PRICE: $38,600. The model I drove had zero options or upgrades (it’s already an upgraded model). AS DRIVEN: $39,845.00.
Disclosure: Honda loaned me the 2023 Honda CR-V Hybrid AWD for a week in return for this candid writeup. Thanks, Honda!