Jim Bray's Car & Tech rants - publishing online exclusively since 1995
Honda CR-V

Next generation Honda CR-V a most worthwhile choice

By Jim Bray
March 16, 2023

Honda's CR-V has been around for ages and continues to evolve nicely. In fact, this new version is the nicest I've driven in at least a couple of generations. Honda has, indeed, really gotten it together with this new model.

It's also the first generation of CR-V in which Honda makes a hybrid version available, a version I got to drive over the Christmas season and which – other than its extreme weather performance (which is definitely not a uniquely Honda issue) actually appealed to me more than the non-hybrid "Sport" version that's the subject of this particular rant. And I may be risking a lightning strike on my head by admitting that I preferred a hybrid to a "regular" vehicle.

Click on the image to open a slideshow.

Part of that is because hybrids have come a long way from being the gutless pieces of crap of days gone by. Now, you need not necessarily compromise your right foot's enjoyment to save some money on gas.

Another part is that my review gas-powered CR-V was of somewhat a lower trim level than the hybrid, so it was missing some of the features I loved on the hybrid – for example, the wonderful rear camera washer that absolutely blew me away.

I also found the gas-only engine a tad underwhelming, even though it sports a turbo. More on that later.

According (no Honda pun intended) to Honda, the sixth generation of its best-selling SUV "amps up the appeal with a first time for sale in Canada, hybrid-powered Touring Hybrid trim that is positioned at the top of the CR-V lineup as well as three turbocharged trim levels, LX, Sport and EX-L. All CR-Vs feature a rugged and sophisticated exterior, a sporty and modern interior and a more emotional, adventurous and fun-to-drive experience."

It is fun to drive, too, with a very nice suspension and lovely handling. Its MacPherson strut front suspension and variable-ratio steering are mounted to a stiffer subframe that also repositions the steering rack to improve feel and accuracy (both of which are just fine, thank you).

Handling is also enhanced via a stiffer rear subframe for the vehicles' retuned multilink suspension.

And, like other current Hondas I've been fortunate enough to experience, it no longer beats you over the head with "safety nannies" so annoying that over the past few years I have dreaded driving Hondas, let alone recommending them to friends. I'm sure glad they're back!

Five trim levels are offered in all, from the front drive-only LX (MSRP $34,790 not including the usual extra kilos of flesh) to the top line Touring Hybrid (MSRP $48,890). All but the LX offer all-wheel drive.

All but the hybrid come with a 1.5 litre turbo engine and a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) the company says has been retuned for improved response. It still drives like a CVT, however, so it whines when you tromp on the gas and still manages to suck a lot of fun out of the drive. Yes, even in "Sport" trim.

Still, the engine/tranny combination are smooth and quite responsive, and Honda says it also spews fewer Gaia-threatening goop into the precious atmosphere. It also cranks out 190 horsepower @ 6,000 rpm with 179 lb.-ft. peak torque arriving from 1,700 to 5,000 rpm, supposedly 300-rpm earlier than before.

This compares with the hybrid's two litre, Atkinson-cycle power plant that, when paired with the electric stuff, puts out 200 horses and a peak of 247 torquey-like thingies. The hybrid also gets bigger wheels and other creature comforts – as it should – that helped contribute to its really nice driving (and living with it) feel.

The 2023 CR-V's improvements to the body, chassis and powertrain do seem obvious from behind the wheel. The Real Time All-Wheel Drive (AWD) with Intelligent Control System has also been upgraded so it's supposedly quieter and is now capable of sending up to 50 per cent of its torque to the rear wheels. This is a good thing as well.

A new Hill Descent Control system is meant to improve the CR-V's off-road capability, though I didn't have a chance to exploit it.

The manufacturer has also turned its attention to offering customizable driving modes, in this case three modes (Normal, Econ and a new Snow mode Honda says "maximizes available traction and performance in slick snowy conditions"). In practice, snow mode feels kind of like throwing an anchor out of the back of the vehicle, in that power is sapped in favour of ensuring the wheels stay engaged with whatever road there may be at the time.

I missed the Sport mode you get with the hybrid, though.

There's also a new and somewhat easier to use seven-inch touchscreen audio system as standard equipment, and it has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility built in, as well as a physical knob for volume. Honda says there's also one for tuning, and there should be, but they must have hidden it under the dashboard or something.

The menu structure has been made a little simpler and it's a good step forward, but still could use some usability tweaking. Between it and the voice control, however, you probably will be able to get it to do what you want without too much frustration. And it's been a while since I said Honda's voice control isn't too frustrating…

Heated front seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, keyless entry and remote starter (the latter of which is really handy when it's cold!), heated outside mirrors, LED headlights and 17-inch wheels are also standard across the CR-V line.

All 2023 CR-Vs also come standard with an expanded Honda Sensing suite of driver-assistive technologies including a Traffic Jam Assist. Honda also says it has added "a smoother, more natural feeling" to formerly extremely annoying functions such as the Adaptive Cruise Control and Lane Keeping Assist System – and, fortunately, they can be shut off and will stay off.

Can't get rid of all the annoying things, though: there's now a rear seat reminder and rear seatbelt reminder to help keep you out of jail by leaving the ankle biters strapped back in steerage. On the other hand, you could just pay attention to the world around you.

The front windshield wipers contain the apparatus for the windshield washing feature, but neither it nor the rear wiper/washer combo did a particularly great job – though this could have been exacerbated by the very mucky and slushy roads during my test, which combined to make conditions more challenging. But not only did I miss the rear camera washer of the hybrid, I also noticed that the front washer – at least during the most egregiously messy road conditions – had a tendency to move the crud from the windshield and deposit it on the driver's side window, which merely moved the problem from one part of your vision to another.

Still, this is a fairly minor criticism of what is, essentially, a terrific vehicle that's well worth your time to check out if you're in this particular market niche.

Copyright 2023 Jim Bray

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