More than just a pretty face
2023 Honda CR-V Hybrid a pleasure to drive, but take the hybrid for its penalty-free power rather than fuel savings
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There are plenty of reasons to like the 2023 Honda CR-V Hybrid.
Fuel economy isn’t one of them.
Which is weird to say for a hybrid, given the formula has typically been to pay more for better fuel economy.
All of which is unfortunate, because for the most part, the 2023 CR-V is a wonderful compact crossover. It’s possibly the prettiest CR-V since the model began, with a cool interior design, great on-road driving characteristics, comfortable seating and a pleasant set of amenities.
I had the CR-V Hybrid for a week, and the fuel economy averaged 9.4 litres per 100 km. Our non-hybrid Mazda CX-5 — same city driving, same winter weather, also on winter tires — averages 9.8.
A few weeks later, the arrival of a 2023 Honda Ridgeline Black Edition, which of course was white, further highlighted (lowlighted?) the CR-V Hybrid’s fuel economy: the Ridgeline, with all-wheel drive and a 3.5-litre V-6 engine, is averaging a stellar 10.4 litres per 100 kilometres, just a litre per 100 kilometres more.
Honda Canada spokesman John Bordignon did not argue with my numbers, saying driving style, weather, drive routes and cargo weight all affect fuel economy. He pointed to a U.S. News comparison that ranked the CR-V Hybrid No. 4 among hybrid SUVs, though that review only quoted the official fuel economy numbers, which, as Bordignon notes and my week confirms, differ from real-world numbers. The U.S. News report also did not base that ranking solely on fuel economy.
Despite the CX-5 being 10cm shorter, it and the CR-V play in the same sandbox from a marketing perspective. (Interestingly, despite the added size, the CR-V in non-hybrid trim is 15kg lighter than the CX-5. As a hybrid, the CR-V (1,785kg) is considerably heavier given the drive battery.)
In non-hybrid trim, the CR-V is actually a pretty efficient vehicle: it’s fuel economy ratings are 8.4 litres per 100km city, 7.1 highway and 7.8 combined. I haven’t driven the non-hybrid, but I would hazard a guess that real-world numbers would come in around 10 to 11 l/100km. Given the CR-V’s added size relative to the CX-5, fuel economy isn’t the deal-breaker here. Nor is price, really: the current CX-5 comparable to ours (still the same generation) is $34,800. The nearest CR-V is $36,910.
The hybrid’s stated fuel economy numbers are 6.0, 6.9 and 6.4. The test week in the hybrid suggests there’s not a lot to separate the non-hybrid from the hybrid, except in price: the price jumps to $51,000.
Now, to be fair, that price includes a whole whack of standard features the $36,910 version doesn’t, including navigation, heated steering wheel, BOSE premium 12-speaker audio with nine-inch display, power passenger seat, power driver’s seat with memory, leather seating, rear USB ports and available satellite radio.
To be sure, the jump to the hybrid from the base, two-wheel drive LX ($36,910) makes no sense. But if you’re circling the topline EX-L ($45,510), then it may make sense, since in addition to a bit better fuel economy, you also get navigation, the BOSE sound system, 14 extra total horsepower (204 to 190) and 68 pound-feet more torque (249 lb-ft vs. 179).
All that extra jam makes for a pretty fun drive, electric-CVT and all. The lower centre of gravity, thanks to the hybrid battery, means it handles extremely well for a crossover.
The hybrid does lose some cargo capacity: the non-hybrid’s 1,113 litres (rear seats up) and 2,166 litres (rear seats down) drops to 1,028 and 2,030 respectively in the hybrid. The other dimensions remain the same. The towing rating also falls, from 680 kg (1,500 lb.) to 453 kg (998 lb.), thanks to the weight of the battery.
Here’s my take: If I were shopping for a crossover in the $50,000 section of the vehicle pool, the CR-V Hybrid is on my list. It’s attractive, well-outfitted, drives extremely well and while the fuel economy doesn’t jump off the page as a benefit, it is still very good for the size and power available. That it comes with Honda’s impeccable reputation for reliability cements that endorsement even more.
So, in the end, the selling feature for the CR-V might not necessarily be the fuel savings, but rather, the extra power that’s available without a fuel economy penalty.
Copy Editor, Autos Reporter
Kelly Taylor is a Winnipeg Free Press copy editor and award-winning automotive journalist. He's been a member of the Automobile Journalists' Association of Canada since 2001.