FIRST DRIVE: Honda CR-V Hybrid
There’s been a lot of diesel difficulties over recent months, and that’s had quite an impact on Honda’s CR-V range. While the petrol engines remain, downsized to 1.5-litres, the diesel versions have been dropped entirely and replaced with a petrol-electric hybrid system borrowed from the US-only Accord.
Don’t think you’ll be crawling silently around Cambridge on pure electric power though. Whilst the CR-V will run without its engine, it won’t do it for very long thanks to a tiny 1kWh battery - that’s just 1.5% of the battery capacity you would find in a Hyundai Kona, for example.
However, the CR-V works its hybrid system differently from most other vehicles, and that’s where the magic comes in. There’s a 2.0-litre petrol engine under the bonnet that mostly operates as a generator, working at its most efficient point to create electricity for the motor to drive the car. The engine will switch off entirely on occasion, allowing the CR-V to run on nothing but battery power, while at other times it will close a clutch and drive the wheels directly. The car decides for itself the best strategy, and the changes between each mode are barely detectable, although you can force it into electric mode at low speeds for short distances - perfect for an early-morning exit from home. It seems to settle into hybrid mode for most situations.
It creates an odd sensation, as there’s no need for the engine speed to match the vehicles speed on the road; the revs rise and fall as the computer demands power for the batteries or motors, but the sound is isolated very well and, once the radio is on, you’ll barely notice it. It’s helped by active noise cancellation going on in the cabin, making it an extremely quiet environment.
There’s also an eco button that dulls throttle responses, and a rather incongruous Sport button that doesn’t really appear to do much at all.
That’s fine, as the CR-V is a long way from a sporting proposition. That’s not a criticism, as what’s there is comfortable and refined. It soaks up imperfections in the road ably, wafting along without consideration for apexes, lift-off oversteer or any other unnecessary distractions. Yes, there’s a reasonable amount of body roll in corners, but you’ve got to be pushing it hard to find it and, happily, should you do that you’ll find a surprising amount of grip.
Equipment levels are high too, with this mid-range SR model featuring climate control, DAB radio, adaptive cruise control, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay mirroring and heated seats, amongst many other items. The faux-wood trim in the cabin is a love or loathe item, but it can be replaced by high-tech-looking faux-aluminium instead. Neither really works, thanks to a confused combination of piano black plastics, plastic-leather dashboard and brushed metal surrounds. It’s also worth noting that Honda’s infotainment system is still entirely unfathomable and could lead to anger. Better to plug your phone in and stick to the mirroring options.
Switching to the hybrid means the CR-V loses a tiny bit of its practicality. Seats up, the boot reduces from 561-litres to a 497-litre capacity, expanding to 1,694 litres with the seats down and the boot stacked. It’s still much larger than you’ll find in a Qashqai, though. You don’t get the option of seven seats, but the rest fo the cabin is pleasingly spacious with endless storage areas.
You pay handsomely for the CR-V though, although switching from petrol models to Hybrid power is extremely good value. The ‘normal’ petrol-powered SR model (which comes with all-wheel drive) fitted with an automatic CVT gearbox costs £33,745, while this Hybrid version (which is just front-wheel drive) is actually £300 cheaper. Four-wheel drive options are available but, frankly, they’re unnecessary.
The switch to the Hybrid model improves economy - officially it’ll manage 53.3mpg. Thanks to the way it works its systems, it was remarkably consistent during testing along motorways, around country roads and into the city, returning high 40s. That’s not bad for a heavy-footed test driver, and about 30% less fuel than the standard petrol model used in similar circumstances.
Add in lower tax, better BIK rates for company car drivers, and the easy-driving nature of the near-silent car, and it’s easy to be persuaded to make the move to hybrid power. It’s better than the CR-V and, as long as you don’t want on-the-limit handling entertainment, every bit as good as any of its obvious rivals.
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