Honda’s product presentation used terms like ‘exhilarating’ and ‘sports car’ when describing the driving experience of this family SUV. You will be shocked to hear that the CR-V is neither of those things, we’re sure. What it is instead is nicely set up for a smooth and unobtrusive drive.
Despite the addition of an extra gear in the transmission, Honda’s hybrid drivetrain is quite familiar by now, since we’ve experienced the 2.0-litre iteration in both the Civic and the ZR-V. Curiously, it impressed more in the Civic than the ZR-V.
The good news is that the CR-V feels mostly like the Civic. The electric motor takes the strain most often, and when the petrol engine needs to kick in it’s usually pretty quiet. The overall performance level is good at low speeds, when the electric motor's got plenty of torque to lean on; becoming a little bit weedy as you pass 50mph, when you need to rouse the combustion engine to put on speed with any urgency.
When you ask for a lot of performance, the 2.0-litre Atkinson engine does get a little bit raucous – and it’s a coarse, tortured noise rather than a sporty one. But with only a bit of care, you can usually keep it in the background, the wider driving experience remaining perfectly pleasant.
Honda has approached the plug-in hybrid differently from other manufacturers in that the e:PHEV doesn’t gain any electric motors or any extra power. It’s simply the same engine, motor and gearbox, with a bigger battery. As a result it looks slightly weedy next to the 302bhp Toyota RAV4. We reckon that doesn’t really matter in a car like this, though.
With 181bhp pulling 1916kg, it’s not fast, but the performance is perfectly adequate. What’s more important is that it feels effortless. Because the battery is bigger than in the regular hybrid, the PHEV can drive on electric power for longer. So while it isn’t any faster (in fact, it’s 0.1 sec slower to 62mph than the 4WD e:HEV), it feels more effortless because the engine can remain at rest for more of the time. Another benefit of Honda’s unusual system, where most of the power comes from the motor, is that it isn’t much slower in EV mode.