From £26,020
Would the hybrid version of the world's best-selling SUV prove as dynamic as the petrol version? We had five months to find out

Our Verdict

Honda CR-V 2018 road test review - hero front

For its fourth-generation, Honda moves its long-established CR-V into full-size family SUV territory

14 January 2020
Honda CR-V Hybrid 2019 long-term

Why we ran it: Is the world’s best-selling SUV still as comfy, refined, spacious and dynamically competent in hybrid form?

Month 5Month 4 - Month 3Month 2Month 1 - Prices and specs

Life with a Honda CR-V Hybrid: Month 5

Our petrol-electric Honda departs after months of hard labour with a busy videographer. Did it rise to the challenge? - 2nd January 2019

Blessed. It was the cringeworthy hashtag of 2019, sprayed without irony all over Instagram or whichever social media platform you find yourself on. In this job, we are blessed. Blessed, because we get to drive all manner of cars, and it’s something we don’t take for granted. There’s a strange phenomenon that comes with this territory, though.

Occasionally, at a fuel station, we might be filling up the tank of a fresh set of wheels and attract the attention of a fellow petrolhead. Inevitably, she or he wants to know what size engine it’s got, what’s the mpg and how I, lowly videographer, could possibly afford one. Meekly explaining that I don’t own it, I’m always happy to oblige as far as my knowledge will stretch (not that far – see ‘lowly videographer’, above) and let the intrigued party poke around inside. It has happened to me in Porsches, Lamborghinis, all manner of exotica.

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But I didn’t expect it in the Honda CR-V Hybrid. That’s not because it’s not a supercar, but I think I underestimated the level of interest in this car. That’s my fault because, as I wrote six months ago in the opening report of this test, the CR-V is the biggest-selling SUV in the world.

Perhaps I should have foreseen the interrogations coming my way on forecourts up and down the country. An HGV driver stopped me at the pump on a foggy night last month and asked if the hybrid version was the one to go for. He’d had every generation of CR-V to date and was just picking which to go for next. And I suppose, after six months, that’s what I’m here to answer.

There’s undoubtedly a lot of merit to the hybrid derivative. It’s smooth to drive, with its mind-boggling eCVT gearbox. The torque from the electric motor gives you loads of response from low revs, so it’s easily brisk enough for most situations. And it’s also a peaceful place to be at low speed around town.

This all contributes to a massive feel-good factor about the car, silently sharking into multi-storey car parks and knowingly not pumping out as much CO2 as in similar-sized SUVs. A real-world average of 39.1mpg beats the petrol version, too. Is it by a big enough margin to justify the extra up-front cost? That depends on your mileage, but I was a little surprised that the hybrid didn’t do even better mpg. Still, electric technology is heavy and I reckon you could improve on my average if you did shorter journeys that made more use of the EV-only mode.

To drive, the CR-V Hybrid is remarkably unremarkable. In a really good way. When you consider how complex this powertrain is, it’s a feat to have such a serene and ‘normal’ driving experience. Once used to the regenerative braking, controlled by paddles on the steering wheel, it all becomes second nature very quickly.

The steering is calm and precise and the ride is comfortable. The lane keep assistance and adaptive cruise control are excellent, too.

However, one major downside to the CR-V Hybrid, as was pointed out to me by many readers, is the car’s braked towing limit of just 750kg. If hauling is important to you, then you’ll be miffed that there’s no diesel in the current-generation CR-V line-up. Some readers certainly were.

My own personal gripe was the driver’s seat. It’s just too wide for me and, even though it had lumbar support, I struggled to get really comfortable at any point during my time with the car. But that’s me, because not all bodies are as punished as that of the videographer, so I’d recommend you take a test drive to make up your own mind. Certainly, some of my colleagues weren’t as bothered as I am.

The infotainment system is also a niggling point. The sat-nav works fine but there are just too many menus and you feel like you always have to press an extra button to change radio station or do simple tasks. It wouldn’t stop me from buying the car, but its layout is worse than a fair few rivals’.

As an SUV, the CR-V does a lot right. Boot space is plentiful: I spent countless days on shoots with the car full of cameras and took it on a surf trip packed to the rafters. There were days out when I chucked my bicycle in the load bay rather than bothering with a bike rack. Meanwhile, the room in the back seats was also ample enough on long journeys for adults to relax and even sleep. There are USBs back there, too, and climate control. All of the mod-cons.

So the CR-V Hybrid ticks a lot of on-trend boxes. Electrification: check. SUV: check. EV mode: check. And it ticks these boxes with the accomplishment of being the bestselling SUV in the world. To have spent the past six months in it, I feel totes #blessed. Or something like that.

Second Opinion

The CR-V takes time to get under your skin. It fails to impress on the style front, inside and out, compared with rivals but it majors on smoothness, solidity and practicality – namely, the stuff that matters to many. But Honda needs to get with the times where its dated infotainment is concerned.

Lawrence Allan

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Love it:

Silent running in EV mode Low-speed motoring with no engine noise was a joy – especially knowing there were no tailpipe emissions.

Useful driver aids The effective lane keep assistance system helped to take the stress out of long journeys.

Taking control I enjoyed the drama of pulling racecar-style paddles just to increase the regenerative braking.

Loathe it:

Confusing infotainment I couldn’t programme my brain to operate the radio menus on the entertainment screen.

Uncomfortable seats My spine didn’t suit the lumbar support on offer, although other drivers fared better.

Final mileage: 7279

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Life with a Honda CR-V Hybrid: Month 4

Our SUV is as welcoming as a hot bath after a wet day’s biking - 30th October 2019

Where did the summer go? It’s a Sunday morning in October. The rain is hammering down outside. I’m not complaining. This is my favourite mountain-biking weather. It’s also my favourite time to be smug about driving an SUV.

After collating a sack full of gloves, pads, helmets, spare clothes and the blandest cereal bars that even hamsters would refuse, it’s time to chuck my cycling kit into the CR-V Hybrid. Handy levers in the boot make it easy to fold the seats down from the rear, opening up a vast and flat load space.

Those familiar with quick-release mechanisms will know how easy it is to take modern bikes apart. I whip the front wheel off, lower the saddle and within moments my mud-plugging steed is laying flat in the back of the car. The lack of boot load lip here makes the whole process an absolute doddle.

Along the leafy lanes of Surrey, the heated seats, heated mirrors and heated rear windscreen keep me dry on the inside and my essential bits of glass clear on the outside. Most cyclist types have more energy on a Sunday morning than I do after my fourth coffee on an Autocar video shoot. So by the time I arrive at 10.30am at one of the south-east’s mountain-biking hotspots, the muddy car park has been churned up by the vast array of Volkswagen vans and Surrey-spec Land Rover Defenders that have been there since well before 9am. The remaining parking spots are like that football pitch at school on which the PE teacher forced you to play even though the ball couldn’t roll because the ground was effectively sinking sand.

Helpfully, the specification of CR-V Hybrid that I’m running includes Honda’s clever all-wheel drive system. This pushes power to the wheel that has the most grip. As I slowly mooch through the standing puddles, the Honda serenely pads along the uneven ground in EV mode like a wild cat silently stalking its prey.

Honda kindly lent me a two-wheel drive version to have a go in for a couple of weeks recently. It’s perhaps obvious to point out the extra traction in scenarios like this squelchy car park, but the comparison is more intriguing here than in other vehicles due to this car’s hybrid powertrain. The instant torque of the electric motors means that you put a good lump of power through the wheels when taking off from a standstill. On a wet and slippery day, such as this drenched Sunday, you would notice that it’s easier to lose traction in the 2WD version.

That being said, most of the time, you would not spot the difference because the CR-V Hybrid is not the kind of car you’re hustling into corners, which would maybe reveal a weight or traction difference if you did. During my time in it, the 2WD variant did, however, display a better fuel economy than its AWD sibling so I suspect your choice of drivetrain would depend on your intended use. But I can vouch for the all-wheel-drive system if you spend winters taking your kids or yourself to dirt-filled locations.

After a few hours getting caked on the bike, returning to the CR-V Hybrid feels like walking into a log cabin after a day exploring the Arctic. The wiped-down bike fits snugly into the rear and I melt into the leather seats in my dry change of clothes for the serene journey home.

Love it:

Heated wing mirrors They save you from frostbite on cold mornings.

Loathe it:

storage shortage If there is a handy place to store the bulky tonneau cover, I haven’t found it.

Mileage: 7002

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Mobile recording studio? No problems for honda's hybrid - 16th October 2019

Nine speakers and a subwoofer. Digital equalisers. Wood panelling. Big leather seats. Perhaps the interior of the CR-V Hybrid isn’t as far from a recording studio as you might think. Indeed, our test car’s interior provides a well-damped sound room in which to record Autocar’s YouTube features. Honda’s work to eliminate wind and road noise has been a great asset to our channel.

Mileage: 6752

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Turns out intrusive driver assistance systems might not be a bad thing, after all - 2nd October 2019

Every sinew of his back rippled in the morning sun. Sweat poured from his helmet as he got out of the saddle approaching the short rise. Three stags turned their heads in choreographed unison, following the cyclist each with a watchful eye. He was doing a good job, spinning the pedals to carry about 18mph into the hill as I followed near-silently in the CR-V Hybrid behind.

At 8am every morning, Richmond Park is like a marble run of cyclists when you’ve petulantly tipped all the marbles down at the same time. This particular cyclist was blissfully unaware that he wasn’t just controlling his own speed but also mine in the following Honda.

I had set the adaptive cruise control (ACC) to 20mph as that’s the speed limit in the park. The radar system was detecting every acceleration and deceleration of the Lycra-clad commuter in front and smoothly holding me at a suitably safe distance. The ACC is a remarkable system that I’ve become remarkably at ease with. That’s to say that it’s not just a handy tool for cruising on the motorway but I find myself using it in flowing traffic at a variety of speeds, on A-roads and B-roads as well. It took me a while to trust it at first, for no reason other than my personal, illogical wariness of technology. But now, with my right foot demonstrably covering the brake, I have confidence in it to the extent that, in a safe scenario, I’ll follow a cyclist just using the car’s systems to regulate my speed.

Coupled with the CR-V Hybrid’s Lane Keep Assist System (LKAS), the adaptive cruise can quickly reduce a lot of the fatigue of driving. In fact, I’d go further than that. When in EV mode, with only the soundtrack of a digitally generated noise for pedestrians, and both ACC and LKAS activated, the interior of this hybrid SUV is so relaxing it could host one of your hygge, millennial, meditative hot-yoga classes.

And it’s a similar story on the motorway, even with the Atkinson-cycle combustion engine ignited. Recently, we journeyed to South Wales to film an Ariel Nomad take on a Triumph Scrambler on a mini forest rally stage for Autocar’s YouTube channel. The vast majority of that schlep from Autocar’s HQ in outer London is spent sitting on the M4. After several hours with adaptive cruise and lane keep assist firmly set to on, I was notably less tired than on other occasions when we’ve filmed on roads around the same area.

In this way, the technology packed into our Honda is gradually changing my driving habits. Besides ACC and LKAS, another system weaselling its way into my everyday style is this hybrid derivative’s regenerative braking. On the back of the steering wheel, there are two flappy paddles.

Rather than shifting up and down gears (as the Honda has a rather complicated eCVT ’box), the paddles control the amount of regenerative braking induced by the hybrid powertrain. Pull the left paddle up to three times, and it increases the retardation force, while the right one eases this same effect off.

As the cyclist slowed on the uphill rise, I took a clear opportunity to pass and I soon approached one of the meze of mini-roundabouts dished up around Richmond Park. At this point, rather than braking with my right boot, I used my right thumb to deactivate the adaptive cruise control and then pulled the left paddle to slow the car down more aggressively. I could see it was clear, so I reactivated ACC and pulled the right paddle to reduce the braking force. The CR-V accelerated back to 20mph and settled into a comfortable cruise once more.

Passing through the gates at the top of the hill and into Richmond, I realised I’d driven through the entire park without using my feet at all. The CR-V Hybrid is undoubtedly changing me: not just in driving style but also in my natural distrust of such systems. I’m impressed.

Love it:

Hardy hybrid The all-wheel-drive system put up with all the weather this summer could throw at it.

Loathe it:

Dodgy doors Unlocking the passenger doors takes multiple key presses, even if the boot’s already open.

Mileage: 6661

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Life with a Honda CR-V Hybrid: Month 3

London living not a hardship for the Honda - 25th September 2019

For a central London shoot, we had to transport the camera equipment and camera people right to the front door in our fully laden CR-V. The congestion charge is a lot cheaper now in this hybrid version than it would ever have been in the diesel it’s replaced. It’s also quieter, smoother and more relaxing running in EV mode in the capital’s traffic.

Mileage: 6154

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Life with a Honda CR-V Hybrid: Month 2

Getting to grips with our hybrid SUV’s biggest potential drawback - 14th August 2019

I knew I wouldn’t get away with it. You caught me. In the opening report on our long-term Honda CR-V Hybrid, I omitted the car’s towing limit. It was with good reason.

Paying the issue the necessary lipservice was always in my plans, but I hadn’t expected the flurry of letters and emails that would arrive from our scrupulous readers. A big ‘thank you’ to those who took the time to write in – your own real-world experiences are a joy to read and reflecting those is the raison d’être for our long-term tests.

The quoted maximum braked towing weight of the Honda CR-V Hybrid is 750kg. It’s important to note, at this point, that this recommended limit increases elsewhere in the range, with the manual-’boxed petrol derivative able to lug the largest trailers at 2000kg.

Why such a response from Autocar’s readership? Well, the hybrid drivetrain has replaced the diesel (which could tow 2000kg) in the CR-V line-up, meaning the traditional tow-car option of a grunty oil-burner is no longer available to caravanners, yachtists, equestrians and the like.

As I outlined in that opening report, the CR-V has an unconventional, albeit very clever, powertrain. It’s a hybrid transmission, described by Honda as an eCVT, that is happily returning 43mpg at the moment –a pleasing result for a car of this size and weight.

The restriction, however, in the drivetrain is that the clutch used to engage the combustion engine drive and electric drive systems together has a relatively low maximum torque rating, which in turn limits the maximum towing rating of the hybrid version of this car.

Is this the same on all hybrids? Those who tow surely have similar environmental concerns as the rest of us. Does the UK automotive industry’s push toward hybrid petrol-electric drive present a wider problem to the towing community?

It’s a complicated answer at the moment, because the sector is still germinating, but there are hybrid SUVs out there that offer larger towing capacities. Perhaps the most threatening of those to the CR-V is the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid, which can pull 1650kg, while more premium offerings in the form of the Lexus RX450h (2000kg) and Volvo XC90 T8 Twin Engine (2400kg) can hook up to and haul even heavier trailers.

That said, a fair few hybridised cars from all segments max out their tow capacity around the 750kg mark of the CR-V Hybrid. Clearly, then, while the instantaneous torque on tap from electrification could have obvious towing benefits, the components involved in this complicated tech are restricting their load capacity for the time being.

Our car doesn’t have a tow bar, so I won’t be testing these limits first-hand, but last week I did trace a path that many others will do with a caravan in their rear-view mirror this summer. A long weekend on the north Devon coast allowed me to stretch the car’s hamstrings along the A303 past Stonehenge and test its holidaying proficiency, albeit in fixed accommodation.

The CR-V Hybrid displays a lot of merits: 42.7mpg, ample front and rear space for adults, a huge boot that swallowed bodyboards, wetsuits and frisbees, and a ride so well-controlled that my other half napped comfortably through most of her own surf-themed Spotify playlist.

A personal gripe is that the driver’s seat doesn’t quite suit my body shape over four hours at the wheel. Let’s politely describe my physique as ‘American’ in width, meaning side support is a little lacking.

You don’t notice how technically complicated the drivetrain is on a journey such as this. The shifts between combustion engine and EV mode are seamless when getting up to speed, and the eCVT transmission makes for a relaxed cruise. Add in this car’s lane keep assist and radar cruise control that aren’t far off an autonomous driving experience, and you’ve got a stress-free schlepp down to the seaside.

Is the Honda CR-V Hybrid good for a family holiday? Absolutely. Just don’t expect to pull your own accommodation behind you.

Love it:

Plug and play Two USB sockets in the rear cabin keep passengers of all ages happily connected.

Loathe it:

Press the what now? Finding radio text in the infotainment takes a PhD in computing.

Mileage: 3752

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Blinded by the light - 31st July 2019

Car makers spend lots of money on refining and perfecting the ergonomics of vehicles – even to the extent of modelling reflections from shiny elements on the dashboard. But if that’s the case, why does Honda persist with a chrome badge in the centre of the steering wheel? I’m blinded morning and evening by a gleaming silver H emblem.

Mileage: 3487

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Life with a Honda CR-V Hybrid: Month 1

Paddles do a different job - 3rd July 2019

What at first feels like a familiar powertrain, you soon realise has been the subject of some clever Honda redesign. Instead of changing gear, for example, paddles on the steering wheel adjust the level of regenerative braking when decelerating. And the fervent whir of the engine behind the eCVT sounds uncanny, but you soon forgive it for its smooth power application.

Mileage: 2800

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Our video man’s got himself a new assistant: Honda’s hybrid-flavoured flagship SUV - 26th June 2019

The Honda CR-V was one of the pioneers of the contemporary wave of SUVs when it was first launched in 1995. At the time, it offered all the practicality of what were then termed ‘4x4s’ even if they weren’t necessarily four-wheel drive. Indeed, that generation of CR-V’s boot floor turned into a handy picnic table and you could even specify a power shower that plugged into the boot’s 12V socket for the family camping getaway.

However, unlike most of its rivals at the time, which counted among them the Land Rover Freelander and Toyota RAV4, it provided a driving experience that largely resembled that of a passenger car, rather than a rugged off-roader.

In the intervening 24 years and across five generations, the CR-V has gone on to become the world’s best-selling SUV. This blend of ‘4x4’ dimensions, a usable interior and uncompromised dynamics has become the blueprint in the rapid rise of the SUV, such that the list of rivals for the CR-V has gone from next to none to almost countless. But now, Honda has taken another step forward – by putting electric technology into their flagship SUV.

Over the next six months, then, we’re going to find out what all of that experience counts for. Is the CR-V still ahead of the game now that it comes in hybrid form?

In order to find out, the keys have been chucked to me: Autocar’s resident video bloke. That means the car’s practical touches will be maxed out on a regular basis. Time and again, I will fill the loadspace to the brim with camera equipment. This kit will then be hauled several hours from Autocar Towers in south-west London to the remote locations across the country where we regularly film our YouTube features. During these journeys, the CR-V’s long-distance legs will also come under plenty of scrutiny.

For that reason, we’re running the Honda CR-V in 2.0i-MMD Hybrid SR AWD eCVT form. You want me to translate? Go on then. Basically, the power in our long-term test car comes from a 2.0-litre engine that’s supported by two electric motors. The petrol unit runs an Atkinson cycle – which is more thermally efficient than conventional internal combustion engines – presumably to match the hybrid car’s prerogative of increased economy. Of the two electric motors paired with it, one is for propulsion, while the other is a generator motor. Fuel efficiency ranks high on any videographer’s list of priorities, so here’s hoping we can better the claimed combined WLTP figure of 38.7mpg on my trips to Snowdonia.

The power goes to all four wheels through a continuous variable transmission (CVT) and, like the engine on this car, these also receive electric assistance. That’s to say that the control system can detect a lack of traction or a steep incline and decide how much power to send to the front or rear axle. What that ought to allow under normal driving conditions is a smooth driving experience. It will be interesting to see over the course of this test if this combination stands out like a sore thumb or as a trailblazer for hybrid technology.

The ‘i-MMD’ in the model’s name refers to Honda’s intelligent MultiMode Drive software that enables you to put the CR-V into economy, normal or sport mode. When in economy mode, you can use the paddle shifters behind the steering wheel to increase or decrease the amount of battery regeneration when decelerating. The software also chooses when to drive in electric-only, engine-only or hybrid depending on what drive mode you are in and your pedal applications.

In Autocar’s multi-storey car park, the CR-V whisks up the ramps on electricity alone, while an early trip to Norfolk required both motors at various stages of the journey. All of this makes for quite an intriguing driving experience on what could otherwise be mistaken for a fairly conventional car, and should provide plenty to dive into over the length of the test.

In the SR trim that we specified our car in, the CR-V is packed to the rafters with gizmos and gadgets. To name but a few: heated seats, electronic lumbar support and keyless entry are added to the nine-speaker sound system, 7in touchscreen infotainment system and reversing camera that you already get at lower-spec trim levels. Smartphone mirroring and blindspot warning systems also feature on the list. So well is this compact SUV already equipped, that the only optional extra added to ours is Premium Crystal Red paint, which comes in at £850. That takes the on-the-road price of this car up from £34,470 to £35,320.

How does that figure compare with rivals? Well, as in many other areas, the CR-V is nearly, if not quite, unique. The only other non-plug-in hybrid compact SUV at this price point is the Toyota RAV4. There are more expensive hybrid SUVs, such as Volvo’s XC60 and XC90 offerings, or plug-ins such as the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, but direct rivals are few and far between. In many ways, this car is taking on conventionally powered SUVs and attempting to bat them off with better emissions figures and benefit-in-kind numbers for company car drivers.

As such, the Honda CR-V hybrid finds itself much in the same position as it was in 1995. It’s an early adopter. Can it prove to be a pioneer once again? We have half a year to find out.

Second Opinion

I’m a fan of the smooth and reasonably powerful hybrid system – it seems better resolved than some rival efforts and in keeping with the CR-V’s relaxed driving experience. I found it easy to beat Honda’s claimed MPG figure on a run, too. The fiddly infotainment still frustrates, though – it feels out of date already

Lawrence Allan

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Honda CR-V 2.0i-MMD Hybrid SR eCVT AWD prices and specification

Prices: List price new £34,470 List price now £35,570 Price as tested £35,320 Dealer value now £31,680 Private value now £28,510 Trade value now £26,785 (part exchange)

Options:Pearlescent paint £850

Fuel consumption and range: Claimed economy 38.7mpg Fuel tank 57 litres Test average 39.1mpg Test best 44.3mpg Test worst 33.9mpg Real-world range 490 miles

Tech highlights: 0-62mph 9.2sec Top speed 112mph Engine 4cyls in line, 1993cc, Atkinson Cycle petrol; plus electric motor Max power 143bhp (petrol) 181bhp (electric) Max torque 129lb ft (petrol) 232lb ft (electric) Transmission eCVT automatic Boot capacity 497 litres Wheels 18in, alloy Tyres 235/60 R18 Kerb weight 1672kg

Service and running costs: Contract hire rate £362.98 CO2 126g/km Service costs none Other costs none Fuel costs £799.54 Running costs inc fuel £799.54 Cost per mile 12 pence Depreciation £5960 Cost per mile inc dep’n £1.04 Faults none

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Comments
7

24 July 2019
The model DOES NOT have an eCVT, rather a fixed single gear (this is not a Toyota)

24 July 2019

That's correct, the current Honda system is similar to that used by the Mitsubishi Outlander. It is effectively a series hybrid, whereby the engine can be connected directly to the drive wheels via a single fixed gear when cruising. 

Really the writer should have a basic understanding of how the system works in order to be able to evaluate it. Cars do not work by magic as many journalists seem to understand. 

And while this Honda system might sound and feel similar to that of Toyota's eCVT system, operationally it is quite different. It would be good to have a better understanding of what the relative strengths and weaknesses of the two systems are.  

 

 

24 July 2019
SR is the best spec. (although even lower spec ones are well equipped). LED headlights, electric boot, privacy glass and the driver aids such as adaptive cruise and lane assist amongst the best available.
Ultimately though the RAV in Excel is identical price, size and spec, but over 20g/km cleaner. In BIK driven sectors can make the difference.

19 August 2019

So Honda lend you 35k car full of new technology capable of giving diesel a run for its money... and all we get is the frigin steering badge is too shiney? wtf!.. I have had 3 Hondas over 300k miles and never been bothered by the badge. If I was Honda I would come take the car back and give it to a proper journo.

19 August 2019

On the plus side, if the absolute worst thing you can think to write about your free car is how shiney the badge in front of you is, the rest of the car must be pretty close to perfect. I must admit however than in the 3 Hondas i have owned, i also never once had a similar thought

5 September 2019

"that the clutch used to engage the combustion engine drive" nope nothing to do with the towing limit.

There is no gearbox, so until the vehicle speed (mid to high) is within the range of the engine revs, the engine cannot be 'clutched in' as it would slow the engine and stall it.

So up until the acceptable speed, drive is entirely by electric motors. And they, without clutches, gearboxes or torque converters are limited, what they have is what they have torque wise.

Therefore safe pullaway on an incline with a certain load is limited, Its this that sets the calculated towing limit. It probably could tow plenty more, but there would come a day at the traffic lights at the bottom of a hill in Devon with a caravan you would be going nowhere.

 

7 September 2019

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