Four regular-sized adults onboard, I’m estimating 575 lbs (261 kg). A steep but abrupt grade of maybe 1.5 miles. One-third of the way up, a passing lane is available and there’s our chance to get past a dawdler. Pin the 2020 Honda CR-V Hybrid’s accelerator and from somewhere centered ahead of the firewall comes a raucous grumble-blare not all that different from opening up a big outboard motor. The sheer volume and tortured tenor cause everyone in the cabin to look at one another: “What the hell?”
The CR-V Hybrid – the first SUV to use Honda’s new-ish two-motor system – gathers its combustion-electric total of 212 hp and 232 lb-ft (315 Nm) and executes the pass. But if you’re thinking Honda’s neat “CVT-less” system dispenses with the loathed CVT wail, it doesn’t. At least not where there are hills and mountains.
The two-motor system is comprised of an AC synchronous motor dedicated to propulsion and geared in tandem with the 2.0-L 4-cylinder, both are clutched to the differential. Another AC motor-generator is geared directly with the differential and largely charges the small 1.4-kWh lithium-ion battery. The setup is meant to bias the propulsion job to the 181-hp propulsion traction motor, with the engine providing electricity to the traction motor and the battery pack – or directly inputting to the differential at a single fixed ratio only in times of great need. Like steep uphill passing with four aboard.
Most of the time the two-motor arrangement works agreeably, wafting the CR-V Hybrid along on pleasing doses of electric torque. But if you need all the acceleration available, prepare for cacophony. The system is mostly a treat in the Accord Hybrid, but the CR-V Hybrid, at 3,763 lb (1,707 kg) with its standard all-wheel drive, is saddled with around 300 lb (136 kg) more curb weight. And at higher speeds when you’re asking for the engine’s meager 129 lb-ft (175 Nm) to shoulder the load, that gets you only so far.
The 2020 CR-V Hybrid is cleverly packaged and provides an undeniable efficiency proposition (40 mpg city/35 mpg highway). For suburbanites and flat-landers, it’s probably the choice over the conventional CR-V. For those with elevation or an acceleration fetish, it may not be the horse for those courses.
2020 Honda CR-V Hybrid Touring
Base price: $35,950
As tested: $37,070
Highs: Unique hybrid system; spacious rear seating; decent driving dynamics
Lows: Powertrain not suited to heavy load; dated touchscreen interface
Takeaway: Overdue hybridization for Honda’s volume-selling SUV