We were very impressed with the new 2023 Honda CR-V sixth generation after testing the EX-L a few weeks ago. But this review used the word "increased" because while the car's interior and driving environment have certainly improved, it's clear that no new ground has been broken. The performance and fuel efficiency of the powertrain, a 1.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder and continuously variable automatic transmission, remains unchanged.
That characterization doesn't apply at all to the new CR-V Hybrid, which features a completely redesigned hybrid powertrain and an all-new stance that begins by not positioning it as a hybrid model in its own right. If you want your 2023 CR-V to be a hybrid, and you do, look for the Sport or Sport Touring badge. In addition to superior fuel economy, these two models offer a sportier, smoother ride, with the Sport Touring being the best-equipped of the range. The Sport Duo can also be recognized in lots of dealers by its black accents, including the grille, grille strip, roof rails, alloy wheels, and mirror caps.
The qualitative difference is also apparent after you close the door and drive a few hundred metres. The hybrid instills a sense of structural solidity and absolute quietness that you wouldn't expect from a much more expensive machine. Like all 2023 CR-V models, the hybrid models benefit from a stiffer chassis, thanks to the addition of structural adhesive along with the usual notched welds. The front and rear subframes are bulkier, and there's more sound insulation on the hood, in the firewall, and behind the dash. But the hybrid goes further, with a stronger connection between the B-pillar and the floor, thicker front quarter lights (with Sport Touring soundproofing) and an insulated windshield.
Plus, the Sport Touring's suspension soaked up bumpy roads as if it had been recently repaved, with very little vibration or rumble carried over into the cabin. The steering delivered a comfortable mid-range feel and responsive response without feeling too light or too tight, and the hybrid sport suspension and thick anti-roll bars delivered confidence-inspiring response and a C/F, measured from 0.85g. Stick to walkable gum year-round. But the overriding impression is one of feeling like the CR-V Hybrid pushes its weight, even on some winding back roads with damaged pavement.
The effect of all this is enhanced by the lack of a continuously variable automatic transmission. Instead, the hybrid is (mostly) powered by a 181-hp synchronous electric motor. This is not a pure electric car, as its battery, a tiny 1.1 kWh lithium-ion unit, is designed for storage, not removal. (Ironically, the battery takes up storage space, raising the cargo floor flush with the sill and reducing cargo capacity from 39 to 36 cubic feet.) When we were pedaling hard on tow rides or uphill, the 2.0-liter's primary job was to rev the Atkinson engine. In it, as a real-time constant generator in conjunction with a second 161-hp electric machine, which is largely overlooked in the spec box below because it's just an alternator, and so is the starter.
When accelerating hard from a standstill, you'll hear several sweeps of engine speed that sound like a shift, but the operation is devoid of acceleration issues or the feel of the shock of a shift. That's because the engine in this scenario is just a series-hybrid alternator and the rev fluctuations are there just for show, a deliberate software dance that delivers the necessary power while avoiding the CVT-like roar we all hate. Meanwhile, the electric motor pulls steadily through the stroke, so the complete lack of head movement in every simulated overhead transmission.
Although our test car was a 3914-pound all-wheel-drive model, its 7.9-second 0-60 mph time was faster than the front-wheel-drive 302-pound EX-L, which we set at 8.3 seconds. The hybrid also bested the EX-L for fourth place, 16.3 seconds to 16.4, but the fact that its 85-mph drop speed is eclipsed by the turbo's 88-mph offering suggests the hybrid setup isn't designed for extended high-speed acceleration. . After all, the 145-hp and 138 lb-ft can haul a limited amount of coal toward an electric motor with 181 hp and 247 lb-ft.
But an engine isn't just a generator, and major changes this year have given it more time to shine. For the first time, they're also allowing the hybrid a tow rating: only 1,000 pounds, but it's something. Because the combustion engine, electric motor and generator no longer share a common axis. They're moved off-axle from each other, allowing the engine to mix directly to drive the wheels in two ratios, not just one as was the case last year. Add a third ratio to the electric motor and you get a three-speed automatic transmission unlike anything you've seen before.