It's not quite perfect, but enhanced looks aren't all there is to the new CR-V.
Neither the beloved Civic nor the long-lived Accord qualifies as Honda's best-selling vehicle. That honor goes to the Honda CR-V compact crossover. However, for 2023 the CR-V has evolved drastically and isn't quite so compact anymore. It still doesn't register as a full-size unit, but it's longer and wider, opening up enough cabin space to make the CR-V easily accommodate the tallest teenagers in the back.
It also gets a leap forward in styling that tones down the previous couple of generations' quirkiness that put off some buyers, and a whole new approach to drivetrains that puts hybrid power front and center of the range. We were impressed on our First Drive of the new CR-V, but a full week driving a new car is where we can discover a car's real character and utility. In this case, Honda loaned us a top-of-the-range hybrid-powered CR-V Sport Touring.
We'll start with the powertrain, as that is what sets the trims apart. The LX, EX, and EX-L are gas-only, while the Sport and Sport Touring are hybrid options. Both the Sport Hybrid and Sport Touring Hybrid are towards the top end of the CR-V lineup and use a 2.0-liter inline-four with a two-motor hybrid system. The non-hybrids use the same engine but switch out electric assistance for a turbocharger. Gas models make 190 horsepower and 179 lb-ft of torque, while the hybrids have a combined output of 204 hp.
The Sport Touring is all-wheel-drive only, while the lower-rung Sport Hybrid can choose whether to power two wheels or all four. Both get Honda's continuously variable transmission (CVT), which includes a new Snow mode and Hill Descent for slippery conditions. It also features a Sport mode that sharpens throttle response, but we didn't find the urge to use it after seeing how it behaved.
Honda worked hard on refining the engine and making it quieter, and it's succeeded, for the most part. Hybrid models return good gas mileage figures, too. In all-wheel-drive spec, EPA estimates are 40/34/37 mpg city/highway/combined. However, we logged a displayed 38 mpg with combined driving that included a lot of up and downhill driving, which is pretty impressive.
The CR-V's curved and pointed styling is now gone and replaced by a more sophisticated shell, or, depending on your taste, a blander body style. The Sport Touring trim adds a lot on the outside over the lower trims on the ladder. The 19-inch Berlina Black alloy wheels stand out, while gloss black trim on things like the grill, spoiler, and mirrors add some understatement and sophistication.
It also adds a gray rear lower bumper with stainless steel exhaust finishers at the back, and black roof rails on top. At the front is a platinum color lower front bumper, and returning to the back, the Sport Touring includes a hands-free access power tailgate.
There's a lot to like inside the new CR-V, which falls in line with the new interior design language across the brand's range, most noticeably with the honeycomb venting across the width of the dashboard. The Sport Touring also adds Sport leather seats in either black with orange stitching or gray, and a heated leather steering wheel. Ambient lighting is added to the doors and footwells.
Rear legroom that can happily accommodate a couple of tall adults is a highlight, but so is the comfort of the front seats and all-around visibility afforded by the new B-pillar placement and plenty of glass. The driver's seating position has been refined and designed for comfort over long periods that we can now attest to. The new multi-functional center console storage is well-thought-out and useful, as is the rest of the interior - there are ample cupholders and cubby storage spaces.
On top of the nine-inch infotainment screen featuring all the basics plus wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, the Sport Touring also gets a 12-speaker Bose sound system with a subwoofer that is, well, made by Bose and underwhelming in its quality but not its power. Wireless phone charging is also added on top of WiFi hotspot capability and satellite-based navigation, and you get three USB-C ports for charging throughout the cabin.
For safety, on top of the standard and already comprehensive Honda Sensing safety suite, the EX-L and Sport Touring gain Low-Speed Braking Control, which is a first on the CR-V, and standard blind spot monitoring with cross-traffic alert.
We've had plenty of experience with CR-Vs over the years, and this generation is a big step up in many ways. The suspension is the plushest yet, the ride is quiet (which is not something Honda has mastered in the past), and there's a lot less vibration from the drivetrain than before. It's a quiet, smooth ride for the most part, with natural and direct feeling steering. The drivetrain impresses with its smoothness and fuel economy, and as a town, city, and freeway vehicle, it's easy to recommend as a whole.
There is a "however", though, and that's how the CVT has a tendency to leave the engine revving higher than it feels it should, and it sounds strange. It occurs occasionally on flat terrain but is particularly obvious when pushing higher-revving engine noise into the cabin while going uphill - other vehicles would have dropped the revs. It seems like a programming issue in the unnecessary Linear Shift Control system that creates "steps" to mimic a traditional transmission.
Off the line, the CR-V Sport Touring is reasonably quick and will reach freeway speed on the ramp easily. There's little headroom in the power curve for overtaking slower traffic, so be prepared only ever to do the speed of the car in front when touring on windy roads.
On those windy roads, the new CR-V is a pleasure to drive, despite being underpowered at times. We described it as being "closer to the German idea of sporty comfort," and we stand by that. It justifies the Touring part of the trim name and, along with the fuel economy and extra space, the Sport Touring will make for a more comfortable weekend outing and vacation car than previous versions, but it will serve just as well as an everyday family vehicle.
If you love your CR-V, are a generation or more behind, and have put the miles down, then the new CR-V is a lovely upgrade. Although on the pricy side at $39,100 for a compact crossover, the Sport Touring Hybrid justifies its top billing on the grade tree and is packed with features and creature comforts.
The drivetrain does need some revising in its programming, and hopefully, that's something Honda will acknowledge and fix with a software update. It's not a dealbreaker, though, particularly if you don't drive up a lot of long hills, because it ticks a lot of the boxes of cars in this particular segment. The CR-V comes in swinging against rivals like the evergreen Toyota RAV4.
We would like to see a front-wheel-drive option for the top trim to bring the price down for those that simply don't need an all-wheel-drive vehicle, though. It would also add two to three miles per gallon to the Sport Touring as it does for the Sport trim - and an extra three miles adds up now gas prices have seemingly permanently risen.
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