The CR-V is a cornerstone of Honda's American lineup. Since it debuted here in 1997, the automaker's sold more than 5 million copies. Last year alone, the CR-V accounted for nearly 60% of the brand's SUV sales. Clearly, customers appreciate this vehicle's combination of reliability and affordability, efficiency and spaciousness. 

Building on that inherent goodness, the 2020 Honda CR-V Hybrid is more economical, powerful and refined than the conventional model. In short, it's an even better CR-V. 

A cornerstone of Honda's electrified future

Despite offering various hybrid models for years, Honda has never had a gasoline-electric SUV in its American lineup, but the CR-V Hybrid finally changes that. This crossover's introduction is part of a larger push to reduce emissions and improve efficiency. The automaker is aiming to electrify two-thirds of its global vehicle lineup by the year 2030.

Helping reach that goal, this CR-V has a two-motor hybrid system under its hood, basically the same one used in the Accord Hybrid. The heart of this powertrain is a 2.0-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine that runs on the fuel-saving Atkinson cycle. As for those electric motors, one is used for propulsion while the other handles starting and power-generating duties. A 1.4-kWh lithium-ion battery pack is mounted underneath the rear floor, storing and releasing energy as dictated by driving conditions. Total system horsepower is 212, a welcome bump over the 190 hp you get in a standard CR-V. Maximum torque clocks in at 232 pound-feet.

Like the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid, the CR-V Hybrid has all-wheel drive as standard. Ford, meanwhile, gives you a choice of drivetrains -- the Escape Hybrid can be had with either front- or all-wheel drive. 

2020 Honda CR-V Hybrid

It's difficult to explain how Honda's two-motor hybrid system functions, but it works extremely well.

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As for fuel economy, this Honda is estimated to return 40 miles per gallon city, 35 mpg highway and 38 mpg combined. According to the EPA, similarly equipped versions of both the Toyota and the Ford are slightly more efficient on each test cycle, but in real-world driving you probably won't notice a difference. A conventionally powered CR-V with all-wheel drive is rated at 27 mpg city, 33 mpg highway and 29 mpg combined. This means the hybrid model is nearly 25% more efficient in mixed driving, a huge difference.

The CR-V Hybrid has several drive modes, all of which are easily accessible via a series of chunky buttons mounted to the right of the gear selector. Sport mode increases throttle response and, through the Active Sound Control system, makes the engine note more aggressive. As its name suggests, Econ mode optimizes the vehicle's efficiency, making it feel a bit lethargic in the process. There's also EV mode, which lets the CR-V Hybrid operate solely on electricity, but only for short distances.

Since this vehicle is neither a pure electric nor a plug-in hybrid, its battery-only driving range is extremely limited, only about 1 or 2 miles, depending on conditions. It's intended for silently motoring through parking structures or pulling into your garage without waking up the family, not for carbon-neutral cross-country drives.

2020 Honda CR-V Hybrid

The CR-V Hybrid features a unique instrument cluster.

Craig Cole/Roadshow

Responsive and refined

Not only does this powertrain feel smoother and sound less thrashy than the 1.5-liter turbo-four found in the standard CR-V, it also delivers excellent performance. Thanks to its electric torque, the hybrid model is punchy off the line, pulling well at all speeds. 

This CR-V's powertrain is far more pleasant than Honda's previous hybrid efforts. I remember testing the Insight sedan a couple years ago, and while efficient, its drivetrain was bonkers. Engine speed and noise levels were in no way related to how much throttle you were using. Sometimes, while gently accelerating, the engine would make all kinds of racket, other times it was content to merely idle. Its behavior was more than a bit disconcerting. Fortunately, the CR-V Hybrid's drivetrain has none of these bad habits. It's quiet and smooth, fading into the background.

That laudable refinement applies to the rest of this crossover's driving behavior. The CR-V Hybrid feels reliably solid, with no rattles or reverberations detracting from the experience. Its steering is nicely weighted and the wheel has a thick rim that's easy to hold.

Regenerative braking is another high point. The pedal is nicely weighted, neither too grabby nor overly squishy, plus it's easy to modulate. Regenerative braking in some hybrid vehicles feels inconsistent, with the transition between regen and friction braking annoyingly obvious.

Spot the differences

Visual differences between the CR-V Hybrid and its gas-only counterpart are minor. Up front, you'll find standard LED headlights, slitted foglamps and a blue-hued Honda logo. The front fenders have hybrid badges and at the back, Touring models get a unique bumper. There's also a "hidden" tailpipe tucked underneath the rear fascia, though it's still easy to spot.

Inside, the CR-V Hybrid benefits from Honda's familiar push-button shifter instead of the clunky mechanical one found in the standard model. It also gets a unique instrument cluster that shows how the hybrid system is operating. A pair of steering wheel-mounted paddles lets you adjust how aggressive the regenerative braking is, a handy feature. 

The CR-V Hybrid is offered in four trim levels: LX, EX, EX-L and Touring. Depending on the model, it also offers features like wireless device charging, embedded navigation and blind-spot monitoring with rear-cross traffic alert. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are also offered, as well as leather trim and dual-zone climate control. The Honda Sensing suite of safety systems is also standard across the board, with features like adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assist.

2020 Honda CR-V Hybrid

CR-V Hybrids feature a push-button gear selector instead of a mechanical shifter.

Craig Cole/Roadshow

Just like the conventional CR-V, this gasoline-electric version features an excellent interior. The front seats are comfortable and the second-row bench is spacious. The materials used are top-notch for the segment and the interior's ergonomics are admirable. My only real gripe is about the antiquated infotainment system, which is unattractive and obtuse.

One of the best gets even better

The 2020 Honda CR-V Hybrid is available at dealerships right now. The base price for one of these fuel-sipping crossovers is $28,870, including $1,120 in destination charges. That's just $1,200 more than an all-wheel-drive LX version with the conventional powertrain. 

As for the loaded Touring model seen here, it checks out for $37,070, a good bit more than the entry-level version, but still a reasonable sum. If you don't mind paying that modest upcharge, this hybridized CR-V is the one to get. It's more refined, in some ways better to drive and, of course, far more efficient.


Editors' note: Travel costs related to this story were covered by the manufacturer, which is common in the auto industry. The judgments and opinions of Roadshow's staff are our own and we do not accept paid editorial content.

First published March 17.