2023 Honda CR-V e:PHEV review
Honda's new CR-V e:PHEV is the brand's first plug-in hybrid for Europe but can it better the likes of the Hyundai Santa Fe? Let's find out...
On sale October 2023 | Price from £53,995
Moore’s Law states that computer chips become twice as advanced every two years, and the same seems to apply to the Honda CR-V. You see, while the previous version ditched pure petrol power in 2021 in favour of a hybrid set-up, this all-new CR-V introduces a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) variant.
It’s actually the first PHEV that Honda has made for the European market and it appears that the brand has hit the ground running, giving the new CR-V e:PHEV a long electric-only range, bucket loads of interior space and a clever two-stage gearbox and towing mode that allows it to tow up to 1500kg.
Every e:PHEV comes in top-spec Advance Tech trim and that means you get all the trimmings as standard, including highlights like a head-up display, heated and ventilated front seats, heated rear seats and an upgraded sound system. What’s more, it comes with adaptive dampers to make it more comfortable, replacing the simpler reactive dampers that you get on the regular hybrid version, badged the e:HEV.
What’s the new Honda CR-V e:PHEV like to drive?
You get the same 181bhp 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine and electric motor in the e:PHEV as you do in the e:HEV, but the small battery has been replaced by a much larger 17.7kWh one.
That increased battery size allows the e:PHEV to drive for up to 51 miles on electricity alone, which is impressive when you consider that both the Sorento and Santa Fe officially only manage around 30-40 miles. Of course, it’s rare that you’ll manage those ranges in real life, but the e:PHEV should still go further even when you account for that drop.
To help you make the most of the hybrid system, you get multiple different EV modes to play with. These range from Auto (which leaves the car to decide whether to run on electricity or petrol), a pure electric EV-only one, a Save mode that’ll only use the petrol engine to preserve the battery and Charge that will also top up the battery.
Of course, being a plug-in hybrid means that you can also plug it in to add juice to the battery. With a maximum charging rate of 6.8kW, plugging the CR-V into a 7kW home charger will get you from 0-100% charge in around 2.5 hours. That’s an hour faster than the Sorento can manage, because that can only accept up to 3.3kW.
It’s not all about efficiency, though, and the e:PHEV feels nice and quick regardless of whether you’re using the petrol engine and electric motor together or individually. On paper, the e:PHEV's 0-62mph time of 9.4sec is slower than the Sorento's, but it doesn’t feel that way, with the CR-V getting off the line with gusto when you plant the throttle.
Indeed, you’ll never struggle to quickly get up to speed on a motorway slip-road or if you need a sudden burst of power to overtake slow moving traffic. That’s especially true if you switch into Sport mode because that gives you access to everything that the engine and electric motor have to offer. Not that you’ll want to do that too often, though, because it also turns on fake engine noise through the speakers – it’s designed to make the e:PHEV feel sportier, but it could quickly get quite annoying.
Flicking into Sport mode also firms up the adaptive dampers, stiffening the ride with the aim of reducing body lean. Even so, the CR-V never feels particularly sporty and you wouldn’t pick it over the more dynamic BMW X3 or Kuga for a spirited drive down a country road. Its biggest problem is the steering which, while it gives you a general idea of what the front wheels are up to, is overly heavy regardless of which mode you’re in.
In typically British wet conditions, we found it very easy to find the limit of front-end grip and you didn’t need to be going particularly quickly before the front wheels start to wash wide.
The thing is, the CR-V is made to be comfortable while you’re driving around town or over long distances. In that role, things are far better, especially in Comfort mode, where the suspension finds a good balance of soft and firm.
You see, while the ride is soft enough to iron out lumps and imperfections with no thuds or bumps, it’s firm enough to make sure you don’t float around over undulations.
In fact, the only demerit for the refinement is that at motorway speeds, while wind noise is pretty subdued, there’s quite a lot of road noise (certainly more than you’ll hear in the Sorento).
What’s the new Honda CR-V e:PHEV like inside?
If you want something that feels like an SUV to sit in, the CR-V e:PHEV’s high seating position will be right up your street. It’s also a plus that it’s really easy to get comfortable, thanks to the standard-fit eight-way electrically adjustable front seats with four-way adjustable lumbar support. What’s more, the e:PHEV comes with a handy memory function, so you’ll never lose that position even if someone else has a drive.
The additional upside to the lofty driving position is great all-round visibility. Indeed, you get a good view out over the bonnet, making it easy to position the car, while thin front window pillars make it easy to see out at junctions. The rear pillars are thicker but, handily, the large side windows help with the view over your shoulder.
Parking should be pretty easy, too, thanks to the e:PHEV getting pretty much every parking aid that you can think of, including front and rear parking sensors, a 360-degree camera and even Honda Parking Pilot, which will park the car for you in certain circumstances.
When it comes to infotainment, the CR-V gets the same 9.0in touchscreen that you’ll find in the new Honda Civic. It’s a fairly good system, with clear graphics and quick responses to your prods but, as with the Civic, it’s more distracting to use on the move than the X3’s, which has a physical controller.
You do, at least, get some physical shortcut buttons around the edge, which is more than can be said for the Santa Fe. Better still, big physical buttons and dials on the centre console make it really easy to change the air conditioning. They’re nice to use, too, reflecting the good overall build quality of the CR-V nicely.
The problem is that, given the e:PHEV’s not insubstantial price tag, you’d probably expect some nicer materials throughout the interior. True, you do get some squishy materials atop the dashboard and some neat-looking honeycomb detailing on the vents, but near everything else is made from cheap scratchy plastics, even in places you’ll regularly touch.
If interior space is more important to you than style, you’re in luck, because the new CR-V is much bigger than its predecessor. For starters, there’s loads of space up front for a pair of broad shouldered six-footers to get comfortable. It’s in the rear that the CR-V is really impressive, though.
That’s especially true when it comes to leg room. You get a sliding rear bench as standard in the CR-V, meaning that you can choose whether to prioritise leg room or boot space. With the rear seats slid all the way back, the leg room on offer is cavernous and almost limousine-like.
On top of that, the rear seats can be reclined in eight different settings. Yes, eight. That means that head room can vary from good, when sat upright, to great as you recline the seat ever further backwards. However, both the Santa Fe and Sorento can carry up to seven occupants for a similar price, with a pair of third row seats that fold away in the boot.
Boot space, too, is impressive even in the maximum rear leg room configuration. You actually get more boot space in the e:PHEV than you do in the e:HEV, due to the battery being placed under your rear seat passengers instead of under the boot floor, giving you a total of 617 litres (compared to 579 litres).
That’ll be more than enough to swallow an entire family's holiday luggage or a couple of pushchairs, but if you need more space, the rear seats can be split in a 60/40 configuration and folded flat to give you almost van-like levels of space.
When it comes to safety kit, the CR-V is the first Honda model in Europe to get ‘Honda Sensing 360’, which increases the amount of sensors and safety aids that the car comes with. As a result, the CR-V comes with 11 airbags, front cross-traffic alert, lane-keeping assist, active lane change assist, automatic emergency braking (AEB) and adaptive cruise control with slow speed stop.
With a fairly hefty price tag, the CR-V e:PHEV costs more to buy than the Santa Fe and only comes in the highest trim level. The generous equipment levels help to justify the initial cost while its long electric-only range will reduce fuel costs and emissions.
If you don’t mind that it doesn’t have the plushest interior and you’re fine with it being a five seater, this is a versatile and comfortable SUV.
What Car? rating 4 stars out of 5
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Honda CR-V e:PHEV Advance Tech
Price £53,995 Engine 4cyl, 1993cc, petrol plus Electric motor Power 181 bhp (combined) Torque 262lb ft (combined) Gearbox 2-spd automatic 0-62mph 9.4sec Top speed 121mph Battery range 51 miles Official fuel economy 149mpg CO2, tax band 18g/km, 8%
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