A long time ago, if we said “name a Honda” odds were pretty good you’d say Civic or Accord. Of course, the crossover/SUV craze has meant that the nameplates most familiar are ones like the CR-V. (Although the Civic and Accord are pretty great vehicles).
And the best-selling CR-V fights in one of the most competitive segments around, with such marquee idols as the RAV4, all-new Mazda CX-50, Kia Sportage, Hyundai Tucson and Nissan Rogue. To keep up, Honda knew it was time for an update. Enter the all-new 2023 Honda CR-V.
Does the 6th generation CR-V keep its crown as top dog in the segment? Let’s take a look!
Not your Mom’s CR-V
Looks wise, the Honda is a bold departure. Like the all-new HR-V we recently tested, Honda is speaking to us with a new design language.
Immediately you notice it’s larger, being both longer and wider than before. It also looks more trucky, but in a good, capable and muscular way.
Up front the first thing that catches the eye is the large upright grille – blacked out for maximum badness in our Sport Hybrid trim, with standard headlights that put out an angry vibe, while lower side inlets and grill in the contrasting bumper add to the tough new look. For those who live in the details, you’ll also notice the CR-V now features wipers that are hidden when not in use.
From the side, you notice a larger greenhouse all around which not only adds to a more upright rugged look, but it also helps with visibility behind the wheel. That taller vibe makes the flared fenders look more pronounced, with black wheel trim to add to the capable look. The final touch are the Sport Touring’s blacked-out 19-inch, 5-spoke alloy wheels that give a firm, meaty stance that’s all business.
The rearview reminds us a bit of the previous model, with vertical LED taillights and a strong character line that spans the width of hatch helping the CR-V look wide and low. We also like the Sport Touring’s rear spoiler up top and unique lower bumper fascia with dual rectangular exhaust outlets. This may be a hybrid, but it’s one tough-looking one! We also loved our tester’s Canyon River Blue paint – a CR-V exclusive color – a rich hue that makes the CR-V look expensive, tasteful and upscale.
Haven’t We Met Before?
Inside, the CR-V is very reminiscent of the all-new HR-V, which is very similar to the new Civic.
That’s a good thing, since all of the above have moved upscale with higher-end finishes and design. If Mazdais the leader of bringing luxury vibes to the regular brands, Honda is quickly becoming a worthy competitor.
Open the door, and you can see that larger on the outside serves up larger on the inside. Where the previous model had a center console that bulged out, the new interior feels sleeker, with a strong horizontal line that creates a feeling of width and spaciousness. And with that larger greenhouse, it feels lighter and airier as well.
Honda seats have always been comfy, but the front buckets – Honda calls them Body Stabilizing Seats – are notably better, offering excellent support – they feel great at first sit, and keep feeling great after hours on the road. Those in back enjoy more legroom, and the rear seatbacks recline in eight different angles including a luxurious 10.5 degrees of recline. Even the cargo space is the largest ever in a CR-V. Win-win-win.
The driver’s seat is the place to be, though. All CR-V’s feature new digital gauges, which Honda tastefully uses to imitate round analog gauges, with added screens and readouts that are unique to the hybrid model.
We love the honeycomb mesh piece that spans the cabin and looks upscale, clean, and also hides the vents behind it. It kind of throws faux wood into the trash bin of history. Luxury is evident on our Sport Touring trim, with leather seats, steering wheel and shift knob, a handsome 9-inch color touch screen with voice recognition – just say “Hey Honda” and it will respond to a variety of commands – along with nice stuff like wireless Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and a convenient wireless charging pad. Thankfully, Honda includes a volume knob on the info-tainment screen.
Overall, we love the Honda-ness of the CR-V interior. No matter how much tech they offer you – and there’s plenty here – the interiors always look friendly, accessible and clean. It immediately puts you in a relaxed mood.
A New Focus on Driving Excitement
The biggest surprise to us is how much improved the already-good driving experience is.
Honda did a lot of work to firm up the structure and add sound deadening, and that’s noticeable – you have the hushed ambience of a much more expensive vehicle. But that’s not the big surprise.
You have a choice of two engines – a 1.5-liter turbo four cylinder that lives in plenty of Honda products and serves up good performance with excellent efficiency. The hybrid is where are hearts are, with 204 horsepower and a nice fat 247 lb.-ft of torque right off the line, courtesy of a 2.0-liter, 4-cylinder engine and an electric motor.
We recently tested the Lexus RX500h and found that 4-cylinder to feel a little grainy and noisy when stressed, but the CR-V’s engine is buttery smooth, and what really surprised us – has a subdued but noticeable howl when you really give it the boot. There’s a sports car hidden somewhere down there!
The transmission also gets kudos – Honda calls it Linear Shift Control – and even though it’s a CVT, it feels responsive and mimics shifting gears – it reinforces the fun of that sweet sounding powertrain. Our tester was the AWD model – and it makes sense for a family vehicle, and even in the heaviest version like our tester, served up 40 mpg city, and 37 combined which is very impressive. Having your cake and eat it too! If you do stray off the paved path, you’ll also enjoy Hill Descent Control.
We stayed on-road and found the steering much improved with real feel and precision, and a beautifully tuned suspension that was smooth, yet still fun to push around the twisty bits. Next to the shifter is a little toggle for drive modes, and we found Sport gave excellent response to the throttle, while Active Sound Control pipes in that sweet engine noise we liked so much.
We never before thought of the CR-V as a driver’s vehicle, but now we would rate it up there with the Mazda CX-5 for driving fun. It’s that impressive.
Bigger, Better, Bank Loan?
Even better news, for so much more, Honda asks very little. You can get into a CR-V starting at $28,410 for a FWD, non-hybrid. With the added space, refinement and quality, that’s a bargain. Our Sport Touring Hybrid AWD is the top-of-the-line model, and starts at $38,600. It’s so loaded there are no options, so dropping $1,245 for Destination and we rang the bell at $39,845.
The CR-V’s arch rival, the Toyota RAV4 hybrid is a pricier option at $42,904 the Toyota is a little more trucky – the Honda feels more like a baby Audi! The Mazda CX-50 comps out at $39,020, it’s a stylish, great drive – but no hybrid is offered, so you’ll have to decide how much that efficiency means to you.
With added room, luxury, enhanced driving dynamics and a great look, the all-new 2023 Honda CR-V is once again best in class!
Ben Lewis grew up in Chicago, and after spending his formative years driving sideways in the winter – often intentionally – moved to sunny Southern California. He now enjoys sunny weather year-round — whether it is autocross driving, aerobatics, and learning to surf.