Compared to last week’s hybrid SUV from an up-market home-grown brand, this gas-electric Honda is a paragon of civility, and for much less money. It exhibits none of the dysfunction of that Detroit hybrid—no lurching transitions between gas and batteries, no wooden brakes, no sudden rushes of electric acceleration—and this one, a loaded Touring model, lists for just $35,950.
That’s about the median price of an ordinary new car sold in the US today, but it’s a hybrid packed with everything Honda has learned since its first one, the Insight, in 1999. (You thought the Toyota Prius was the first hybrid, didn’t you?) The Insight became a cult classic—a tiny aero-coupe that was fun to drive and squeezed out 70 MPG.
This new CR-V Hybrid manages only about half that mileage, but in exchange we get a roomy, advanced, nicely balanced all-wheel-drive CUV (compact utility vehicle) full of comfort and safety features that didn’t exist 20 years ago. It also earned high safety ratings in all the crash tests, something the first hybrids, which were built like ultralight airplanes, perhaps couldn’t achieve.
With two electric motors and a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder gas engine (primarily a generator for the electric motors), peak total horsepower is 212, up from 190 in the gas CR-V. Peak torque is up, too. It shows—the power delivery is smooth and strong.
Because electric motors make torque instantly, this system doesn’t need a conventional transmission. If you’re wondering about the “gearshift” paddles behind the steering wheel, they let us choose how much regenerative braking we want, to decelerate without using our foot. There are also four drive modes, including Sport.
Were it not for the badge on the tailgate, you might never know you were driving a hybrid, but there is one quirk: a whine or hum that’s noticeable from about 15 to 25 MPH. If the vehicle weren’t otherwise so quiet, we’d likely never hear it. Altogether, it’s a small price to pay for a CR-V that feels more substantial than the gas-only model, and smoother, quicker and more efficient, too.