2023 Honda CR-V Review and Test Drive
Not a class leader, but the new CR-V gets the critical crossover SUV characteristics right.
Chances are, you or someone you know has owned a Honda CR-V. The compact crossover SUV arrived in the U.S. market more than 25 years ago and has steadfastly adhered to a design and engineering philosophy that blends maximum interior room and cargo space with the driving dynamics of a car and an available all-wheel-drive (AWD) system to get you where you're going. This combination of characteristics has made the CR-V a best-seller and is positioned as an alternative to traditional cars and full-size SUVs, and there is a good chance you have first-hand experience with the model.
Now, the redesigned 2023 Honda CR-V ushers in the sixth generation of the crossover with a revamped lineup, a greater emphasis on electrification, more comfortable seats, new infotainment technology, next-generation safety systems, and more. The 2023 CR-V model lineup includes EX, Sport Hybrid, EX-L, and Sport Touring Hybrid trim levels, and base prices range from the low $30,000s to the high $30,000s. That price range includes the destination charge to ship the SUV from the factory that builds it to your local dealership. Honda builds the CR-V in Indiana, Ohio, and Ontario, Canada.
For this 2023 Honda CR-V review, I test-drove the EX-L with the standard turbocharged gas engine in Southern California. It came with AWD and extra-cost paint, bringing the manufacturer's suggested retail price (MSRP) to $36,900, including the $1,245 destination charge. Honda provided the vehicle for this 2023 CR-V review.
2023 Honda CR-V Review: The Design
Good looks have never been a Honda CR-V strength, though the outgoing fifth-generation model had some genuine style and appeal to it. That fades with the new sixth-gen 2023 Honda CR-V. The conservative design is comparatively tame and inoffensive, and while that will allow it to age gracefully, the nose-heavy styling and plain-Jane flanks aren’t likely to spark desire.
Open the driver's side front door, and the new CR-V's cabin represents a significant upgrade over the previous model. Like the exterior, the interior is clean and simple. But it also demonstrates some flair for detail, such as the air vents embedded into a metal honeycomb trim strip running the width of the dashboard, knurled metallic control knobs with a satisfying click when twisted, digital instrumentation, and a pervasive sense of quality. In addition, the test vehicle's gray interior color, which splits the difference between light gray and beige, adds sharp upscale contrast to the cabin.
Not only do the controls look and feel expensive, they could return Honda to a leadership position concerning layout, clarity, and operation. Though Honda didn’t include a radio tuning knob, the test vehicle's 9-inch display offers tuning buttons underneath the volume knob. They're not ideal, but they're easy to reach and use.
Honda says the new CR-V offers more passenger and cargo space than ever before, though it doesn't feel that way from the standard ten-way power-adjustable driver's seat. New "body-stabilizing" seat designs and a modified steering wheel angle make the CR-V feel more like a car, which might explain the cabin's more intimate sensation.
According to Honda, the new seats reduce fatigue on longer drives, and I found them exceptionally supportive. You sit in them instead of on them, enjoying terrific thigh support and adequate side bolstering. Unfortunately, the front passenger's seat doesn't offer height adjustment, but thanks to the low-cut dashboard and excellent seat comfort, the omission isn't a deal-breaker. In addition, every 2023 CR-V includes heated front seats.
By Honda's measurements, the new 2023 CR-V offers more distance between the front and rear seats, accompanied by an additional 0.6 inches of rear legroom. The back seat also offers eight angles of reclining to passengers. Getting in and out of the back seat is easy thanks to rear doors that open to a nearly 90-degree angle. I found the back seat exceptionally comfortable thanks to a high seating position, excellent leg support, and plenty of legroom. However, taller passengers might find headroom to be a little tight.
Storage space is generous, and Honda claims the center console bin underneath the armrest offers class-leading volume. Unfortunately, many storage surfaces are unlined, so things you place there may rattle and make scraping sounds as you drive.
Likewise, Honda asserts that the new 2023 CR-V offers more cargo space than before. It measures 36.3 cubic feet behind the back seat, an increase of 1.2 cu-ft for the turbocharged gas models and 3.1 cu-ft for the hybrids. If the CR-V has a turbo engine, you can lower the rear load floor, giving the SUV 39.3 cu-ft of cargo volume behind the rear seat. Maximum cargo space with the back seat folded flat measures 76.5 cu-ft. These figures are similar to what a typical two-row midsize crossover SUV offers.
The EX-L test vehicle had a power liftgate, and within the cargo area, the CR-V supplies deep wells on either side of the load floor and helpful grocery bag hooks. You can easily slide full-size suitcases into the CR-V on their sides or stack four of them without compromising rear visibility.
2023 Honda CR-V Review: The Technology
The least appealing thing about the previous-generation CR-V was its outdated technology. So, the new infotainment systems and safety features baked into the sixth-gen CR-V may represent the model's most significant improvements.
Every new CR-V has a 7-inch digital instrumentation panel and a 7-inch touchscreen or 9-inch touchscreen infotainment system. The larger 9-inch screen comes with EX-L and Sport Touring Hybrid trim levels. It adds wireless versions of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto coupled with SiriusXM satellite radio, wireless charging, and a more powerful eight-speaker stereo system. Choose the CR-V Sport Touring Hybrid trim, and the CR-V adds HondaLink subscription services, a navigation system, and a 12-speaker Bose premium audio system.
It took a try or two to pair my iPhone to the system's Bluetooth connection, but there wasn't an issue once I established it. Next, I ran my Pandora smartphone app through the wireless Apple CarPlay, and the EX-L's stereo system proved impressive. Unfortunately, since the CR-V EX-L doesn't have a navigation system, I could not test the voice recognition system's effectiveness at finding destinations using naturally spoken commands.
The previous-generation CR-V's driver-assistance features and collision-avoidance systems lacked refinement by modern standards. However, with the redesigned 2023 CR-V, that changes, as the SUV gets the latest Honda Sensing collection of safety features. Not only that, but this next-generation version of Honda Sensing expands to include more capabilities than before.
To improve accuracy and operational smoothness, a new wide-angle camera with a 90-degree field of view and a millimeter wave radar unit with a 120-degree field of view power this version of Honda Sensing. The collection includes forward-collision warning, automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, lane-departure warning, lane-keeping assist, lane-centering assist, adaptive cruise control, and automatic high-beam headlights. Traffic Jam Assist is also standard, pairing the adaptive cruise control with the lane-centering assist system to provide semi-autonomous driver assistance at lower vehicle speeds. The only safety-related feature that is not standard is a set of front and rear parking sensors.
In addition, the new CR-V employs the latest Advanced Compatibility Engineering (ACE) body structure, which Honda constructs to deflect crash energy away from the passenger compartment. Honda also equips the CR-V with new front airbags designed to reduce severe brain trauma in certain accidents. The CR-V also has a rear-seat reminder system, a seatbelt reminder system, a driver monitoring system, and a traffic sign recognition system.
Overall, the Honda Sensing systems are more refined than before, operating with added surety and smoothness compared to the previous-generation CR-V. However, the lane-keeping and lane-centering assists suffer a little confusion when highways expand or contract by a lane and when encountering exit and entrance ramps while driving in the right lane of a freeway. On one occasion, I crested a small hill that dipped into shadows and got a false forward-collision warning alert.
More dissatisfying is how the lane-centering system adds a heavy, unnatural feel to the steering wheel. Honda has done a marvelous job with the CR-V's steering effort level, responsiveness, and overall feel, so this markedly artificial sensation detracts from the driving experience.
On a positive note, when using the adaptive cruise control, the CR-V accelerates back up to the selected speed at a natural cadence after you change lanes to pass slower vehicles ahead. So it's not too slow, and it's not too fast. However, if someone is barreling down on you from behind, you'll want to override the tech and accelerate harder.
Because Honda redesigned the 2023 CR-V, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) must perform new tests on the SUV. Unfortunately, those results were unavailable as I wrote this review, so be sure to check for any updates.
2023 Honda CR-V Review: The Drive
As was true before, the new CR-V offers a choice between a 190-horsepower, turbocharged 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine and a more fuel-efficient and powerful next-generation hybrid powertrain. Front-wheel drive (FWD) is standard and all-wheel drive (AWD) is optional with EX, Sport Hybrid, and EX-L trim. The Sport Touring Hybrid has standard AWD.
A continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) is standard with the turbo four, while Honda CR-V Hybrids use an electric motor that operates similarly to a CVT. Both drivetrains offer Eco, Normal, and Snow driving modes. The hybrids also have a Sport mode. Remote engine starting is standard on all 2023 CR-V models.
For the 2023 model year, Honda expects the hybrid models to account for half of all sales because that 204-horsepower drivetrain is standard with Sport and Sport Touring trim levels. The CR-V Hybrid is more powerful and more efficient, EPA-rated to return between 37 mpg (AWD) and 40 mpg (FWD) in combined driving.
My Honda CR-V EX-L AWD test vehicle's turbocharged four-cylinder should get 29 mpg in combined driving, according to the EPA (30 mpg with FWD). On my Southern California evaluation loop, the CR-V turbo averaged 29.1 mpg, so no complaints there.
Thanks to 190 hp at 6,000 rpm and 179 pound-feet of torque available from 1,700 rpm to 5,000 rpm, the CR-V's turbocharged 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine is well suited to this SUV. Acceleration isn't quite quick, but it is precisely what most people will expect. Plus, turbocharged engines typically work better at altitude, an important consideration if you live on higher ground.
Unfortunately, the continuously variable transmission (CVT) makes accelerating unpleasant. Even at part-throttle, such as when getting up to speed on a freeway on-ramp, the CVT's racket draws negative attention to the powertrain. You won't notice it much in urban driving situations or during steady-state highway cruising, but put your foot down moderately hard on the gas pedal, and it sounds cranky about doing its job.
It's too bad about the vociferous CVT because Honda has fine-tuned the CR-V's ride and handling to absolute perfection. Whether blasting over speed humps and bumps, encountering mid-corner wrinkles in the pavement, or tossing the crossover into hairpin turns on mountain roads, the new CR-V teaches a master class in the art of suspension tuning. There isn't any head toss here or sudden lateral transfers of weight that can take you by surprise in so many SUVs. The suspension doesn't easily top or bottom out on big bumps, and on the more minor cracks, holes, and ripples in the road, it just soaks everything up while ensuring you know what's happening at the surface.
Furthermore, the steering and brake pedal feel perfectly calibrated. In addition, while the all-season tires can feel squishy if you hustle too fast around a corner, they're quiet as they attempt to keep you planted. I zoomed down the Dennison Grade east of Ojai, California, in the CR-V EX-L, and it emitted nary a squeal as I descended the mountain road.
As far as the CR-V EX and EX-L are concerned, the driving dynamics reflect the unrelenting honing towards perfection that Honda has employed in its latest products. The CVT doesn't ruin the fun, but it's not exactly the life of the party.
Is the 2023 Honda CR-V a Good SUV?
Having spent a week living with the redesigned 2023 Honda CR-V EX-L, I think the compact crossover SUV is more than just good, I think it's great.
Honda has crafted an impressive compact SUV unless you need a vehicle with genuine off-roading capability. However, if recent history is any indication, a future TrailSport version of the CR-V may be in the cards. It won't be Rubicon-ready, of course, but if it comes to pass, it will give you some extra confidence to venture beyond where a car can comfortably travel.
Unfortunately, a Honda CR-V Hybrid was unavailable for evaluation for this review. However, I suspect it is the version to get, likely offering a slight improvement in performance combined with a significant improvement in fuel economy. You'll need to be a fan of gloss-black wheels, though, because all hybrids have them.
Competitively speaking, there are just a few shortfalls with the new 2023 CR-V. For example, it does not offer a panoramic glass sunroof, ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, or a plug-in hybrid powertrain. Also, though substantially improved, the tech still falls a little short regarding screen size, widely available subscription services, and collision prevention technology.
While the new Honda CR-V is not a class-leading crossover SUV, it's a competitive choice in this packed segment.