The Honda CR-V Goes Hybrid—Watch Out, Toyota

IT’S ON LIKE fat guys in thongs.

The Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V compact crossovers are the super-sumos of affordable family transportation. These are not only the bestselling vehicles in their segment (#1 and #2, respectively); they are the most popular vehicles in the U.S. market that aren’t trucks. The Earth shakes when these two bump bellies.

For many of the faithful, the only way Toyota could make the RAV4 better would be to offer it in a fuel-saving, gas-electric hybrid version. That wish was granted for the 2016 model year. Toyota followed last year with a plug-in hybrid version, the RAV4 Prime, that relies on the same principles as the Prius Prime and offers a nominal all-electric range of 42 miles.

Our test car, the 2021 Honda CR-V Hybrid, is the company’s highly anticipated, slightly overmatched answer. The Honda falls short of its rival in rated efficiency, but not by much, and not without gaining something in return. Honda’s design retains a mechanical all-wheel drive system while the RAV4’s Prime relies on a rear-mounted electric motor for AWD. Under the right, or wrong, conditions, the Honda can shunt as much as 40% of engine torque to the rear wheels. Point for Honda-san.

In the typical duty cycles of suburban driving, surface streets and commuting, the CR-V Hybrid glides and swells with the refinement, linear response and lush quiet of a fully electric car. It’s only when you spend time at 80-plus mph, or climb any kind of grade, God forbid, that it begins to sound like a one of Honda’s fine family of portable generators, the sort one finds droning behind curbside lunch trucks or the face-painting tent at a Renaissance faire.


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