Tested: 2019 Honda CR-V Hybrid – Big SUV Best Left in Town

Fittingly for an auto show that was always going to be dominated by electrified powertrains, I drove the 2019 Honda CR-V Hybrid EX – AWD CVT on my annual pilgrimage to the Geneva International Motor Show.

The choice was particularly appropriate because much of the conversation at this year’s show was not just about full EV powertrains but as much focused on all the levels of electrification currently available before having to commit to a BEV vehicle. That’s probably just as well because only a BEV zealot with plenty of time on his or her hands would have chosen such a vehicle for the all-day 650 mile dash from London to the major banking city of Switzerland.

Yet, what I wasn’t prepared for on the trip was a good old dose of range anxiety from a hybrid that, on paper, claims a manufacturer’s combined NEDC fuel economy of more than 50mpg (43mpg US). How on earth did that happen? Well, grab a mug of tea and I’ll tell you.

Setting off from the ‘Smoke’ in the early morning before the show’s first Press Day, the car’s computer was reading a healthy 45mpg (37mpg US) average on a full tank of gasoline. Snaking through the quiet city streets, the car was silky smooth thanks largely to coasting along on its battery range with only the occasional assistance from its naturally aspirated 2.0-liter engine that works mainly as a generator for the two electric motors.

This full-size SUV feels bright and sprightly around town, boasting a combined power output of 181bhp and 232ft-lbs of torque, and it’s easy to believe a 0-62mph sprint time of 9.2 seconds. The flagship EX model of the range comes with top-draw comfort and technology. Inside the cabin, upholstery is plush leather seating heated front and rear, heated steering wheel, opening panoramic glass roof, heads-up information readout, lots of extra interior ambient lighting and hands-free tailgate.

However, the story becomes a little less sophisticated and relaxing when I reached the M2 main motorway down to the Eurotunnel at Folkestone. That’s because, as soon as the vehicle comes to an incline, the gasoline ‘generator’ starts screaming its head off through the constant velocity transmission trying to match the demands of the electric motors to drag the 1.7-metric tonne car up the hills.

While the noise itself is a bit disturbing, the plummet in fuel economy is even more so. Unfortunately, I had neglected to reset the car’s tripometer and average fuel consumption and, therefore, was blissfully ignorant of what the real-time consumption. I remained in this nescient state until reaching the faster French toll roads where the speed limit is a more sensible 81mph for mile munching vehicles.

Anxious moi?

Some 350 miles into the trip I passed a service station with the on-board computer reading 90-ish miles left to refueling and decided to proceed. No more than 30 miles later, the computer clicked down to ‘0’ miles left in the tank with still a couple of miles to go before reaching the next service station at the top of a hill.  Sweating with range anxiety? You bet and the dampened-brow was not completely uncalled for because I discovered, on filling up the fuel tank, that there just two liters left in reserve – about the same as you’d get on a motorcycle that will enjoy much better fuel mileage! By the way, the owner’s manual only ups the anxiety levels by warning of irreparable damage to the car’s expensive catalytic converter if it is driven with an empty fuel tank…

It was after this that I reset the computer and discovered that on cruise control with the Econ mode switched on, the car would average no more than 28mpg (23mpg US) at the legal speed limit. That is comfortably less than two-thirds of the fuel economy the old diesel powered CR-V, that this hybrid replaces, would have achieved in similar conditions and which would also be able to tow a 2,000kgs trailer versus the electrified powertrain’s comparatively weedy 750kgs. Obviously, this impinged on the overall fuel consumption of the 1,300 mile round trip that ended up as just 31mpg (25mpg US).

These figures are a bit unsettling compared to similar trips in other large SUV hybrids I’ve completed such as the old Lexus RX450h which returned, on average, the same sort of economy of a diesel at more than 40mpg (33mpg) in highway driving. Perhaps, the larger 3.5-liter gasoline engine is happier on high speed roads or maybe having electric motors mounted on the rear axle against the Honda’s more old-school prop drive have an impact on fuel economy?

I’m not sufficiently qualified as an engineer to be certain as to main reason for the hybrid’s thirst except to say Honda’s own real-world relevant claimed figures on the WLTP test record a fairly poor 40mpg (33mpg US).

So, the lesson I take away from this drive is that electrification will pose potential owners even more of a dilemma in making their vehicle choice than ICE vehicles where you tend only to decide between two roles: mainly urban = small engine; mainly highway = large engine.

Now, a prospective owner of an electrified vehicle has to be very conscious of what the car will be used for through most of its lifecycle. If that’s pootling round town loading up with shopping and kids, then the hybrid makes a strong case but, if that’s mainly high-speed motorway work, there are plenty of alternatives to this powertrain, not least a good used post-2016 Honda CR-V 1.6i DTEC!

— Paul Myles is a seasoned automotive journalist based in London. Follow him on Twitter @Paulmyles_


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