The Hamilton Spectator
2023 Honda CR-V Sport Review
There are a lot of choices if you’re looking for a no-frills affordable compact crossover, so much so that trying to figure out what works best for your needs can seem like a monumental task. If you’re a loyal shopper and prefer to stick with one brand, things are easier, and segment leaders like the Honda CR-V have one of the most loyal fan bases out there.
It helps that the Honda CR-V was one of the first to market this type of vehicle long before they were the norm. Back then the CR-V would have been considered a novelty but it was a hit with buyers and it still is today.
Completely redesigned for 2023 the Honda CR-V is longer, wider and more spacious. There’s more rear legroom and more space for cargo. Not that the last generation was lacking in any of those respects, but more space in a compact crossover is always welcome.
There’s a lot of resemblance to the Civic and that part is intentional and can be seen throughout the new Honda lineup including on the newly released Honda Pilot. The CR-V looks like a real SUV now rather than a tall wagon. It’s upright and boxy versus the last generation’s rounded and softer profile. I feel it’s an improvement but it’s also quite plain. Those who prefer something a bit more expressive might want to take a look at the Kia Sportage or Hyundai Tucson.
Inside, the dashboard is another version of what was introduced in the Civic. A slick hexagon mesh strip hides the climate vents behind it and the driver’s display is half screen, half analogue gauge. The main takeaways here are minimum gimmicks, and controls that are dead simple to operate. We’re talking tactile knobs, big physical buttons, no clutter, and perfect ergonomics. The view out is also excellent, if not class-leading, thanks to lots of glass and a low cowl.
Issues arise with the infotainment system. Base models and even the mid-range Sport that I was loaned are saddled with a 7-inch touchscreen that feels small compared to what’s in much of the competition. The real problems are the lack of features, outdated graphics, and a flaky wired connection to Apple Carplay that froze and crashed randomly many times when I was using it. The optional 9-inch system is an improvement but still not as good as what you find in some of the competition.
The Honda CR-V’s strong point and one of the best reasons to buy it are its driving dynamics. I’m not talking about knife-edge sports-car-like handling here. It’s still a crossover and it still drives like one, but Honda has a way of tuning the suspension and steering to deliver a comfortable ride and a confident feeling of control. Body control is also very good and it remains so even when loaded with passengers. It’s the type of driving experience that isn’t going to scare anyone off with an overly stiff suspension and heavy steering. Honda takes a balanced approach that will reward those who enjoy driving while being just as good for a leisurely cruise. Having driven many of the offerings in this class, only the Mazda CX-5 offers a more dynamic experience but it’s also a stiffer riding crossover, which isn’t for everyone.
The 1.5-litre turbocharged 4-cylinder, standard on all CR-V trims, has been updated but still makes the same 190 hp and 179 lb-ft of torque. Improvements focus on refinement, improved noise levels, and lower emissions. All-wheel drive is standard on Sport, EX-L and Touring trims but optional on the base LX. A big surprise for me was the performance of the CVT. Honda’s Step-shift programming simulates gear changes and it does a great job of not feeling like a CVT especially when driving quickly. It’s not an especially powerful vehicle, but the little 1.5 can get you up to speed with little drama. It just doesn’t sound particular good when doing so.
A nice add, especially for Canadian roads is a “Snow” drive mode that helps manage traction on slippery roads, and Hill Descent Control is now standard on all trims. Honda Sensing, which is a suite of safety and driving aids see improvements with more advanced cameras and radar to help better recognize pedestrians, vehicles and other objects, as well as traffic signs, lane markings, and even curbs. Blind spot monitoring is standard now along with traffic jam assist and low-speed braking control.
I wish it were cheaper. $43, 571 is a lot of money to spend on a mid-range CR-V and I think the new-for-Canada CR-V hybrid should be available across all trims and not only on the range-toping Touring. Toyota makes its RAV4 hybrid available right from base and it’s Honda’s biggest rival. I feel it’s an oversight to not capitalize on that especially since Honda’s goal is to gradually transition their customers into electrified vehicles.
The Honda CR-V is one of the roomiest and most comfortable vehicles in its class with a large cargo area, a refined cabin, and sure-footed handling. It falls short on value but that should be a small deterrent to loyal customers. In the crowded compact crossover space, the CR-V remains an easy recommendation.