Few products have done more to get American motorists to migrate by the millions from sedans and coupes to SUVs and CUVs than the Honda CR-V. A consistently strong seller since its U.S. introduction 25 years ago, Honda is betting it will gain even more momentum this coming year when it gives a complete makeover to crossover for 2023.
The sixth-generation 2023 Honda CR-V grows longer, wider and roomier, with additional technology and an upgraded interior. It also gets an updated hybrid powertrain that should make it more fun to drive, according to Honda, even as it delivers the sort of mileage motorists will appreciate at a time when gas prices remain near record levels.
To get an initial impression, I headed to Nashville for a first drive of the 2023 Honda CR-V.
By the numbers, the 2023 Honda CR-V gains 2.7 inches in overall length and 0.4 inches in width. The 2023 model’s wheelbase has been stretched 1.6 inches. Meanwhile, one of the more “radical” changes to the crossover’s design sees the base of the windshield moved 4.7 inches rearward, 2.8 inches outward and 1.4 inches lower — a shift that improves visibility, said Honda in a statement.
The new dimensions also translate into a roomier cabin. Rear seat passengers, for example, now get another 0.6 inches of legroom and, said Honda, “There’s more cargo space, at 36.3 cubic feet, than any previous version of the CR-V. Fold down the back row and that more than doubles, at 76.5 cf.”
In keeping with the design language it’s introduced with other recent light truck updates, such as the Ridgeline pickups and Passport TrailSport SUV, the 2023 Honda CR-V adopts a more rugged appearance. That includes a more upright grille, a longer hood and a strong, horizontal beltline. There’s also an integrated roof spoiler, one of several touches meant to improve aerodynamics.
The 2023 Honda CR-V will be offered in four trim packages, the EX, EX-L, Sport and Sport Touring, and each will feature distinct exterior tweaks, starting with their grilles, front fascia and wheels. The Sport, for example, gets 18-inch, 10-spoke Berlina black alloy wheels, with the Sport Touring shod with black, 19-inch, split 5-spoke alloy wheels.
The EX and EX-L are powered by a 1.5-liter turbo-four making 190 horsepower and 179 pound-feet of torque. Power comes on at lower RPMs than the outgoing model, giving it a sportier response, while Honda also reduced engine noise. The engine is mated to a revised CVT transmission that is programmed to replicate step shifts at full throttle.
But Honda’s hopes are primarily riding on the upgraded hybrid offered as standard equipment in the Sport and Sport Touring versions of the CR-V. This “newly refined” system pairs two electric motors with a 2.0-liter Atkinson cycle 4-cylinder engine, the package now producing 204 hp and 247 lb-ft of torque.
That’s up 3 hp and 15 lb-ft respectively and, Honda claims, gives the crossover a more sporty feel. The hybrid now can handle up to a 1,000-pound trailer for the first time, while the 2023 Honda CR-V Hybrid’s top speed climbs from 86 to 115 mph.
An ”Intelligent” all-wheel-drive system is available on all trim packages — and standard on the Sport Touring. Otherwise, the EX, EX-L and Sport send power to the front wheels.
There are a number of new tech features on the 2023 Honda CR-V. Among other things, it introduces Hill Descent Control for the first time. This functions as a low-speed cruise control, letting a driver set a speed of anywhere from 2 to 12 mph when negotiating a steep hill.
The Honda Sensing system is standard on all trim packages and offers a variety of advanced drivers assistance systems, such as forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking. The 2023 model adds features such as Traffic Jam Assist, Traffic Sign Recognition and Low-Speed Braking Control.
The CR-V EX and Sport models feature a 7-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The higher trim EX-L and Sport Touring models get an upgraded 9-inch high-resolution touchscreen, as well as standard wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. They also get a navigation system and Qi wireless smartphone charging. The Sport Touring also adds a 12-speaker Bose premium audio system.
My initial time with the 2023 Honda CR-V was much more limited than I’d have liked, with only the EX-L model — powered by that 1.5-liter turbo-4 — available. It was, nonetheless, a good introduction to the compact crossover’s makeover. (And we’ll have a chance to check out the hybrid in October.)
The new exterior design is particularly attractive, adding a bit more of a rugged appearance to what was long derided as a “cute-ute.” The cabin upgrade was even more impressive, a definite step up in both quality and design. It borrows liberally from the latest-generation Honda Civic — no surprise, considering they share the same platform and other key components. That includes the distinctive honeycomb pattern used for the instrument panel.
The larger touchscreen is easier to see and less prone to incorrect fingering when you go to enter a command while the car is moving.
The turbo-4 engine is, itself, an improvement over the outgoing Honda Civic — but not quite where I had hoped Honda would take things. It could use still more off-the-line grunt, only really coming into its own above 20 mph. On the other hand, the new tuning used for the gearbox is a major improvement. It proved easy for me to forget it was a CVT with its simulated shifts.
Handling was another area in which Honda engineers have taken a step forward — though I still noticed a bit of body roll in tight corners.
Overall, the 2023 Honda CR-V shows some significant improvements over what was already a reasonably impressive product line. I’ll be looking forward to driving the hybrid-powered Sport and Sport Touring models next month and have high expectations for what are being billed as the true fun-to-drive versions of the new crossover.
The 2023 Honda CR-V will start at $32,335, including destination fees, when it reaches showrooms later this year. That’s a roughly $4,000 increase compared with 2022 — but the numbers are misleading. The outgoing model had a stripped-down LX package that started at $28,045. But with few buyers it will be dropped this coming year. At the high end, the Sport Touring Hybrid starts at $39,485, but it gets standard all-wheel drive — a $1,500 option for the rest of the line-up.