Because there is always a smarter way
The Honda CR-V stands out with special technology, which is why the test drive has a special destination: the Abengoa Solar Park near Seville, Spain. Several methods of generating energy are combined there: traditional solar panels, solar panels with lens action and finally mirrors that concentrate heat in a tower. This park is the only one in the world where all these three methods are used simultaneously, and it provides clean energy to many tens of thousands of households in the region.
Hybrid: the theory
The Honda CR-V is also innovative in its own way in combining different energy sources. Although part of Europe is completely ready for electric driving, this is not true everywhere and not for all customers. That is why Honda is opting for hybrid for now, with the advantages of electric driving, while being able to fill up as many are used to. Honda combines an electric motor and a petrol engine, but does so very differently from other brands.
Hitherto, hybrid drive has roughly consisted of a system with an electric motor for low-speed driving and a petrol engine for higher speeds. This works very well, as it makes cars more comfortable and dramatically reduces fuel consumption. Yet Honda thought it could be smarter. This is because the most common way of hybrid propulsion so far requires a complex powertrain because two engines come out on the same drive shaft, through a gearbox or otherwise. That requires a lot of moving parts, which logically costs energy.
Honda's "intelligent Multi-Mode Drive" (i-MMD) technology also combines an electric motor and a petrol engine, but that's where the similarity with hybrids known so far ends. The main problem with an internal combustion engine is that it is really economical only within a limited rev range and at a limited load. Too much or too little revs, too much or too little load and consumption rises sharply. This can be solved by running the engine on a so-called "Atkinson" cycle, but that makes an engine lifeless and gives less driving pleasure.
So Honda deploys a petrol engine as a power generator so that it can operate at the optimum speed and load as much as possible. The energy is collected in a battery and this is used to power an electric motor, which always operates efficiently regardless of load and engine speed. Only when the speed of the petrol engine exactly matches the rotation speed of the wheels (between 80 and 120 km/h), the petrol engine drives the wheels directly.
The advantage of i-MMD is that the technology is relatively simple as no "planetary system" or gearbox is needed. The disadvantage is that the speed of the internal combustion engine does not increase or decrease with the speed driven, which can be a strange experience. Honda's research shows that European customers in particular find this hard to get used to. Therefore, the European version of the CR-V varies the petrol engine speed slightly with the speed driven. Every CR-V generates anti-noise as standard to mask driving noise, but the European hybrid makes the engine slightly audible so it feels more natural.
Hybrid: the practice
At first, the CR-V Hybrid does exactly what Honda promises. When driven, little to nothing is noticeable of the special technology under the bonnet. Performance is comparable to that of a traditional SUV. In sporty mode, the CR-V Hybrid is downright smooth and even challenging. On the motorway, there is always plenty of reserve available and effortless acceleration to overtake. In economic mode, throttle response is indirect and the CR-V is extremely relaxed to drive. However. after several hours of driving, consumption is disappointing. On the motorway it consumes 7.4 litres per 100 km, in the city it rises to 9.8 litres.
On Honda's advice, the driving style is therefore adjusted. Those used to an internal combustion engine will force high revs to build up power and then ease off the throttle slightly. With an electric car, this is not necessary, even though the power source is a petrol engine. Therefore, the throttle was moved more calmly, allowing the electronics to do the job. On this, consumption became a lot lower. A drive with motorway kilometres, county roads and city traffic took 5.3 litres per 100 km, which is exactly in line with the promised consumption in the brochure. That is a lot more economical than conventional SUVs of this size delivering this performance and even more economical than a similar SUV with traditional hybrid drive. In short: i-MMD works!
To get really close to the solar farm, public roads had to be exchanged for dirt tracks, and the CR-V managed just fine there too. The CR-V is available with front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. The latter does not make this SUV an invincible off-roader, with light terrain posing no problem at all. Ground clearance is very decent (20 cm). It is the long front and rear overhang that makes the CR-V easy to get stuck on steep slopes. Unlike traditional SUVs, this hybrid is not suitable as a towing car. The "CR-V 2.0 i-VTEC Hybrid" is allowed to tow a maximum of 750 kg (compared to 2,000 kg for the version with 1.5-litre turbo engine).
In handling, a slight difference is noticeable between the two-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive versions. The latter is heavier, which translates into slightly grander, more comfortable handling. The two-wheel-drive version is noticeably lighter and a fraction more dynamic. In both cases, the emphasis is on comfort, but thanks to an innovative suspension, handling is very stable at the same time. This is because the dampers have a "double interior": one for absorbing large bumps (keeping the body in balance) and one for small bumps (comfort). Therefore, the CR-V is generally comfortable, but always stable and safe when driven sportily.
Space and equipment
As compared to the previous version, this fifth generation is almost the same length, but the wheelbase has increased by 3 cm. Together with a cleverly placed fuel tank, this makes for a lot of extra interior space. Up front, the large seats stand out and there is plenty of room to move around the front seats. The space in the rear is huge and, apart from the hybrid drive, this is the new CR-V's strongest point. Despite the generous rear seat space, the boot too is of adequate size (although a fraction smaller than that of the CR-V without hybrid drive).
The dashboard of the test car looks a bit corny with black leather-look (which is in fact solid plastic) and wood, but the CR-V is also available with more modern-looking aluminium inlays. The layout of the dashboard is unremarkable: centrally located is a large screen of the infotainment system. All other functions are controlled by buttons divided into logical groups. The equipment is modern and complete, including basic semi-self-driving functions to make driving easier and safer. The drive to Seville was therefore very pleasant apart from informative.
Honda is introducing the fifth generation of the CR-V. The main aim was to make this SUV smarter than the competition. That way, not only will current CR-V owners choose this new generation, but should also entice drivers of SUVs from other brands. An intensive test drive proves that Honda has completely succeeded in that aim. Precisely by opting for hybrid drive, the CR-V is not so innovative that the driver has to learn other habits. At the same time, the CR-V Hybrid is more economical and comfortable than a standard SUV. In doing so, the CR-V offers above-average space, plenty of comfort and modern equipment.
- Very spacious
- Smooth and economical
- Tailgate opens too low
- No more economical than a 100% electric car
- Customised driving style required for truly economical driving