Most of the world’s big carmakers have made headline-grabbing announcements by committing themselves to an electrified future – and Honda is no different. The firm reckons up to two-thirds of its European sales could comprise electrified cars by 2025, with full-EVs a big part of that plan, too.
But before we see the wraps come off the Honda’s retro Urban EV next year, this is the first step in the brand’s strategy; a hybrid version of the all-new fifth-generation CR-V.
The new powertrain is already fitted in the Accord saloon in the US, but it makes its European debut in the latest CR-V. It’s called Intelligent Multi Mode Drive (i-MMD), and the system enables three drive settings.
Pure electric running is available in EV Drive, but only for very short periods given the tiny 1kWh battery pack. Hybrid Drive uses the power of the 2.0-litre naturally-aspirated four-cylinder petrol engine, which runs at low revs to power one of the electric motors. This, in turn, generates the power used by the other motor for propulsion.
Engine Drive closes a clutch to enable the front axle to be driven by the petrol motor, while the gearbox is a single fixed ratio transmission. Both front and all-wheel drive versions are offered.
As such, in Hybrid Drive, the best way to get your head around the way the CR-V’s powertrain works is to think of it as being a little like a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle – only using petrol to generate charge for the electric motor.
The car automatically shuffles through the three modes depending on speed and how you drive, but for the most part, the changes are extremely seamless. Away from the motorway, the CR-V Hybrid spends nearly all of its time in Hybrid or EV Drive, meaning the engine is either ticking away to trickle power to the battery, or not running at all.
Drive the CR-V Hybrid sensibly and it’s a very quiet and comfortable car indeed. Not only is the cabin well hushed, it’s still a nicely finished and appointed place to sit. The setup is slightly less convincing when Engine Drive takes over and the revs rise, but it really does take a significant prod on the throttle to make the engine come into play.
The set of paddles behind the steering wheel allows the driver to alter the strength of the energy recuperation system, too. There’s also a Sport mode, which is said to unlock sharper throttle response – but its impact is minor.
The CR-V hybrid rides well and soaks up the road nicely, delivering comfort to match the serene environment. The steering feels sharp, but this is hardly a sporty car to drive. With over 100kg extra on board due to the hybrid system, the standard car’s body roll is amplified.
Overall it feels like a pretty unique package, though, and that’s ultimately where most of its appeal lies. Claimed fuel economy of 51.4mpg isn’t ground-breaking, but on par with most diesel SUVs of this size. It’s certainly going to prove far more economical than the petrol version for many buyers – and given Honda has no plans for a diesel, will offer welcome appeal for most.
Practicality is often a Honda strong point, but the hybrid system means bootspace shrinks from 561 litres to 497 litres – and there’s no option for seven seats. There’s plenty of useful space in the cabin, and room for adults to sit comfortably in the rear.
Price-wise, it rather depends on which trim level you opt for, but on our range-topping EX model – tipped to be the most popular – the hybrid setup is only £800 more than the all-wheel-drive CVT petrol car in EX trim. As such, if you were considering such a car, we’d probably recommend taking the step up to the hybrid when it goes on sale in February.