Test Drive Review: Does The 2023 Honda CR-V Redesign The Brand's Best-Selling SUV Past The Status Quo?
Is it possible for a vehicle to make almost no impression? In some cases this might seen a serious negative, an indication that the designers failed in their attempt to connect with potential customers. In the case of the 2023 Honda CR-V, however, it's a testament to just how much this entry-level SUV has come to define what families can expect out of an affordable daily driver.
Embodying the space, practicality, features, and shape that have become the default for hundreds of thousands of buyers each and every year, the CR-V is neither a stand-out nor a laggard. Instead, it has become the template for small crossover content, the wallpaper plastered across half the mall's parking spots, and the generic silhouette for 'sport-utility' for mainstream media. Is this ubiquity a solid enough argument to recommend Honda's ultra-popular people mover?
Perhaps as a result of its revised and marginally puffed-out proportions, Honda calls the CR-V a 'mid-size' sport-utility vehicle on its website. It's the same kind of confusing descriptor designed by rental car companies to mean whatever it needs to mean to move out remaining lot inventory during the airport rush. There's another 'mid-size' in the Honda SUV family—the Passport—that is considerably larger than the CR-V, not to mention the three-row Pilot mid-sizer that the Passport is itself based on.
Dimensionally, the CR-V measures in eight inches shorter than the Passport, and almost six inches more narrow (and of course considerably less long than the extended Pilot). Whether this divides Honda's mid-size 'family' into compact-midsize, mid-midsize, and full-midsize chunks is a question that only the marketing department can answer, but there's no reason to be intimidated by the CR-V's somewhat heftier proportions for 2023: this is still a direct competitor to compact models like the Toyota RAV4 and the Mazda CX-5.
Key takeaways include more leg room for those riding in the rear and a huge 76.5 cubic feet of total cargo space (which almost 40 cubes available between the seatback and the rear hatch). Spacious is the best word to describe what the CR-V brings with its cabin, albeit in an environment that feels basic in terms of its design, even in second-from-the-top EX-L trim (which retails for $33,760).
Although leather upholstery is present, the rest of the vehicle's interior draws heavily from the compact Civic, and its budget-oriented roots relay a plain presentation rife with big, chunky buttons, fiddly steering wheel switches, and the occasional splash of polished aluminum trim. Taken on its own, it's perfectly acceptable, but contrasted against what you'll find in more visually interesting SUVs like the Kia Sportage or the CX-5 and it doesn't stand up quite as well.
It's a similarly inoffensive story when it comes to the Honda CR-V's exterior styling. Blink and you'll lose it in a sea of same-same crossovers, especially when finished in white like my test vehicle. I'm not ashamed to say I walked past it on the street more than once thinking it was another brand's SUV, before having to double back when the unlock button beeped behind me.
Average Power, Below Average Fuel Economy
Perhaps the blandest aspect of the 2023 Honda CR-V's personality is found under its hood. Carrying over from the previous-generation model is a now-familiar 1.5L turbocharged four-cylinder engine that is also shared with the Civic. Here it makes 190 hp and 179 lb-ft of torque, acceptable numbers that make for modest acceleration due to the cautious character of its continuously-variable automatic transmission.
The SUV's speed is well within the boundaries of good taste for the CR-V's price point, but you won't find any of the extra muscle available from a handful of other, more athletic rivals on its order sheet. While there is an additional drivetrain on offer from the Honda SUV, a hybrid setup that splits the vehicle's trim levels in half alongside the gas-only option, it's not intended to quicken the pulse.
If you care primarily about fuel mileage and are dead-set on the CR-V, then perhaps hybrid is the way to go. I was unable to match Honda's EPA-rated fuel mileage figures for the gas edition, with my all-wheel drive model turning in 21-mpg in combined driving (with a heavy highway component). That's considerably worse than the official 29-mpg rating, and while temperatures hovered around the freezing point during out week together I still expected better from the vehicle.
Shopping The Status Quo
Aside from its middling fuel consumption, the only real knock against the 2023 Honda CR-V is its complete and utter lack of personality. This is especially true from behind the wheel, where the Honda puts in a competent but unmemorable experience when asked to tackle nearly any driving situation. In all areas the CR-V is the embodiment of the SUV status quo, a vehicle that sets the tone for the entire segment but doesn't venture outside of its own strictly-defined boundaries.
Whether this matters to you will be entirely a question of expectations. Starting at around the $30,000 mark, companies like Mazda make more engaging crossovers, Kia and Hyundai provide better feature value, Toyota offers a deeper bench of hybrid choices, and even Ford presents eye-catching design by way of the Bronco Sport. Still, while the Honda CR-V might be more transportation appliance than intriguing driveway ornament, for a huge portion of the SUV buying public it would seem that vanilla tastes just as sweet as chocolate or strawberry.