Building on a winning formula
THE GOOD
  • Great ride and handling
  • Spacious
  • Styling nip-and-tuck
THE BAD
  • Harsh engine note
  • No left-side blind spot warning
  • Small, fiddly infotainment and climate controls
2020 Honda CR-V Review

While the CR-V was redesigned just a few short years ago, Honda is not one to rest on its laurels in the hotly contested compact crossover segment. Enter the 2020 CR-V, which sees a few nips and tucks on the styling front, as well as some new standard features that help it keep up with the Joneses.

Styling: 7/10

One of the big styling additions for 2020 is pretty much impossible to miss on my tester: this new Radiant Red Metallic paint. It’s a nice shade, though it’s a little too close to the Mazda CX-5’s otherworldly Soul Red Metallic to be considered a mere coincidence. Like its competitor, Honda charges more for the metallic red paint job – in this case, a $300 premium.

While the new colour is all about being brighter, the rest of the styling changes skew toward the dark side, as in smoked taillights, darker chrome on the tailgate, and a bit less brightwork up front. It all provides a more purposeful look that gives the sense that this generation of CR-V has grown up a bit.

Inside, the centre console now has something of an open-concept feel, with a sliding shelf that acts as both a spot for your cellphone and a privacy cover for the contents below. There’s no traditional lid, so even with the centre armrest down the storage is still accessible until the shelf is slid forward. It’s a nice feature that makes it easy to store all kinds of content.

Front-seat storage doesn’t stop there, with a pair of cupholders and yet another storage cubby ahead of them. That’s also where the wireless charging pad resides in Touring and Black Edition trims. There are no bins in the back seat, but the folding centre armrest doubles as a two cupholders.

Features: 8/10

My tester was the Sport trim, which replaces last year’s EX and is one of two new trims for 2020 – the other being the Black Edition that sits atop the CR-V’s Canadian lineup. In Sport guise, the CR-V gets body-coloured door mirrors with integrated turn signals, variable intermittent wipers, round LED fog lights, a power sunroof (higher trims get a panoramic unit), chrome exhaust tips, a six-speaker stereo, four USB ports (two front, two rear), and 12-way power driver’s seat. The front passenger seat, meanwhile, is manually adjustable just four ways. (A power passenger seat is included one trim higher, in the EX-L, and even then it’s still only adjustable four ways.) Heated seats are standard on all trims for 2020, as is remote start. My tester added a heated steering wheel, a feature that was never offered in the EX trim it replaces.

User-Friendliness: 7.5/10

For a long time, reviewers lamented the lack of a volume knob on the infotainment systems on various Hondas. That all changed when the CR-V arrived, and it remains the case here. It does, however, remain as the only physical control for the infotainment system; the rest is all touch-activated, which is nice for clutter reduction, but still not the best way to interact with a vehicle – especially when wearing gloves. I’d rather have a second knob for your radio tuning as well as a couple of buttons for skipping.

Graciously, the climate system features traditional buttons and knobs, though they are a little small and can be tough to read when on the move.

Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard on all trims, a bonus because, while the graphics and responsiveness of Honda’s interfaces are fine, it’s not particularly intuitive. The trip computer, for example, proved particularly difficult to navigate. The quartet of charging ports are handy, though, and with the wireless charging pad there are plenty of places to keep devices juiced.

Comfort: 8/10

There’s a heck of a lot of space in the CR-V. It’s roomy both back and front, though the back seats in particular offer plenty of room to stretch out. However, I’m less enamoured by another major aspect of passenger comfort: noise, vibration, and harshness. The road and wind noise aren’t too bad, but the engine returns a droning, sometimes rattly report that reminded me of the diesel-powered Mazda CX-5 I drove just a few weeks prior to testing the CR-V. Only instead of a diesel under the hood the Honda is powered by a 1.5L turbocharged gas engine. While it’s likely something owners will learn to live with [judging by the 170,000 or so of these CR-Vs that have been sold in Canada to date, we’d say so. – Ed.], but it’s audibly harsh and not helped by the loud continuously variable transmission (CVT) it’s paired to.

Power: 8/10

The four-cylinder’s sounds may not be great, but it does muster 190 hp and 179 lb-ft of torque – figures that are competitive with some of the CR-V’s main competitors. However, don’t count on any sportiness to match that Sport designation. Even though output runs through a CVT – an automatic transmission that doesn’t always make for the most involving drive – delivery is smooth and the major powertrain elements work in concert with each other to ensure that forward progress is brisk and responsive. The engine works well in the smaller, lighter Civic, and though I was skeptical at first, it manages to walk the walk here, too.

The bottom line is that the CR-V is able to handle the kind of stuff CUVs like this are often involved in: road trips with highway passing manoeuvres one day, and jaunts to hockey practice the next. It handles these situations with the kind of panache that only years of experience in the field can, and there’s a very good reason why this continues to be one of the big sellers in the segment.

Driving Feel: 8.5/10

Also working in the CR-V’s favour is Honda’s penchant for making vehicles that return big bang for the buck in the handling department. From the compact Civic to the seven-passenger Pilot, Hondas tend to have direct steering that’s high on feel, and well-tuned springs and dampers to ensure that the body is kept in check and the passengers are kept comfortable.

For its part, the CR-V is more of the same. The steering tune means quick right-left-right manoeuvres are rarely more than a few flicks of the wrists away, while there’s plenty of communication from the front wheels to provide a sense of control. Yet none of it gets in the way of the CR-V’s ease of use around town. Coupled with a confident ride that’s pleasantly low on creaks and rattles, the CR-V drives like a much larger vehicle in all the right ways. It all makes the engine’s drone that much easier to forget.

Practicality: 9/10

Rear storage returns 2,146 L of cargo space with the 60/40-split folding rear seats folded flat. Leave them up, meanwhile, and you’ve got a still generous 1,110 L of cargo room. Still not enough? The Sport’s got standard roof rails, too. There’s also an adjustable cargo floor that can be lowered to fit taller items.

There’s also a cool convex mirror built into the sunglass holder just behind the rear-view mirror. Its shape allows a full panoramic view of the rear seat, so you know exactly when Kid A is picking his nose, or when Kid B has fallen asleep in her child’s seat – which, as it happens, is easy to install thanks to shallow-mount anchors. I left the mirror deployed for almost the entirety of my test.

Safety: 8.5/10

For 2020, the Honda Sensing suite of safety aids have been added to all trims of the CR-V. The name may sound silly, but it does provide lane-keep assist, adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning with auto emergency braking, and road-departure mitigation. There’s no blind-spot warning system on the Sport trim, though there is Honda’s camera-based blind-spot display that calls up a live feed of the passenger side of the vehicle. It’s a cool feature, though its sheen has worn off a little since Hyundai introduced a system that watches both the left and right sides and displays them in the gauge cluster as opposed to the centralized display. I find the latter system to be the more natural and intuitive example. [Honda plans to move away from the camera-based system in favour of conventional sensors soon. – Ed.]

Fuel Economy: 9/10

NRCan rates the Honda CR-V at 8.7 L/100 km in the city and 7.4 L/100 km on the highway for a combined figure of 8.1 L/100 km – making it the most fuel-efficient non-hybrid AWD crossover of its size. The only reason it doesn’t rate higher are those hybrid crossovers, such as the Ford Escape Hybrid and Toyota RAV4 Hybrid, which are respectively rated at 5.9 and 6.0 L/100 km combined.

Value: 8/10

2020 sees the CR-V’s base price increase by $1,000, and the cost of the Sport jumps $1,750 over last year’s EX. It’s not a big price bump, but it’s worth noting nonetheless. Whether looking at the base model or this Sport, however, there are plenty of extras for the money, like the standard safety suite and heated steering wheel.

The Verdict

The CR-V, of course, will continue to sell in droves, and there’s good reason for that. It’s inoffensive in almost every way, and ticks boxes when it comes to interior storage and passenger space, features, and technology. The raspy engine shouldn’t be a deal-breaker, with some proper turbo power and good comfort otherwise.

With that in mind, however, the CR-V is up against some stiff competition. There’s a new Hyundai Santa Fe and Ford Escape, not to mention the tuning-up of Mazda’s CX-5 stalwart by way of turbo or turbo diesel power), this segment is only getting hotter and the race to the top in 2020 – for the CR-V or anything else – won’t be an easy one. Do yourself a favour and try a few before you buy, and that goes for CR-V fans and non-fans alike.

Building on a winning formula 5/27/2020 6:30:00 AM

Competitors

Specifications

Engine Displacement 1.5L   Model Tested 2020 Honda CR-V Sport
Engine Cylinders Turbo I4   Base Price $36,930
Peak Horsepower 190 hp @ 5,600 rpm   A/C Tax $100
Peak Torque 179 lb-ft @ 2,000–5,000 rpm   Destination Fee $1,815
Fuel Economy 8.7/7.4/8.1 L/100 km city/hwy/comb   Price as Tested $39,145
Cargo Space 1,110 / 2,146 L seats down  
Optional Equipment
$300 – Radiant Red Metallic paint, $300