2021 Honda CR-V

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Martin Padgett Martin Padgett Editorial Director
March 4, 2021

Buying tip

The CR-V Hybrid boosts city fuel economy in a meaningful way, but a CR-V EX does almost everything we need a car to do, without the motors and batteries.

features & specs

28 city / 34 hwy
27 city / 32 hwy
28 city / 34 hwy

The 2021 Honda CR-V wins hundreds of thousands of wallets each year and it’s no surprise: it’s spacious, comfortable, efficient, and quiet.

The 2021 Honda CR-V looks innocuous enough. You’d be hard-pressed to tell that it’s one of the reasons so many sedans have dried up and blown away.

With the CR-V, Honda does well in all facets of family-wagon performance, so long as the acceleration bar’s not set too high. Some competitors have longer warranties and more extravagant style, but almost none of them have the interior room and comfort of the big-for-its-size CR-V. We give it a 6.5 out of 10, buoyed by excellent crash-test scores. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

Honda sells the CR-V in LX, EX, EX-L, and Touring editions, but as of last year there’s a twist: a CR-V Hybrid that brings gas-electric power to the party. The celebrations are muted on the styling front, where the CR-V’s conservative duds inside and out bear none of the brashness of the Toyota RAV4, and few of the come-on curves of a Mazda CX-5. The CR-V knows there’s more to pretty than skin.

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Performance is moderate if not entirely apolitical. It’s 2020, after all, and the CR-V takes a green stand now with the new Hybrid that spins out a net 212 hp and earns EPA ratings of up to 38 mpg combined thanks to a small inline-4 engine, motors, and batteries. It’s a fairly low-cost upgrade in hardware from the stock CR-V, which still earns a 30-mpg combined rating in front-drive form. You’ll notice we’re going with gas mileage first on this front: The CR-V’s acceleration in either form isn’t a major headline, and its safe and stewardly steering only underscores that point.

The CR-V’s personality comes into crisp focus in comfort, quality, and safety. Honda finds ways to stretch interior space further than most, and the small-car footprint of this crossover SUV has enough room for five adults. It’s legitimately a family vehicle even if you’ve raised a bumper crop. Cargo space excels, seat comfort rises to the occasion, and it’s all backed by top safety scores from both the IIHS and the NHTSA, though the insurance industry favors models with nicer LED headlights.

Honda could learn something about standard features from other made-in-America crossovers from import brands; the 2021 CR-V has a teensy 5.0-inch display on base models that doesn’t come with Apple CarPlay or Android Auto compatibility. It’s not a stretch to add those in the form of a well-equipped CR-V EX, along with a power driver seat, keyless start, blind-spot monitors, and heated front seats—but Honda doesn’t have an answer for the longer warranties and free maintenance that come standard on some Hyundais, for example.


2021 Honda CR-V


Style takes a back seat in the 2021 Honda CR-V.

The Honda CR-V is maybe the one conservative that wins universal praise for its thoughtfulness and civic responsibility. It’s George Will minus the baseball references. We give it a 5 for styling.

Honda updated the CR-V last year, and its new-ish headlights, grille, and front and rear bumpers barely register on a visual or seismic chart. It’s less chromed than in the past, less adorned too, and down the sides it’s positively reserved, when compared to a Toyota RAV4, for example. A Mazda CX-5 looks like a Botero in comparison. Big 18-inch wheels fill up the wheels and punch up the stance—newly available 19s are a millionaire-next-door nod—but the CR-V’s not out to get anyone in trouble with its looks. It’s tapered and smooth, gently kicked up at the rear, slightly dropped at the nose for better fuel economy—a product of careful consideration, shorn of any wild inspiration.

Pragmatic impulses guided the cabin design, too. The controls sit up high, like they do in an Odyssey minivan. The shift lever’s still a lever, and it takes up a big chunk of real estate in the middle of the wing-shaped dash. Down low, Honda lets you hide small items in storage bins. Up top, a moderately sized display screen sits in the valley of a wide vee of dash that’s wrapped in higher-quality material than you’ll see in some rivals. It’s busy, but flashy? Perish the thought.

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2021 Honda CR-V


The CR-V’s performance comes in mild and milder.

If the DOT hadn’t invented double-yellow lines, the Honda CR-V would have been a great marker for the middle of the road.

Honda fits the CR-V crossover with either a 1.5-liter turbo-4, a continuously variable automatic transmission, and front- or all-wheel drive—or a hybridized version, with electric motor and battery grafted on to a non-turbo-4. In either case, mild-mannered acceleration and pleasantly invisible handling traits give it a score of 5 out of 10 for performance. 

Let’s talk about gas first. The standard CR-V’s turbo-4 punches out 190 horsepower and 179 pound-feet of torque, and applies it through a belt-driven continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). Power arrives low in the rev band, and stays strong—a virtue of turbocharging that’s staged well. Without stepped gears, the CVT keeps the engine working in its happy place, and turns in 30-mpg EPA numbers in front-drive form. The drivetrain knits together well enough, and can tow up to 1,500 pounds, but you’d never mistake it for one of Honda’s more intense efforts. There’s no CR-V Type R for a reason.

With all-wheel drive, the CR-V’s good for all kinds of weather; don’t expect to straddle boulders with it, though its 7.8 inches of ground clearance can handle a moderate amount of off-pavement punishment. 

The CR-V keeps its head on with steering that doesn’t twitch on center, and doesn’t wander either. It’s calm at higher speeds on the interstate, if not exactly primed for a romp through Ortega Canyon. Where that’s paid back is in ride quality; though it offers standard 18-inch and available 19-inch wheels, the CR-V makes a point of absorbing road roughness and instilling confidence in exactly the drivers who need it the most. It’s better than predictable, it’s encouraging.

Honda CR-V Hybrid performance

Take that information, and wedge in a powertrain that’s similar to the one in the Honda Accord Hybrid, and you have the new CR-V Hybrid.

In the CR-V Hybrid, Honda pairs a 2.0-liter inline-4 with electric motors and hybrid batteries for a net of 212 hp, though the engine is used mostly as a generator for the battery pack. 

City fuel economy perks up as a result, while the engine’s more frequent use on the highway slims down gains at highway speeds—but the CR-V Hybrid still posts observed fuel economy of 38.8 mpg in our hands, compared with 30.1 mpg for a standard CR-V. In city loops we did even better: on identical 35.3-mile loops, the CR-V hit 28.3 mpg, while the Hybrid posted 42.8 mpg in stop-and-go traffic.

The CR-V Hybrid earns points for better driveability, too. Stop/start operates more smoothly than in the gas-only CR-V, though acceleration is roughly equivalent, since the slight power gain is overwhelmed by the weight of additional hybrid hardware.

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2021 Honda CR-V

Comfort & Quality

Honda has mastered the use of space in the CR-V.

The CR-V extracts more cubic inches of cargo and people space than seems possible from its compact footprint. It’s comfortable for five, has good seats and cargo space—and that earns a 9 for utility.

The CR-V’s very good front seats have manual adjustment in base trim, but the EX gains 12-way power movement. LX and EX crossovers have durable cloth upholstery, while the EX-L and Touring trims wear a good grade of leather upholstery. The CR-V allots good space to adults up front, but even more so, grants them a high seating position with a low dash that opens up the view ahead, and surrounds them with big cupholders and console bins. Functionally it’s finer than a lot of luxury SUVs we could glare at.

In row two, the CR-V affords as many as three adult passengers the space they need to be happy and comfortable. The doors are wide, the space expansive at 40-plus inches of leg room, and head room is more than ample for 6-foot-tall passengers.

The second row folds down to upconvert 39.2 cubic feet of cargo room (33.2 in Hybrids) to 75.8 cubic feet, almost as much as you’d find in a Pilot. The CR-V’s endowed with a wide and low load floor, too, and has a hidden storage bin under the carpeted floor.

The CR-V wears soft-touch materials and high-quality plastics, a boon at its price. A Touring-grade CR-V wouldn’t be a bad substitute for a premium-branded crossover SUV from Volvo or Buick, and you can tell them we said so.

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2021 Honda CR-V


Great outward vision and crash-test scores vault the 2021 Honda CR-V ahead in safety.

We give the CR-V a 9 for safety, but we couldn’t do it without the two crash-test agencies. 

The NHTSA says the CR-V merits a five-star overall score, while the IIHS calls it a Top Safety Pick—though it applies only to Touring trims, thanks to their advanced LED reflector headlights. 

Other models don’t earn the IIHS nod, but all CR-Vs do have good outward vision, with a low window line and slim roof pillars. They also get standard automatic emergency braking, while EX and higher trims add blind-spot monitors.

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2021 Honda CR-V


With one notable exception, the CR-V’s well-equipped.

Any CR-V is a well-equipped CR-V, we think—except for the base model. It’s still a decent pick, and the CR-V family as a whole gets a 6 for features thanks to good value.

The CR-V comes in LX, EX, EX-L, and Touring trims. All are front-wheel drive, except when an extra $1,500 adds all-wheel drive. Hybrids cost about $1,200 more. Prices start in the mid-$20,000s, and top out at more than $36,000.

With the base CR-V LX, Honda installs power features, a USB port, Bluetooth, cloth upholstery, and 17-inch wheels—but includes a small 5.0-inch display for audio and rearview camera, no touchscreen, and no smartphone compatibility. 

That’s why we ding it a potential point for standard features and recommend the CR-V EX, which gains a 7.0-inch touchscreen that comes bundled with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, as well as blind-spot monitors, 18-inch wheels, keyless start, a power driver seat, and heated front seats. The EX-L adds leather to this formula.

Touring CR-Vs add leather upholstery, wireless smartphone charging, upgraded headlights, 19-inch wheels, and premium audio. 

With few options, the CR-V still is a strong value. But while other compact crossovers get longer warranties and free maintenance, Honda sticks with 3-year/36,000-mile coverage.

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2021 Honda CR-V

Fuel Economy

The CR-V makes green gains with a new hybrid edition.

Now that the CR-V offers a hybrid model, drivers can pay for better gas mileage. Non-hybrids still earn above-average ratings—good enough here for a 5.

All non-hybrid CR-Vs tap a 1.5-liter turbo-4 for power. The EPA rates that CR-V at 28 mpg city, 34 highway, 30 combined, when it’s configured with front-wheel drive. When all-wheel drive gets the nod, ratings drop to 27/33/29 mpg. 

The CR-V Hybrid, meanwhile, checks in at 40/35/38 mpg—with better city fuel economy because of Honda’s unique hybrid system. RAV4 and Escape hybrids do a little better, and come in plug-in form.

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Styling 5
Performance 5
Comfort & Quality 9
Safety 9
Features 6
Fuel Economy 5
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