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2023 Honda CR-V Up Close: Keeping the Competition on Its Toes

honda crv 2023 sport hybrid 0043 scaled jpg 2023 Honda CR-V Sport Touring | photo by Steven Pham

As one of the most popular vehicles in the hottest class in the U.S. market, updates to the Honda CR-V are hard to do. Not only does it have to be better than the last one, it also has to be better than the flood of competitors gunning for its spot on the sales charts. Thankfully, Honda seems up to the task, as the new 2023 CR-V has enjoyed a well thought-out and executed refresh. The new version enjoys a number of improvements in several areas, all of which look like they’re going to add up to a CR-V with the potential to stay at the top of everyone’s lists.

Related: 2023 Honda CR-V: More Power, More Room, More Hybrid

honda crv 2023 sport 0062 scaled jpg 2023 Honda CR-V EX-L | photo by Stephen Pham

Smart New Style

The changes to the CR-V’s overall look have been well done, and the good part is that they represent a bit of a rethink to the crossover’s function as well as a move toward slicker style. The base of the windshield has been moved rearward by more than 4 inches, creating a longer hood and more boxy, traditional profile — but it’s also wider and lower, so the view out the new CR-V while seated in the driver’s seat is decidedly improved. It brings to mind Hondas of old, which were remarkable for their low dashboards and beltlines in an era of blocky, high interiors.

The differences between trim levels are subtle to detect from the outside and are based mostly on how much gloss-black trim is used versus body-colored or chrome stuff. The EX and EX-L have more chrome bits; the Sport and Sport Touring have more black trim, including the wheels. The Sport trims look a little sportier, but it’s hard to believe that a hybrid-powered five-occupant crossover is actually all that sporty — we’ll have to reserve that judgment for when we drive it later in the year.

The reformulation of the trim levels into either EX or Sport lines provides two paths for people to express themselves, but it also allows for people to decide on whether or not they want a hybrid: With EX versions, you get the standard four-cylinder engine, while the Sports get the more powerful hybrid powertrain, with the fully loaded Sport Touring model being the new flagship for the line.

honda crv 2023 sport hybrid 0081 scaled jpg 2023 Honda CR-V Sport Touring | photo by Steven Pham

Big Interior Upgrades

One of the best aspects of the redesigned Civic sedan and hatchback from the past two years is a change to how Honda does the interior, and this new theme carries over to the CR-V intact. The single strip of hexagonal mesh trim that extends from one end of the dash to the other and hides the air vents is a truly attractive design detail — a bit of unique and even slightly retro flashiness that sets the CR-V apart from competitors that had caught up to Honda in terms of interesting interior design.

The new multimedia updates are also welcome, with the appearance of knobs and buttons for audio controls, something that never should have been eliminated and should be welcomed back with open … um, fingers. Good on Honda for admitting that the old system was difficult to use and for going back to a style that isn’t. The big, clear new screens are also good to see, helping keep Honda abreast of competitors offering increasingly larger displays in their crossovers, with ever-increasing technology. But Honda didn’t go overboard, keeping it simple to use and easy to read, without diving headfirst into making all of its interior controls touch-sensitive (looking at you, Volkswagen) or included in one big screen.

honda crv 2023 sport 0138 scaled jpg 2023 Honda CR-V EX-L | photo by Steven Pham

The rest of the CR-V is as comfortable as ever, perhaps even more so in the backseat now that there’s a bit of extra legroom (this new model is longer) and more reclining options. The differences between the interior trims are fairly obvious, however: The Sports are nicer, with more interesting surfaces and finishes, while the EX models look a little lower-rent (but will make up for it with lower prices, presumably). The additional cargo room is also a welcome feature, with the CR-V now offering up some of the biggest space in the class and the most ever for a CR-V, by Honda’s measure. You don’t lose much in terms of room by going for the hybrid, either, as the load floor in the cargo area is the same for both hybrid and non-hybrid models. The big difference back there is that non-hybrid models get some space below the load floor, easily usable by just lowering the false floor.

It will be interesting to drive the new CR-V and to see what kind of fuel economy the new gasoline model gets. One also hopes that there will be a plug-in version coming at some point, something to go up against the powerful and genuinely fun-to-drive Toyota RAV4 Prime plug-in hybrid, but we’ll have to wait and see if it’s something Honda is pursuing. The Toyota is the second-quickest vehicle in that company’s showroom thanks to a significant boost in power; if Honda plans on countering that, it could make for an interesting new track for the CR-V.

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Detroit Bureau Chief Aaron Bragman has had over 25 years of experience in the auto industry as a journalist, analyst, purchasing agent and program manager. Bragman grew up around his father’s classic Triumph sports cars (which were all sold and gone when he turned 16, much to his frustration) and comes from a Detroit family where cars put food on tables as much as smiles on faces. Today, he’s a member of the Automotive Press Association and the Midwest Automotive Media Association. His pronouns are he/him, but his adjectives are fat/sassy. Email Aaron Bragman

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