Go ahead and consider the 2021 Honda CR-V the baseline for any compact SUV search. Objectively speaking, it’s tough to beat due to its massive cargo capacity, voluminous back seat, strong-yet-efficient engines, well-balanced driving dynamics, competitive pricing and features, strong safety ratings and well-regarded reliability. It’s easy to see why it continues to be such a best-seller: for the vast majority of compact SUV buyers, and especially families, it checks every box.
Of course, people don’t make buying decisions based solely on objective criteria. There are subjective preferences for style and driving dynamics that we can easily see the CR-V not satisfying. We’d personally rather drive the Mazda CX-5, for instance. We’d rather look at it, too. Many may also have special requirements that fall outside the “vast majority” norm such as the need for extra ground clearance and a more capable all-wheel-drive system to take them off the beaten path. For them, the Subaru Forester or more rugged versions of the Toyota RAV4 will be better bets. And really, there are so many solid entries in this segment that taking a look around is absolutely a good idea … just make sure to try the CR-V first and use it as that objective baseline.
What’s new for 2021?
After significant updates last year, the CR-V carries over unchanged for 2021 apart from the base Hybrid LX being discontinued.
What’s the CR-V interior and in-car technology like?
The CR-V provides a tasteful, if a tad dull, design aesthetic backed up with above-average materials and build construction for this segment. If you’re a previous CR-V owner, you’ll note that this most recent version features a higher-quality and more premium environment than past models. If you aren’t, you’ll still find it to have one of the nicest cabins in terms of quality, and also one of the most functional, as it boasts a number of clever storage solutions in the center console that we detail in our CR-V Interior Storage Driveway Test. The Touring trim, pictured, also features wireless charging. While a good feature to have, it also shrinks the smartphone-holding bin that is usually there and does a poor job of preventing your phone from flying into the foot well.
Starting with the EX trim, the CR-V comes standard with an abundance of tech for a reasonable price that makes the base LX trim a bit of a moot point. You get three USB ports, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, a variety of other smartphone integration apps and a six-speaker sound system. Controlling them is a 7-inch touchscreen, which isn’t the CR-V’s strongest element due to frequent glitches, iffy responses, lack of physical menu buttons and an occasionally confusing menu structure. Honda’s newer interface found in the Odyssey and Accord corrects these issues, and rival systems, particularly the Subaru Forester, Ford Escape and Toyota RAV4, offer comparable features with a more user-friendly interface.
How big is the CR-V?
The 2021 CR-V is one of the larger “compact SUVs,” at least on the inside, as Honda typically does a better job than most of maximizing every bit of interior space possible. Although its overall exterior length and width are average for the segment, its passenger and cargo space are better than nearly every competitor. The 60/40-split reclining back seat provides genuine space and comfort for even large adults, while a rear-facing car seat easily fits in the middle position — even with taller passengers up front. Honda also provides LATCH anchors for all three seating positions (one reason we preferred it to the Subaru Forester for child seat fitment). Headroom is abundant regardless of the seating position or the presence of the available sunroof.
Behind that back seat is the largest, most useful cargo area in the compact crossover segment. To put its massive 39.2 cubic-foot official rating into perspective, you can see in the bottom-right photo below how much space was left after loading six suitcases aboard. Only the Toyota RAV4 comes close to matching this, with the Nissan Rogue another rung down. The CR-V also benefits for a very low load floor.
Folding the back seat down using the two remote pulls in the cargo area reveals 75.8 cubic feet of maximum capacity. That’s better than most midsize SUVs like the Chevrolet Blazer and better than nearly all its fellow compact SUVs.
What are the performance and fuel economy?
Every 2021 Honda CR-V comes standard with a 1.5-liter turbocharged inline-four that produces 190 horsepower and 179 pound-feet of torque. It’s paired with a continuously variable transmission and standard front-wheel drive, but all-wheel drive is optional. Acceleration and fuel economy are among the best in the segment. EPA estimates are 28 mpg city, 34 mpg highway and 30 mpg combined with FWD, and 27 mpg city, 32 mpg highway and 29 mpg combined with AWD.
The new CR-V Hybrid will come with the same excellent gasoline-electric powertrain found in the Honda Accord Hybrid. It consists of two electric motors and a 2.0-liter inline-four that together produce 212 horsepower, making the Hybrid the most-powerful CR-V. EPA fuel economy estimates stand at 40 mpg city, 35 mpg highway and 38 mpg combined. We achieved 35.4 mpg during our 100-mile test of the CR-V Hybrid.
What’s the CR-V like to drive?
Today’s CR-V drives with greater refinement and sophistication than past versions. It’s more comfortable, there’s less wind and road noise, and the turbo engine’s low-end power results in quieter, less strained noises when driven around town. These observations largely apply in relation to most competitors as well, and indeed, the CR-V is one of the best compact crossovers to drive.
In general, that’s because the CR-V is well-rounded. Its steering is nicely weighted and imparts sufficient confidence, but doesn’t make parking a chore. Its handling certainly isn’t the most responsive or road hugging in the segment, but it inspires confidence while not taking away from the comfortable ride. As for the engine, that low-end power from the turbocharged engine makes the CR-V feel like a strong performer at more mundane, around-town speeds. Open it up and it starts to run out of steam, and you’ll notice some droning from the CVT that doesn’t really attempt to mimic a traditional transmission’s gear changes as those of some competitors’ do.
As such, you won’t be missing out on much by opting for the new CR-V Hybrid. In fact, the more frugal version is actually the more powerful version, and we appreciate its electric motor’s smooth, torque-rich power delivery. And since it relies so heavily on that electric motor, it’s inherently smoother and quieter, especially around town. We think it’s well worth the modest price premium.
What more can I read about the Honda CR-V?
2020 Honda CR-V Touring Review | Road-tripping Honda’s jack of all trades
We take a road trip in the range-topping Touring trim and report on the features it adds over other trims, plus the updates made for 2020.