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Given its popularity as America’s second-favorite SUV, it’s easy to think of the Honda CR-V as just another mainstream compact SUV. However, the CR-V deserves credit as an innovator. For better or worse, the Honda CR-V is one of the vehicles that led the market shift from sedans to SUVs. A big part of the popularity of the CR-V is under the hood. Let’s take a look at the evolution of the Honda CR-V engines over the years.

The original Honda CR-V engine

The original Honda CR-V from 1997, powered by the original CR-V engine, in silver overlooking a cliff.
1997 Honda CR-V | Honda

The first Honda CR-V came out in 1997 as the first SUV designed and engineered by Honda. The goal of the CR-V was to combine SUV utility with the easy driveability of a compact car. It achieved this goal by being the first SUV with a four-wheel double wishbone suspension system improving stability and comfort compared to a more truck-like suspension system like the ones common on other SUVs at the time.

The original CR-V was powered by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with DOHC and four valves per cylinder. It generated 126 hp and 133 lb-ft of torque, which was a little stronger than the average compact car at the time. According to the EPA, the 1997 Honda CR-V returns 21 combined mpg, which was pretty good for any SUV back then.

The CR-V engine improved in 1999 with an increased compression ratio and revised intake and exhaust manifolds. These tweaks yielded an extra 20 horsepower, but the torque rating was unchanged.

The second-generation CR-V

The original Honda CR-V was a hit and entered its second generation in 2002. It got bigger inside and out, and a newer 2.4-liter engine made this SUV more powerful and efficient. It used the i-VTEC variable valve timing system to improve performance with 160 hp and 162 lb-ft of torque while returning up to 23 mpg with FWD and 21 mpg with AWD.

The CR-V got more modern and car-like with the second generation, but it retained some of its rugged personality by keeping the spare tire mounted on the rear hatch.

The crossover evolves

The third generation of the Honda CR-V morphed into an even more car-like SUV that’s more akin to the compact SUVs of today. It came out in 2007 with a softer, curvier design without the spare tire mounted on the back. Honda realized that nobody really takes the CR-V off-road; people were using them like compact cars.

The U.S. embraced the new design. This was the first generation of the CR-V to earn the title of America’s best-selling SUV.

Power came from a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine similar to the previous generation’s. In the third generation, it made 166 hp and 161 lb-ft of torque. It was revised in 2010 to make an extra 14 horsepower. Fuel economy was also similar to the previous CR-V.

The fourth-generation CR-V came and went without any groundbreaking changes to the engine. It continued making marginal improvements in performance, making 185 hp and 181 lb-ft of torque by the end of its tenure.

Upgraded turbo power

The fifth-generation Honda CR-V introduced in 2017 saw some interesting changes under the hood. It continued offering a 2.4-liter four-cylinder as the base engine, but a new 1.5-liter turbo four-cylinder was introduced. The turbo made slightly more power and slightly less torque than the base engine but returned better fuel economy (30 mpg vs. 28 mpg). If it worked for your budget, there was no reason not to go with the turbo.

In 2020, the base, non-turbo engine was dropped, and the first CR-V Hybrid in the U.S. was introduced. The hybrid improved both performance and efficiency. It made 212 hp and 232 lb-ft of torque while returning 38 mpg. It also came standard with AWD.

Latest and greatest Honda CR-V engine

The all-new Honda CR-V introduced for 2023 continues with the same standard turbo engine as before. However, the hybrid has been tweaked. It now makes 204 hp and 247 lb-ft of torque and is rated at up to 40 mpg with FWD and 37 mpg with AWD. Also, the base engine got more efficient; it now returns 30 mpg with FWD and 29 mpg with AWD.

What’s next for the Honda CR-V engine?

Honda will undoubtedly continue improving on the strengths of the CR-V. It will carry on offering the versatility of an SUV with the driving dynamics and efficiency of a compact car.

Speaking of efficiency, Honda has confirmed that a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle based on the CR-V is in the works. In fact, production is slated to begin in 2024. If Honda gets it right, that SUV could be the vehicle that helps hydrogen power break into the mainstream.


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