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The hybrid version of Honda's popular compact crossover SUV is the best version yet, and not just because of the remarkable mileage.

PMG PICTURE: JEFF ZURSCHMEIDE - The large front air dam gives the 2020 Honda CR-V an aggressive look, and that goes for the new Hybrid version, too.I was a little puzzled when I first learned that Honda was adding a hybrid option to its current CR-V crossover. The CR-V has been going head-to-head with the Toyota RAV4 for the title of best selling compact SUV since the two invented the category more than 25 years ago. Honda has sold the most vehicles — more 5 million units of the CR-V over the past 23 years — but Toyota seemed to gain an advantage last year when it introduced the completely redesigned current version.

The new RAV4 is the best one yet. And not only does it include a hybrid option — which had also been offered in the previous generation — but a plug-in hybrid version, too. The CR-V was last redesigned in 2016, an eternity in today's rapidly changing automotive world. Adding the CR-V Hybrid to the 2020 lineup just didn't seem like a strong enough response to me.

PMG PHOTO: JEFF ZURSCHMEIDE - The exterior of the 2020 Honda CR-V  features crisp lines and a nod to the vertical tail lights on the earlier models.

And then I drove it. Although the design may be four years old, it is still good enough to make the CR-V the best selling of all Honda models. And the hybrid drivetrain simply makes everything about it. Not only does the hybrid version get significantly better mileage than the gas-only version, it also drives better — it is both faster and smoother, thanks to the electric motor that help power the wheels and the well-tuned eCVT transmission.

But more than that, the Honda CR-V has a mechanic all-wheel-drive system, making it more wet weather and off-road capable than the RAV4 hybrids, which use an electric motor to drive the rear wheels. Truth be told, the advantage will likely only show itself in severe circumstances, but Honda deserves credit for making that choice.

PMG PHOTO: JEFF ZURSCHMEIDE - The interior is typical of economy compact crossovers, and the dashboard infotainment system is easy to use. Higher trim levels include handy features like wireless device charging and GPS navigation.

Not that you'd know it by looking at the two vehicles. The new RAV4 was restyled to look more rugged than the CR-V, which seems more designed for suburban families. The exterior and interior are the same for both versions of CR-V. The attractive exterior lines are offset by a large front air dam that gives it an aggressive look. The interior is roomy, comfortable and well laid out, with high quality materials for an affordable crossover. Our top-of-the-line Touring version featured comfortable and supportive leather seats, but not a full leather dash, in keeping with its affordability.

Together, the 2.0-liter Atkinson Cycle gas engine and electric motor provides a combined 212 horsepower and 232 pound-feet of torque. The rear axle includes a clutch that engages the rear wheels when additional traction is required. The CR-V Hybrid is EPA-rated at 40 MPG in city driving, 35 MPG on the highway, and 38 MPG in real-world combination driving. This compares to 27 MPG city, 33 MPG highway, and 29 combined for the gas-powered CR-V. The hybrid version is also capable of driving in all-electric mode and using no gasoline at all for distances up to a mile.

PMG PHOTO: JEFF ZURSCHMEIDE - Thye front bucket seats are very comfortable and can be ordered in soft leather.

In a week of test driving, the 2020 Honda CR-V Hybrid felt very refined. It was also very quiet, with the gas engine hardly even noticeable when it was running. The effect was almost like an all-electric vehicle, with plenty of power off the line and almost no outside noise in the cabin. Most controls were easy to find and use. I'm glad Honda returned the volume control knob to audio system after doing away with it several years ago. I only wish they'd bring the tuning knob back, too.

The 2020 Honda CR-V hybrid starts at a reasonable $27,750 for the basic LX trim. It has a lot of standard equipment, including LED headlights, keyless entry and start, and the AWD system. From there, you can step up to EX trim with LED fog lights, blind spot monitoring, and the 7-inch touchscreen infotainment. The EX-L trim comes with leather, heated steering wheel, and a power tailgate. The top of the line is the Touring trim with navigation, wireless charging, and both front and rear parking sensors. Out test model was priced at $35,950.

PMG PHOTO: JEFF ZURSCHMEIDE - Rear seat room in the 2020 Honda CR-V Hybrid is very good for a compact crossover.

In case you're interested, those prices are slightly less than the comparable versions of the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid, which makes sense because it is newer vehicle. But the price differences are relatively small, meaning even the hybrid versions of the two vehicles are as competitive as the two models have ever been. If you're interested in a hybrid compact crossover SUV, you owe it to yourself to test drive both of them. Personally, I think you'll be surprised how well the slightly older CR-V Hybrid holds up.

2020 Honda CR-V Hybrid

Base price: $27,750

Price as tested: $35,950

Type: Compact crossover SUV

Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder and electric motor (212 hp, 232 lbs-ft)

Transmission: eCVT with AWD

Drive modes: Eco, Normal, Sport

EPA estimated mileage: 40/35

Overall length: 182.1 inches

Curb weight: 3,469 pounds

Final assembly: Greensburg, Indiana

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