We take a look at Honda's all-conquering HR-V.
The current wave of compact SUV crossovers should have really started in 1999, when Honda introduced the first iteration of the HR-V. Much like the cars that populate the segment now, it was compact and practical, and offered all the appointments of a compact hatchback with the commanding driving position that we now demand so readily.
But, it was too ahead of its time, and it failed to really gain traction. Nowadays, the Nissan Juke commonly wears the title of ‘the one that started it all,’ which underlines how forgettable the original HR-V was. The new one is a different ballgame altogether though, with its sales success even eating away at its bigger brother, the CR-V. In any case, it’s clear to see that the HR-V is here to stay. Read on, and find out why the HR-V is the strong contender that it is.
“Based on a stretched and widened version of the acclaimed Jazz hatch platform, the new HR-V manages to blend the small hatch's clever packaging with a coupe-like profile.” - CarsGuide
The HR-V actually shares its roots with the Jazz hatchback, and its proportions allude to that. It’s hardly any bigger than its hatchback sibling, but it certainly takes its own direction in terms of appearance. It’s handsome and uncontroversial, even if it manages that at the cost of being remarkable and interesting (like the Nissan Juke).
The face is dominated by Honda’s ‘Solid Wing Face,’ which sounds more like a combat move than a design element. The HR-V benefits from an almost coupe-like roofline, that gently lowers toward the rear. The coupe aspirations of the five-door HR-V are further emphasised by the hidden rear door handles, which misleads you into thinking that it’s a coupe (especially with the chrome front door handles emphasising themselves). The tail of the compact SUV is purposeful if not distinctive, and the whole car gains black body mouldings all the way round.
Engine & Drivetrain
“‘Fine’ seems to be a byword for the drivetrain as a whole. Never ‘great’ or ‘special,’ but serviceable, willing, and honest. And given Honda’s impeccable track record, probably reliable too.” - CarAdvice
Despite multiple trim levels, the HR-V only has one drivetrain combination, in the form of a 1.8-litre naturally-aspirated i-VTEC four-cylinder petrol engine and CVT automatic. Output is rated at 105kW and 172Nm, which puts it in league with the rest of the segment. Even though the HR-V is an SUV-crossover kinda car, it’s available only with front wheel drive.
The engine, which comes out of the Civic, is certainly willing to rev, though it runs out of puff pretty quickly. Hard driving isn’t rewarded in the HR-V due to the CVT gearbox, which holds the revs up high for longer than a normal transmission. Fuel consumption is rated at 6.9l/100km, though a more realistic figure would be closer to 8l/100km. The fuel consumption figures allude to the fact that the HR-V aims to please the masses, and the drivetrain characteristics do just that.
“The HR-V’s interior design is a significant improvement over Honda’s recent models like the City and Jazz, with cloth door tops on the base VTi and softer materials across the range.” - CarsGuide
The interior of the HR-V borrows bits from the Honda parts bin, but for the most part, it’s fairly well distinguished from the rest of the range. It certainly feels premium, with leather-like padding all across the fascia, and a futuristic climate control panel that’s touch-operated.
Testing has shown that the front seats offer less-than-optimal thigh support, but the rear is commodious enough. The rear also benefits from Honda’s ‘Magic Seat’ system, that allows the rear seats to be ‘repositioned’ in numerous ways, allowing one to gain maximum usability from the space in the HR-V. Speaking of space, the boot of the little SUV is rated at 437l, which expands to 1,032l with the seats folded down.
Behind The Wheel
“Honda targeted the Audi Q3 as a dynamic benchmark for the HR-V, and considering the Honda is nearly $20,000 cheaper, they haven’t done a bad job.” - CarsGuide
The HR-V is a perfectly pleasant thing to drive. As a family wagon or an A-to-B commuter, the HR-V offers a pliant, relaxing ride, paired with decent levels of refinement. It can ride over bumps with ease, with only the very sharpest imperfections getting through to the cabin. Comfy seats and great cabin practicality also means that it's a great long-distance cruiser, with the CVT automatic keeping revs low for maximum quietness.
Though the corners, the HR-V's pliant ride results in a decent amount of bodyroll, which likely serves as a reminder that this is a family wagon, not a sports car. Treat it as a family wagon means it won't disappoint, but if you want a little more agility and sparkle from your crossover, the Mazda CX-3 may be better suited.
Safety & Technology
“Plenty of safety & rock-solid reputation for reliability make the HR-V a safe bet.” - AutoExpress
The HR-V in Australia comes jam-packed with safety kit, which is why it’s managed a 5-star ANCAP rating. It was designed and specified for our market specifically to meet ANCAP’s requirements, which is why all HR-V’s come standard with front, side, and full-length curtain airbags, as well as tyre-pressure monitoring.
The VTi-S spec HR-V’s add autonomous emergency braking (AEB) and blind-spot monitoring, where the range-topping VTi-L adds forward collision warning, lane departure warning, and automatic high-beams. This makes the HR-V a great choice for families and young drivers alike.
Of late, Honda has been erring on the side of caution with its offerings, with cars that aim to cause as little division as possible. In doing so, they’ve ended up with a batch of good-but-unremarkable cars, and the HR-V is no different. It doesn’t do anything wrong, and while that’s no bad thing, it makes it susceptible to some of the more engaging, more interesting contenders in the compact-SUV segment, like the Mazda CX-3 and Holden Trax.
The HR-V can more than hold its own though, with class-leading practicality and impressive refinement. And for practicality-oriented families, it's a hard proposition to beat. Comprehensive safety kit and the reassurance of Honda reliability means you will likely have to think long and hard before you go with one of the HR-V's competitors.
Our choice would be the mid-spec VTi-S, which comes with all the features one would really want from a compact family SUV, while not tugging at the pursestrings for added niceties like the leather interior and dual-zone climate control (which might not weather serious abuse from the little ones quite as well).
AutoExpress - 80/100 - “Forget the Civic Type R and NSX, it’s the HR-V and new Jazz that are the crucial new cars for Honda. Sitting somewhere between the Juke and Qashqai for space, the HR-V is a pricey compact crossover but it has a lot going for it – it’s good looking, well made, spacious and in diesel form offers wallet-friendly motoring. If the idea of owning a roomy car in a compact body and with the added peace-of-mind of Honda reliability appeals, the HR-V should be high on your list.”
Edmunds - 80/100 - “Honda is well known for producing efficient, fun-to-drive, and fun-to-own vehicles at affordable price points. The new HR-V is the latest of that breed.”
Car & Driver - 80/100 - “So, the HR-V doesn’t offer the high-end features of the [Jeep] Renegade and the [Fiat] 500X. Nor does it have the hot-hatch credentials of the [Nissan] Juke. But the smaller, sportier Nissan doesn’t have near the passenger- or cargo-carrying abilities of the HR-V. Add the Honda’s impressive fuel economy, above-its-station interior, and attractive pricing, and it’s clear that the HR-V delivers on the aspects that are likely to resonate with a wide swath of buyers in this segment. All of this means that Honda should have another hit on its hands. In fact, we expect the HR-V to outsell the [Jazz] on which it’s based—marking yet another milestone in the migration from cars to SUVs.”
TopGear - 70/100 - “Not as good to drive as we hoped, but the interior design and space makes up for it. Solid effort.”
CarsGuide - 90/100 - “Whether the new HR-V will reach Apple-esque levels of cool remains to be seen, but it represents a significant step forward for the Honda brand and should sell its socks off in Australia. The CX-3 may be the most anticipated small SUV of 2015, but the HR-V should certainly give it a run for its money.”
CarAdvice - 80/100 - “So that’s the Honda HR-V VTi-S, a car that remains an excellent offering in the small SUV market, particularly for those who value a flexible cabin with lots of space and decent features most of all.”
WhichCar - 90/100 - “The Honda HR-V is an athletic-looking small SUV with lots of standard equipment. Its excellent interior has more passenger and cargo space than most alternatives, thanks in large part to the versatility of its ‘Magic’ rear seats. It feels smooth and easy to drive, and offers advanced safety features.”