Honda HR-V

Honda’s SUV returns with a new game plan

DAMION SMY

FIRST AUSSIE DRIVE

GIVEN intense competition in the baby-SUV sector, Honda’s new HR-V couldn’t have arrived at a better time. Set for a leadership spill with the upcoming Mazda CX-3 and Jeep Renegade, these fresh baby SUVs will collide in the battle for the attention of 30-something prechildren ‘kidults’.

The HR-V presents a modified Jazz platform that is wider, stronger and has a more rigid body styled to look like a coupe.

Squint hard and you may see a baby BMW X6.

Starting from $25K – the same price as the somewhat larger Nissan Qashqai that Honda benchmarked – the HR-V comes with a 1.8-litre single-cam four donated by the Civic and mated to a new-generation CVT. That’s the sole powertrain across three equipment levels – VTi, VTi-S and VTi-L – all front-wheel drive. We miss out on the all-wheel-drive and hybrid models sold in Japan under the ‘Vezel’ name.

The HR-V is far more than a Jazz wearing platform shoes, says program boss Naohisa Morishita. “I want to ward off any misinterpretation that we simply carried over the platform from the Jazz, because this was not the case,” Morishita-san told Wheels.

“The wheelbase and tracks are completely different [they’re larger]. At the platform level we had to address a whole bunch of stuff – suspension, rigidity – all developed specifically for this car.”

Despite this, HR-V does share some of the Jazz’s strengths: the Magic Seats that fold completely flat, and the same packaging with its centre-mounted fuel tank. That gives the HR-V a huge 453-litre boot compared with the CX-3’s 264 litres, as well as clever storage areas under the seats.

At the wheel, it’s spacious and comfortable, even in the base VTi, with supportive seats and an excellent driving position.

The dished steering wheel looks smart, and next to you is a high centre console designed to continue the coupe theme kicked off by that roofline.

It doesn’t make you feel like you’re in a sports car, but it’s a smart, uncluttered design. Fit and finish is solid for the price and the ambiance is far from basic.

With the same strut front and H-beam rear suspension as the Jazz, the HR-V has been stiffened with unique damper and spring rates. The gym session has the new crossover riding well on the entry-level model’s 17in alloys, with little suppleness lost for the high-spec models wearing 18s.

The steering is predictable and responsive, the body control competent; it will tuck into a corner if you come in too quickly.

Overall balance is good.

The weak point is a lack of torque from the 1.8-litre engine, which sees the CVT hunting and revving, the precise scenario Honda promised would not occur with this new-generation version.

It has a wider spread of ‘gears’, helping achieve the 5.6L/100km fuel claim, but its 4300rpm torque peak means the HR-V needs to be worked hard up hills.

Combine that with high road noise and it’s clear Honda could improve HR-V’s refinement.

A raft of safety gear is offered, including autonomous emergency braking, though you can’t buy a base model and option up.

Instead, you have to buy the VTi-L and select bits from the options list, pushing the price to $34K.

But the HR-V is well made and good value, making it a welcome return to Honda’s line-up. It’s easy and fun to drive, its packaging is brilliant, and its up-to-date tech should make it one of the brand’s best sellers.

We can’t wait to throw it in the ring with Mazda’s CX-3.

Model Engine Max power Max torque Transmission Weight 0-100km/h Economy Price On sale Honda HR-V VTi 1799cc 4cyl, sohc, 16v 105kW @ 6500rpm 172Nm @ 4300rpm CVT automatic 1328kg 11.0sec (estimated) 5.6L/100km $24,990 Now

PLUS & MINUS

Brilliant packaging; competent dynamics; a return to form for Honda

The coupe-like HR-V is far more than a Jazz wearing platform shoes

Trend setter

THE first Honda HR-V launched here in 1999 as a more youthful, three-door (later also a five-door) alternative to the family oriented CR-V.

Focusing on flat-floored space and a high driving position, the original HR-V’s polarising looks have held up well in the intervening 16 years. It was a crossover when the world – especially Australia – wasn’t ready for one.

Fast-forward to 2015 and our hunger for SUVs appears insatiable.

While the new HR-V has a better life expectancy than the first, it’s now just a trend follower.

The original HR-V was a genuine trend setter.

OR TRY THESE...

Mazda CX-3 $24,000 (est.)

PUT the Mazda 2-based CX-3 in a room with the HR-V and you’ll have the class leader. The CX-3 comes value packed, with sharp handling, slick build quality and frugal yet perky SkyActiv engines.

Jeep Renegade $24,000 (est.)

LOADED with personality, the funky small Jeep arrives here this spring with a convincing blend of European driving flair and refinement, mixed with Yankee toughness. Unlike HR-V, though, there’s a Renegade model to suit everyone – even true off-roaders.