WHETHER viewed in a showroom or from behind the wheel while being tested relentlessly around Lang Lang, it is easy to appreciate the populist appeal of Honda’s HR-V comeback kid.
Pleasing to the eye (the designer reckons classic ’80s Honda coupes helped inspire the tapering roof line and hidden rear door handles), the Japaneseengineered, Thai-built front-wheel-drive crossover has been cleverly packaged to offer unprecedented rear-seat area versatility for its segment (see sidebar, right). Few compacts meet small urban family needs so effortlessly.
Still inside, the dash area hasn’t been forgotten about either, with an agreeable balance between functionality (plenty of room, ultra-clear instruments, a comfortably elevated driving position, excellent ventilation, great vision) and form (large central touchscreen, quality materials, attractive steering wheel) to lure buyers in.
The HR-V’s undeniable value equation will most likely have many signing up even before the drive.
For $25,000, there’s all the aforementioned space and practicality, plus a CVT automatic, a reverse camera, climate control, hill-start assist, tyre pressure warning, alloys, and fixed-price servicing.
Find another $3K, and the VTi-S mid-ranger adds low-speed AEB, blind-spot monitors, keyless entry/ start, auto LED headlights, daytime running lights, roof rails, fog lights, and 17-inch alloys. Bargain, thy name is HR-V. Note, however, that forward-collision and lane-departure warning tech is only available in the leather-upholstered and sunroofed VTi-L ADAS from a hefty $34K.
Unlike most compact SUVs, the HR-V uses a relatively large-displacement engine – Honda’s evergreen 105kW 1.8-litre petrol unit – mated to a decent new-gen CVT that only drones when you’re mashing the pedal down hard. The sweet single-cam i-VTEC is lively off the mark and pulls strongly across the rev range, though its sparkle did leave us wishing for a manual option. A $22,990 VTi six-speeder might be a cracker.
Perhaps unexpectedly, considering some recent SUV efforts from Honda, the HR-V’s chassis (struts up front/torsion beam out back) also performs quite admirably over most benign conditions, guided by light, responsive steering, predictable handling, and a fairly absorbent ride.
However, push the Honda harder and some cracks begin to appear, such as slow-reacting ESC in the wet and on dirt. Over gravel, braking distances are inconsistent and the HR-V’s ride quality flounders markedly. Compared to the overtly sportier Mazda CX-3, body movement isn’t anywhere near as well-contained. Maybe better damping finesse would help the last two issues.
Some testers also took issue with the VTi’s flat and hard fabric-covered front seats, while the flimsy luggage cover on all HR-Vs is cheap. And the touchscreen function can be distractingly fiddly to operate on the move.
Overall, however, the HR-V has strengths that make it rise above almost all of its admittedly patchy segment contenders, to be one of the better small SUV buys. Honda is at last on the right track.
Type 5-door wagon, 5 seats Boot capacity 437 litres Weight 1328 – 1366kg
Layout front engine (east-west), FWD Engine 1799cc 4cyl (105kW/172Nm) Transmission CVT automatic
Tyres 215/60R16 – 215/55R17 ADR81 fuel consumption 6.6 – 6.9L/100km CO2 emissions 155 – 160g/km Collision mitigation VTi-L ADAS only Crash rating 5-star (ANCAP) Prices $24,990 – $33,990
Centred around the Jazz-based ‘Magic Seats’ formula (the result of moving the fuel tank from under the second row to beneath the first), the upshot of the HR-V’s clever packaging is greater passenger/ cargo flexibility than usual, making this a legit alternative to larger and more expensive SUVs and wagons (like Honda’s own CR-V). It’s just a shame that key safety features are only available on the top-spec (and pricey) VTi-L ADAS model.