Car reviews - Honda - HR-V - e:HEV
Competent, fuel efficient, practical, and easy to live with, the HR-V almost has it all
15 Nov 2023
HONDA’S HR-V small SUV range comprises two models – a conventional front-wheel drive petrol Vi-X model and an up-market, way more interesting and economical e:HEV L front-wheel drive hybrid that sells for $47,000 drive-away and is subject of this review.
It is up against plenty of competition from the likes of Nissan Qashqai Ti e-Power from $51,590, Toyota’s Corolla Cross 2WD Atmos from $47,030 and Hyundai’s new Kona hybrid, at $46,500 for the N-Line Premium, all excluding on-road costs.
That makes the HR-V bargain priced in comparison undercutting the others by thousands of dollars after they add on-roads to the bottom line.
Though the frontal styling is not this scribe’s cup of tea, the rest of the “premium” HR-V e:HEV L holds plenty of visual appeal – the neat bob tail, coupe roofline and somewhat sporty stance a bit like a Jag E-Pace.
Inside is also something of a revelation in these days of gimmicky and OTT styling as the HR-V displays an uncluttered, minimalist look with simple to operate functions and a “normal” driver’s instrument pod. Even the upholstery and fascia materials are sensible and serviceable including the excellent front seats… that are mounted a little too high for the taller among us.
Both models are equipped with Honda Sensing safety suite and the e:HEV L shares plenty of other kit with its lower spec’ stablemate including walk-away (proximity) locking, privacy glass, 18-inch alloy wheels, native satellite navigation, and a 9.0-inch infotainment cluster with wireless Apple CarPlay and wired Android Auto connectivity.
But in addition to that, the HR-V e:HEV L adds a blind-spot information system, rear cross-traffic alert, intelligent speed assist, hands-free powered tailgate with very convenient walk-away close function, acoustic vehicle alerting system, electro-chromatic rear-view mirror, rain-sensing wipers, heated and power-adjustable wing mirrors (with auto reverse tilting function), a heated leather-wrapped steering wheel, acoustic windscreen, as well as rear air-ventilation outlets and four USB ports.
The test model is powered by Honda’s clever hybrid system that utilises two electric motors and a 1.5-litre petrol four-cylinder engine for a combined 96kW and 253Nm output.
At various times and depending what mode is chosen by the driver or invoked by the car based on how it is being driven, the HR-V e:HEV L will cycle between electric power, petrol power or hybrid petrol/electric power. As required, an automatic clutch arrangement with a fixed gear drive is used to feed power from the petrol engine to the drive wheels bypassing the hybrid EV system.
The small lithium-ion battery can be recharged by one of the electric motors that functions as a generator or through regenerative power from braking. As this is not a plug-in model, it does not need a large, heavy battery; which explains the relatively light kerb weight of 1382kg.
The HR-V e:HEV L is designed for optimal passenger room and functionality that includes mounting the fuel tank centrally under the front seat row that gives impressive second row legroom and further back, a large load space.
It features Honda’s Magic Seats and can be easily folded flat or flip up for more room and other smart solutions to optimise interior space and comfort but there’s no leather or even “pleather”.
Though some may say Honda lost the plot back in the 2008 Global Financial Crisis when it suddenly pulled out of F1 and cut R&D to the bone after channelling production to cheap labour countries, it seems to be back on track with vehicles like this, the new ZR-V and the latest sporty Civic Type R though the days as a sporty-car-driven manufacturer seem over.
The Japan-made HR-V e:HEV L impresses as a good all-rounder for couples or small families who rate fuel economy highly and do not want the inconvenience of always being on the lookout for an electric plug and then waiting hours to recharge.
You could drive it straight out to Alice Springs from the coast if you wanted to and probably stop once, maybe twice for a couple of minutes to refuel…. and have a minimal effect on the climate. That’s because it consumes juice at the low rate of 4.3 litres per 100km (claimed) for close to 900km possible range and it’s the cheaper 91 RON into the bargain.
The engine is a naturally aspirated Atkinson Cycle four pot with Honda’s trademark VTEC inlet system, but it does not kick out much power.
However, with the assistance of an electric traction motor, outright performance from the model is acceptable until you put four peeps inside and a bit of luggage… which dents acceleration and the ability to easily drive-up hills with the air conditioning on without slurring down a CVT step or three. This is when you floor the accelerator, revving up the (at times noisy) engine and watch the fuel consumption increase.
Outside this scenario, you'd hardly know there is an ICE engine under the bonnet.
The little (bigger) HR-V e:HEV L has tidy dynamics for a relatively high riding small SUV despite the simple strut front and rudimentary torsion beam rear suspension.
It sits taut on the road and yet capably absorbs rough surfaces without flinching, even around corners. Some tyre noise drums through into the cabin but that is probably a trade-off for the good grip from the sticky Michelin tyres.
Steering feel is neutral to light with quickish response and good resistance to bump steer. The ultimate tendency is to push the front into understeer if you go too hard.
And the brakes are strong with one-pedal driving function taking the pressure off much of the time.
The cabin is a good size as already mentioned but Honda mounts the front seats too high for taller drivers and passengers making it a bit of a bend getting in and out beneath the top of the door sill. But the seats themselves are great, well-shaped and supportive with just the right size side bolsters that don’t touch you up on entry and firm but comfy padding.
All controls are easy to locate and use and the dash is simply laid out with the only issue for us being the need to press OK on the screen every time you start the beast. Why?
We settled for Normal drive mode leaving the other two, Sport and Econ, alone and we used the B gate on the transmission selector for one pedal driving a lot.
As usual with new cars these days we found the ADAS overbearing, at times dangerously pessimistic as it wrested away control of the car, jamming on the brakes at its discretion or swerving the steering according to parameters presumably set in some Japanese laboratory – and now almost mandatory if a vehicle is to pass tighter EuroNCAP and ANCAP safety testing with flying colours.
Lucky you can turn some of it off… every time you restart the car.
Reflecting on our time in the Honda HR-V e:HEV L it comes across as a competent, fuel efficient practical, easy to live with small family wagon. It is not cheap and cheerful like some Chinese alternatives, but as they say, “you can feel the quality” as soon as you get behind the wheel. And for us, that makes the HR-V something of a winner.
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