Car reviews - Honda - HR-V - range
Styling, value, packaging, gutsy engine, cargo capacity, specification, driving ease, quality engineering
Room for improvement
Fiddly parcel ‘shelf’, some engine noise intrusion
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10 Feb 2015
WE ARE barely two months into 2015 and it’s already set to become the year of the compact SUV. We’ve already seen the oft-delayed Renault Captur, Honda’s long-awaited HR-V is finally upon us, and in a few weeks it will be Mazda’s turn with the dynamic CX-3.
All hit a segment that has seen a lull lately in terms of new metal movement.
What is the new HR-V like, then? Based on the latest Jazz platform, but with over 45 per cent new parts as well as significantly modified steering and suspension components, it is more than a jumped-up version of Honda’s baby.
A longer wheelbase and wider tracks not only liberate more space inside, they help better realise the styling statement the company is attempting to convey.
Though basically a tall-riding boxy wagon, the HR-V’s tapering rear window treatment, prominent swage line and big wheel arches give the design some pizzazz, backed up by a handsome face and a similarly appealing rear.
This is far more cohesive looking than the fussy Jazz. And a lot less boxy than the original vehicle of the same name that was available from 1999 to 2002.
There is not much that’s compact or cramped about the Honda’s interior, thanks to a combination of a high roof and low floor featuring the front-seat rather than rear-seat sited fuel tank that allows for the trademark 18-way adjustable Magic Seats to be fitted.
Aided by deep side windows and high cushions, the feeling is light and airy, setting the driver up for a commanding view of the road as well as the instruments.
An attractive steering wheel, ahead of big analogue dials (complete with the central speedo’s 3D effect and blue/green eco glow), powerfully effective ventilation, a sizeable reverse camera, easy-access switchgear, plentiful storage, some smart trim touches and solid build quality are typical modern Honda high points.
About the only complaint is the touchscreen’s volume controller, which requires both concentration and a steady hand to operate. It’s a straight lift from the Jazz.
This is the company’s first electric park brake application, and the engineers have made the most of the space-saving virtues it offers by creating a trick multi-size cupholder system that’s really quite clever to use.
There’s heaps of useable passenger room available throughout the vehicle, both front and rear, on cushions that still feel fine even after a couple of hours of sitting on them. The rear backrest reclines a little for extra comfort, but doesn’t slide forward to increase luggage capacity like in the Captur.
Of course, Honda’s other surprise-and-delight feature – the multi-configurable rear seat – adds a unique practicality to the HR-V that no rival can replicate.
Loading the vehicle is enhanced by a low floor, high roof and wide aperture, turning this crossover into a veritable little panel van. We predict few owners will like the flimsy mesh cargo screen, which is awkward to use.
Considering the $24,990 VTi with the standard continuously variable transmission (CVT) is the cheapest HR-V available, the cabin does not present like an entry level model. But the acid test is how the compact SUV performs on the open road. To find out, we spent a few hours enjoying the challenging roads of southern Tasmania.
The first positive thing to report is how lively the 105kW/172Nm 1.8-litre single-cam four-pot petrol engine is off the line, pulling away quickly yet smoothly in that typical Honda fashion, with a willingness to rev sweetly.
The new-generation Earth Dreams CVT keeps things moving seamlessly, yet is surprisingly quick to react to throttle inputs should the need to accelerate strongly arises. Only some exhaust roar at speed spoils the otherwise peaceful progress, but there’s enough torque on tap for that to be a fairly rare occurrence.
Another rarity in this Honda is just how linear and well weighted the steering is, turning into corners with just enough feedback to make the keener driver feel connected to the car. Are we really talking about a vehicle related to the Jazz?Better still, the HR-V handles roads with planted and secure confidence, remaining neutral and flat, even at speed, without too much lean or body roll.
Only when it is really thrown into a bend does the car tend towards understeer.
That the ride quality remains supple is further evidence of the thoroughness that went into the Honda’s engineering, with even the larger wheel and tyre package (17-inch alloys shod with 225/55R17 rubber) expertly dealing with the bumps and shocks thrown at the vehicle. Some noise intrusion was evident, but on the whole, the HR-V dealt with Tasmania’s roads with unexpected composure.
Of course, urban and city streets will be the real test, so please stay tuned, but even now, it is clear that Honda’s newest model is one of the better compact-SUV choices around.
Easy on the eye, comfortable to live with, effortless to drive, generously specified and competitively priced, the HR-V has all the makings of a massive hit – and that’s something that the Japanese company desperately wants.
That it is also first to offer Honda’s 12-month servicing scheduling – up from six – will be icing on top for many prospective consumers.
Captur, CX-3 and now HR-V… now the patchy compact SUV class has suddenly become very interesting indeed.
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