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Car reviews - Honda - HR-V - RS

Our Opinion

We like
Sporty looks, communicative steering, city-friendly handling, smart second-row packaging
Room for improvement
Lacklustre CVT and engine combination, firm ride, ageing infotainment system, NVH levels

Honda’s HR-V doesn’t live up to RS nameplate but does provide a lesson on packaging

Honda logo12 Nov 2018

Overview

 

TO AUDI, Renault and Ford, the RS nameplate means a great deal. It represents the pinnacle of their high-performance line-ups – the very best of the best.

So, why has Honda – a brand that already counts Type R among its arsenal of sporty nameplates – created an RS small SUV as part of its facelifted HR-V line-up?

 

Well, unlike the aforementioned trio, Honda hasn’t gone all out with the HR-V RS. It is more of a styling exercise with a couple of minor tweaks to steering and suspension throw in for the sake of it.
With a naturally aspirated engine and a continuously variable transmission as dancing partners, does it deserve to be an RS?

 

Price and equipment

 

Priced from $31,990 before on-road costs, the RS is $2600 cheaper than the HR-V’s VTi-LX flagship. Standard equipment includes dusk-sensing LED headlights, LED daytime running lights, tail-lights and front foglights; power-operated side mirrors with integrated LED indicators, rain-sensing windshield wipers, a tailgate-mounted spoiler and silver roof rails.

 

The RS also picks up dark-chrome trim for its licence plate garnish, front grille with honeycomb insert, an exhaust tailpipe finisher, a piano-black body kit (bumpers, side skirts and mirrors, and wheelarches), rear privacy glass and 18-inch alloy wheels wrapped in 225/50 tyres. Our test car is finished in Phoenix Orange pearl paintwork, which is an exclusive, no-cost option.

 

Inside, a 7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system, Bluetooth and USB connectivity, 12V power outlets, a monochrome multi-information display, single-zone climate control, leather-appointed upholstery, heated front seats, alloy sports pedals, a leather-trimmed sports steering wheel and gear selector, an electric park brake with auto-hold functionality, keyless entry and start, and chrome and piano-black interior trim feature.

 

Interior

 

Slide into the driver’s seat and you’ll be presented with the RS’ rather simple front-row design. The instrument cluster features a traditional tachometer and speedometer, while the multi-information display is disappointingly of the monochrome variety.

In fact, it lacks several key features such as a digital speedo. Come on, Honda, its 2018!

 

The upper dashboard is covered in a hard, shiny plastic that references the HR-V’s positioning at the lower end of Honda’s model range, but a soft-touch vinyl attempts to lift the ambience as an insert for the lower dashboard, door arm rests and central storage bin lid, while leather-accented upholstery trims the upper doors and seats, as well as the ‘sports’ steering wheel and gear selector.

 

The combination of these budget materials is less than inspiring but, in many ways, places the HR-V at the forefront of its segment, while cabin ambience is lifted by the single-zone climate controls that are integrated into a premium-looking capacitive touch panel.

However, it, like many surfaces in the interior, features a gloss-black finish that is an absolute fingerprint magnet.

 

Nonetheless, our main gripe with the HR-V is its 7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system. We can’t blame you for thinking that it’s an aftermarket head unit, because it certainly looks like one.

To make matters worse, it is a badly ageing set-up with limited functionality and third-party satellite navigation that looks truly out of place. It is really, really basic. Honda has missed the mark here.

 

Measuring in at 4360mm long, 1790mm wide and 1605mm tall with a 2610mm wheelbase, the RS offers 437L of cargo capacity with its split-fold second row upright, or 1462L with it stowed – both of these marks are impressive for a small SUV.

As is the headroom and legroom afforded to rear passengers. The HR-V is very comfortable down back, thanks to its lack of a transmission tunnel.

 

Why is it so good? Well, all thanks go to Honda’s Magic Seats, which were first seen in the Jazz light car.

Specifically, a long, low, flat floor can be configured when the rear seats’ backrests and neatly integrated headrests are folded down. This makes for a versatile space that is only matched by Skoda’s recently released segment-straddling Karoq. Tick, tick, tick.

 

Engine and transmission

 

The RS is motivated by a 1.8-litre naturally aspirated i-VTEC four-cylinder petrol engine that produces 105kW of power at 6500rpm and 172Nm of torque at 4300rpm, while its continuously variable transmission (CVT) with steering wheel-mounted paddle-shifters exclusively sends drive to the front wheels.

 

We can’t blame you if the prospect of an RS model with such a combination doesn’t get you jumping with excitement, because we don’t feel it, either.

A small atmo powertrain and a CVT are hardly going to get the heart racing, especially when they carryover from the ‘regular’ HR-V. Straight-line weapon? Not exactly.

 

Truth be told, the RS is perfectly capable of tackling the urban commute. It is quite happy putting along around town and has enough get and go to move with ease. Take it onto an open road, however, and it’s very un-sporty. The engine offers up lethargic performance down low, requiring plenty of revs to make a worthwhile impression. This, in turn, makes it quite a noisy drive.

 

At this price point and with this type of vehicle, you shouldn’t be expecting much, but you can’t help but feel the HR-V is lacking a bit of soul.

We know it’s not a high-performance Audi, Renault or Ford, but it doesn’t have that edge found in a true RS. This is mainly due to its CVT, which is inoffensive at slower speeds but grinds when the accelerator is buried.

 

All the typical traits are there, including the dreaded ‘rubber band’ effect, with the CVT bouncing around the place as it tries to optimise performance alongside efficiency.

As we all know, the two don’t often go together. For example, it typically becomes stuck when under half throttle, with it holding onto the mid-range but never pushing towards maximum power.

 

Naturally, a torque-convertor would work well here, and Honda is probably aware of this, given it revised the CVT and its seven stepped ratios as part of the HR-V facelift that introduced the RS.

As such, the paddle-shifters are a bit of an empty gesture, while the Sport mode delivers the same behaviours at higher engine speeds.

 

Claimed fuel consumption on the combined cycle test is 6.7 litres per 100 kilometres, while carbon dioxide emissions have been tested at 152 grams per kilometre. During our week with the RS, we are averaging 7.9L/100km over 475km of driving skewed toward city driving over highway stints.

 

Ride and handling

 

The RS’ suspension set-up consists of MacPherson-strut front and torsion-beam rear axles with specific front stabiliser bars, while its electric power steering features a variable gear ratio that is also unique and offers fewer turns lock to lock.

 

These upgrades over the regular HR-V variants don’t set the world on fire. In fact, they’re fairly imperceptible without going back to back, as it was already a competent package to be begin with.

The RS’ steering is a touch sharper, but it’s the level of communication on offer that makes it feel properly sporty. It’s also well-weighted, meaning most drivers will be happy.

 

Conversely, the RS’ suspension is a touch on the firmer side. While this is in keeping with that of a sportcar, the HR-V is small SUV sentenced to the urban commute.

As such, it doesn’t offer the most comfortable ride, with speed bumps and potholes leading to solid crashes and, in some instances, a slow rear rebound. It does, however, feel planted on uneven roads, but we wouldn’t take it off-road.

 

Sporty-ish steering and suspension must make the 1294kg RS a pretty accomplished handler around the twisty stuff, right? As far as city environments go, it is – again – more than up to the task. With its smaller proportions, the RS can easily dart through traffic and be guided around tight corners, proving to actually be a bit of fun … but the same is true of every other HR-V variant.

 

Either way, Noise, Vibration and Harshness (NVH) levels are high in the RS, with tyre and road noise penetrating the cabin with ease at high speeds. In fact, it quickly becomes one of those situations where the audio volume needs to be turned up a few notches to even things out.

 

Safety and servicing

 

The Australasian New Car Assessment Program awarded the HR-V range a five-star safety rating in December 2015. In total, it scored 36.21 out of 37 – or 97.9 per cent – while its whiplash and pedestrian protection were rated as ‘good’ and ‘acceptable’ respectively.

 

Standard advanced driver-assist systems in the RS extend to low-speed autonomous emergency braking, cruise control, tyre pressure monitoring, hill-start assist and rear parking sensors. It also features Honda’s LaneWatch set-up, which uses a camera mounted underneath the passenger side mirror to provide a live feed of the vehicle’s main blind spot on the aforementioned touchscreen.

 

Much like the RS’ reversing camera, LaneWatch offers low-resolution view with highly saturated colours. It also prevents the driver or passenger from operating the infotainment system when the left indicator is switched on. Why can’t Honda just go down the route of tried-and-true light-based blind-spot monitoring? We still haven’t warmed to its solution.

 

Other safety equipment includes six airbags (dual front, side and curtain), anti-skid brakes (ABS), electronic brake-force distribution, brake assist, and the usual electronic stability and traction control systems.

 

As with all Honda models, every HR-V comes with a five-year/unlimited-kilometre factory warranty. Roadside assistance is available to purchase as part of the optional a seven-year/unlimited-kilometre extended warranty.

 

Aside from the first, free visit after one month or 1000km, service intervals are every 12 months or 10,000km, whichever comes first. The RS is offered with capped-price servicing for up to 11 services. For example, a package of five intervals starts from $1476.

 

Verdict

 

From a visual perspective, there is no doubting that the sporty-looking RS is an improvement over the HR-V’s already strong design. Unfortunately, that’s where it stops. Beyond its exterior upgrade, the RS doesn’t offer a significantly better drive than regular HR-V, with it lacking a proper twist.

 

Don’t get us wrong, it’s still a good drive, but just not one that’s substantially different, or better, to justify the famed RS moniker. We’re still intrigued by the prospect of high-performing HR-V that can be better with the flagship offerings from rival models. Maybe next time.

 

Until then, the HR-V remains a solid option for those in the market for a small SUV. Its Magic Seats are almost worth the price of admission on their own. Just don’t expect much from the naturally aspirated engine and CVT pairing. At least the RS has an extra dose of style, right?

 

Rivals

 

Hyundai Kona Elite FWD (from $29,500 before on-road costs)

As the new kid on the block, the Kona has been quite a bit of noise with its ‘look at me’ styling and long options list, but its firm suspension tune and lack of a full-size spare wheel are downsides.

 

Mazda CX-3 sTouring FWD (from $29,790 before on-road costs)

The CX-3 has long been established as a favourite thanks to its attractive design and competent handling, but NVH levels continue to be an issue, while its packaging is tighter than most rivals’.

 

Mitsubishi ASX Exceed FWD (from $30,990 before on-road costs)

The best-selling small SUV in Australia, the ASX has made a name for itself with its keen pricing and specification levels, but it’s starting show its age and the engine offers average performance.


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