Vacant from the market for a number of years, Honda have returned to the sub-compact SUV crossover market that they created, in style.
The original HR-V was launched in 1999 and made quite an impact. Surprisingly spacious and versatile for its size, it’s newest guise keeps this trend and raises the bar.
With sights set firmly on the Nissan Quashqui market, Honda feel the HR-V will hit the ground running. Do I agree? Well, I went to Lisbon to find out.
The new HR-V is available with two engine options, the 1.6 i-DTEC diesel, available as a six speed manual, and the new 1.5 i-VTEC petrol with two transmission options, the six speed manual and the CVT “automatic”. I put the word automatic in speech marks as it’s a constant variable transmission but Honda have spent a lot of time and effort to make it drive like a seven speed automatic. Does it though?
On arrival in Portugal, after a brief introduction, I was given the key to my own diesel HR-V and let loose with a 150ish KM route to the hotel, pre-programmed into the onboard Garmin satellite navigation system. Even in the bright Portuguese summer sun, the map is easy to see on the 7″ monitor in the dash that forms the central interface for the Honda CONNECT infotainment system.
First impressions are good. Honda have designed to HR-V as a crossover with coupe looks and it certainly has that. They have even go so far as to make the rear door handles flush to help with airflow. I like the styling, it’s smaller than its rival from Nissan but, if the figures are true, it’s more spacious than the Quashqui. It also has some quite nifty “magic” seats in the back. Not only do they fold flat as usual for large items to fit, the seat bases on the 60/40 split will also lift up out the way, giving a tall configuration to load through the side doors. Think of that tall orchid you have bought for Great Aunt Edna. Impressively, in it’s “long” mode, with the front passenger seat back laid flat, you can fit an 8ft (2.4m) item in. Think surfboard or timber from your favourite DIY shop.
Seat set, mirrors adjusted, phone plugged into Honda CONNECT for tunes and off we go.
A quick note on seat setting. Some cars I find impossible to get the seat right but after a few quick adjustments I had no further need to adjust the seat again. Either thats down to sheer luck or Honda’s seat design is actually well suited to me ageing back!
As we leave Lisbon airport and head east over the 10 mile Vasco da Gama Bridge along the IP1 towards the south, it’s immediate that the match of the 6 speed manual and the high torque (300nm) 1.6 i-DTEC engine is a good one. The HR-V has cruise control but also has, as part of the Driver Assist Safety Pack, traffic sign recognition. Now I don’t mean that it makes fun of men putting up umbrella signs but when active, it will set your speed limiter to that of the sign is just passed. Let’s assume you’re whizzing along at a legal 120kph. You pass a sign for 80kph. The system will see that sign and with a audible warning and flash on the dash, automatically decrease the vehicle’s speed to 80kph. It’s doesnt do this suddenly but eases off gently. Of course, you have the option to turn it off at any time but it’s good if you’re in an unfamiliar area or not overly observant of speed limit signs (like my Dad!).
Soon I was in Setúbal and then heading along the beautiful Portuguese coastline. The HR-V and the 120ps engine handled the twisting and climbing roads with ease. Some cars would leave you stirring a manual box but the HR-V required few changes to keep a decent pace going whilst I observed the stunning views, seated in air-conditioned comfort.
The HR-V is also fitted with a brake assist system and electronic parking brake. This means that once you’re in gear and seatbelt is engaged, the parking brake will disengage as you pull away. It also has a switchable hill start assist mode on the parking brake which Honda claim, will provide an indefinite hold, engaging the full parking brake after a period (approximately ten mins). All I can say is that it worked for on the occasions I used it.
Heading back into Lisbon, this time over the older, 25 de Abril Bridge, and into the tail end of rush hour (for Lisbon), the Honda provided me with a comfortable place to sit and watch the traffic, whilst listening to Fleetwood Mac and the Foo Fighters on the phone. Arriving back to the hotel I was required to surrender the HR-V that by this point I’d grown quite fond of. Still, tomorrow was another sunny day and a chance to drive the petrol CVT.
Day two arrived and I was given the key to a red HR-V, this time, as mentioned, petrol with the much discussed by the development team, CVT box. Today I was heading west and through the hills of the Sintra-Cascais Natural Park and along the N247 coast road where Portugal meets the Atlantic with a mix of lush yellow sand and dark volcanic rocks.
Again the HR-V provided me with comfort and handling but something was missing. I was missing the torque of the diesel. Now, don’t get me wrong, the CVT is a vast improvement over past variable transmissions and whilst it doesn’t quite drive like a modern “proper” automatic, it no longer makes you feel like you’re driving an elastic band powered toy that variable transmissions of old did. I think I’d been spoilt. The torquey diesel with the 6 speed manual was such a joy to drive, I think that in the CVT petrol I was just driving. That’s not a bad thing. Honda believe their prime demographic for the HR-V to be young singles and pre-family couples but I think they’re also going to tempt retired couples. Many of these buyers aren’t interested in a “driving experience” but more interested in a comfortable, affordable, reliable car that gets them from A to B with the least fuss and hassle. The HR-V in either variant will do that. And do that well. The diesel will even hit a combined average of 70mpg (the petrol CVT hits 52mpg and the manual 50mpg) and that’s not just Honda saying that, that’s what the figures we were seeing in Portugal would lead me to believe if driven “normally”.
The day after I returned from Portugal, I met a retired couple whom after many years of CR-V owning and living in the back of beyond in Leicestershire, were moving into town and, no longer seeing the point of the size and 4×4 ability of the CR-V were looking to be amongst the first in the UK to test drive, with a view to buy, a 2wd HR-V. They HR-V is available in a 4×4 form, but not in the UK. According to Leon Brannan, Honda UK’s head of cars, it’s not desired by the UK customer base that the HR-V is marketed towards. This might be an oversight but I think they may have a point. It means that with prices ranging from £17,995 OTR for the entry-level S grade petrol, to the flagship EX diesel at £24,945 OTR, the HR-V is indeed, hitting the ground running in it’s target of Quashqui buyers.