The Honda HR-V has been a near-unbridled success for a somewhat success-starved brand since it arrived on Australian shores in February 2015.
Not only has it lived up to what at the time seemed like bold stretch targets, it has in fact eclipsed them, and in so doing firmly entrenched itself as a star seller in the small SUV market alongside the Mazda CX-3, Mitsubishi ASX and Nissan Qashqai.
We’ve brought you no shortage of reviews and comparison tests on the most popular Honda since then. We even had one on our Sydney long-term fleet of loan cars. However, sometimes revisits are in order, especially as nothing in this most vibrant of market segments stays still for long.
Here we test what is potentially the sweet spot in the range, the Honda HR-V VTi-S, which sits neatly in the middle of the three-tier line-up and is priced at a very reasonable $27,990 plus on-road costs — $500 cheaper than an equivalent base Qashqai ST.
Hand on heart, this reviewer concedes to being perhaps a little stern on the HR-V in the past. Having always considered it a very good car, I now consider it an even better one, and this is after a protracted period spent in numerous key rivals.
In many ways, the HR-V best plays to Honda’s modern strengths now that dynamism is the province of its very top end. It’s hugely practical, spacious and solid. In so being, it ticks the most important boxes for the class, and overcomes slight deficiencies.
First, the cabin, which feels decidedly ‘premium’ for the money, given there’s soft leather-like padding around the fascia and along the transmission tunnel, supplemented by silver and glossy black highlights. The digital climate control with touch function looks futuristic.
There’s also the expected bulletproof Honda built quality, albeit slightly undermined by a solitary and small stray panel gap on our tester (an isolated case, based on previous exposure) unusual amounts of cabin storage options, and an electronic parking brake.
In typical Honda style, there are also a lot of clever little touches, such as the cupholders with false floors that open like trapdoors to accommodate big bottles, and a hidden open tray behind the centre stack like those on late-model Volvos, next to two USB inputs, plus 12V and HDMI sockets.
The seating position is also a little higher than your average city hatchback, while the general ergonomics are about right, and both the steering wheel and hardy cloth seats (with good thigh support) have ample enough adjustment.
In terms of spec, all HR-V variants are well equipped. Even the base $25k (plus on-roads) VTi versions get climate control, cruise control, a 7.0-inch touchscreen with configurable colours and wallpapers, a genuinely crisp six-speaker sound system, six airbags, a reversing camera with three angles, and two ISOFIX child seat points.
Our VTi-S adds bigger 17-inch wheels, auto LED headlights, LED daytime running lights, roof rails, rain-sensing wipers, push-button start, chrome cabin finishes, leather steering wheel and Honda’s nifty LaneWatch active safety system, which we will touch on later.
All told, the HR-V isn’t missing much, though similarly priced CX-3s and the Suzuki Vitara Turbo get integrated satellite-navigation. Additionally, the Apple CarPlay/Android Auto system from the new Civic and Accord would be welcome.
It’s in the back seat where the Honda really comes to the fore, given it has equivalent headroom and legroom to significantly larger SUVs such as the Hyundai Tucson, though at 4294mm long it’s about 180mm shorter (its long wheelbase/short overhangs help).
Honda doesn’t scrimp on material quality, plus it offers lots of storage, coat hooks and an additional 12V input in the second row. All that counts against it are the small side windows that slightly inhibit outward visibility.
The other major ace up the Honda’s sleeve is its Magic Seats system. The back row doesn’t just flip 60:40, but the base slides forward, allowing the whole seat to scrunch up deeper into the floor and liberate more cargo space. You can even lift up the rear seat bases.
The boot goes from really deep and big for the class with these seats in use (at 437 litres, compared to 264L for the Mazda CX-3) to utterly enormous, at 1462L — almost the same as that pesky Tucson). Under the floor is a space-saver wheel only, though the cargo area gives you a third 12V socket.
The bottom line is, if a flexible and spacious cabin with a bit of a premium edge is your priority, and that’s going to be a lot of small SUV shoppers, then the HR-V becomes a pretty hard offering to look past. But how does it drive?
Powering the front wheels (there is no all-wheel drive offering despite the high body) is a 1.8-litre naturally aspirated i-VTEC four-cylinder petrol engine with Euro 5 emissions compliance, producing 105kW of power at 6500rpm and 172Nm at 4300rpm.
It is matched as standard with a single-speed CVT automatic, meaning no manual gearbox is offered.
The engine is no powerhouse, but it’s also relatively responsive off the line for finding gaps in traffic, and quite strong once you’re nearing the peak torque engine speed — something the relatively good CVT (well noise-damped) ensures happens easily enough. The Auto Hold feature that stops the car creeping forward in D without brakes applied is also city-friendly.
Honda claims combined-cycle fuel consumption of 6.6 litres per 100km, and it runs on cheap 91 RON fuel. On our mixed test route with no special focus on economy driving, we managed a respectable average of 7.5L/100km. Fine for the class.
Actually, ‘fine’ seems to be a byword for the drivetrain as a whole. Never ‘great’ or ‘special’, but serviceable, willing and honest. And given Honda’s impeccable track record, probably reliable too.
Dynamically speaking, the HR-V lacks the flat body control and eager turn-in of the Mazda, Suzuki and co. It’s a crossover SUV and feels a touch floaty like one, though its steering has a little more resistance than some, giving that solitary element a divergent sporty feel.
The urban ride is relatively well controlled, though initial impact is notable, and you thump a little over big obstacles such as speed bumps compared to the absolute class-leaders (such as the Qashqai) which really iron out roads.
There’s also a little more tyre noise intrusion over coarse-chip roads than some SUVs out there.
However, the Honda is never uncomfortable, particularly. That word ‘fine’ once again comes to mind… Dynamically decent, serviceable, but never quite the fun and sporty offering Honda’s marketing has purported it to be.
But, and far be it for us to speak for others, we’d presume most buyers after this type of car (singles, young families and empty nesters, predominately) don’t give a single damn about this factor.
Now, LaneWatch. We touched on this earlier, but it deserves a paragraph of its own. When you indicate left, a small camera projects a view of the road on to the touchscreen, making it a pseudo blind-spot monitor. It can also be engaged by a small button on the indicator talk. It’s a still shame it can’t show the right-hand side of the car for lane changes, though.
One area that will matter to all and sundry is ownership costs. Honda’s three-year/100,000km warranty is merely average these days, while Honda now offers the de-rigeur capped-price servicing (which it calls Honda Tailored Servicing).
Every visit is capped at $298 at present rates than can change, though the intervals are only 10,000km. The first 60,000km of servicing will cost you a minimum of $1788 plus incidentals. A petrol Mazda CX-3 over the same period is about the same.
So that’s the Honda HR-V VTi-S, a car that remains an excellent offering in the small SUV market almost 18 months since it launched, particularly for those who value a flexible cabin with lots of space and decent features most of all.
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