Is a mild update enough to keep Honda's HR-V relevant amongst a bunch of eager competitors?
Since being released in 2015, replacing the original 1990s model, the HR-V has been Honda’s main fighter in the competitive small-SUV space. Three years is a fair amount of time, and the 2018 Honda HR-V has been recently updated with a redesigned front bumper and grille that's finished off with some new LED headlights.
There are some specification tweaks across the range as well, along with the new RS specification. We’ve got the new LX spec, which replaced the L as the range-topping variant.
One thing that hasn't changed is storage space; it's fantastic in the HR-V. Beyond what the spec sheets say in terms of litres, I can tell you I managed to fit five Dynamic 16x8-inch steel wheels destined for a 4WD directly in the back, along with a carton of Coopers Pale Ale and a backpack, without having to fold down the 'magic' second row.
To make the most of storage space, Honda fitted the fuel tank below the front seats. Without any driveline (it's front-wheel drive) or fuel tank in the way, you’ve got more room for storage and leg room. When the pivoting Magic Seats are folded down into the floor, the space is huge, and you score 1462L of space. In fact, there are 18 different configurations of seat folding available.
It’s a really impressive and well-thought-out system, making a lot of room for the relatively small footprint of the car.
When the seats are being used to sit in, they’re pretty good as well. A scalloped roof line makes the most of head room, although those very tall amongst us might graze the headlining. However, the second-row seats are quite raked and comfortable.
Honda’s infotainment system starts to betray the age of the car a little. It feels a bit more aftermarket than OEM, and doesn’t give a whole lot of intuitive practicality or warm-and-fuzzy feelings. It’s a nice interior otherwise: more clean than busy, with a nice premium feeling to the HVAC controls and other touchpoints.
Cloth seats are replaced with some leather appointments in higher specifications, along with heating and electric adjustment. Similar to the rest of the vehicle, the seats run a nice balance of control and comfort. Thigh support is good, as is the bolstering.
LX is the most expensive variant of the HR-V range, with a listed price of $34,590. All have the same engine and driveline, while changes in price indicate the level of gear you get included. Jumps between specs are decent, with the range starting at $24,990 for the straight VTi. VTi-S is up next at $27,990, followed by the new RS spec ($33,990) and then LX.
So, what do you get for your money? Over the lesser models, the LX scores lane-departure warning, forward collision warning, dual-zone climate control, comfortable eight-way adjustable seats, a panoramic sunroof and 17-inch wheels.
There are also paddle shifters to take advantage of the stepped-style CVT transmission that is new for the HR-V range.
LaneWatch is a handy feature for tight city commuting: flick on your passenger-side indicator, and you’ll be able to get a good view of your blind spot via a camera mounted under the passenger-side rear-view mirror.
Additional features like the City-Brake Active System (which operates at speeds between 5km/h and 32km/h), satellite navigation and lane-departure warning make it well equipped for the city commutes and doddling around town.
The engine is Honda’s own 1.8-litre, which makes 105kW at 6500rpm and 172Nm at 4300rpm. It gives enough poke for normal city running, without feeling like it’s needing to get flogged voraciously.
In typical Honda style, it’s quite happy to rev up a bit without feeling stressed or uncomposed. It’s helped by the CVT, which is fairly smooth and assisted by its new ‘stepped’ nature. Run it up to highway speeds and it copes reasonably well with hills and thrifty overtaking.
Much of the design around this engine was in the pursuit of efficiency gains, using Atkinson cycle and throttle body tuning, along with a variable intake manifold to maximise economy when under light loads. The engine then shifts over to a high-performance set-up for more power when called upon by the right foot. From the driver’s seat, you can’t notice it switching between different modes.
What’s the end result? It’s an engine that gives pretty good economy, provided you’re driving it in the right manner. There’s a green ‘Econ’ button, which tunes the throttle and gearbox for maximum economy, as well as putting the air-conditioning into a more thrifty disposition to save fuel.
Honda’s listed combined economy is 6.9L/100km, thanks to a very measly 5.8 number on the extra urban run. We weren’t running in the Econ mode the whole time, preferring the extra responsiveness for merging and overtaking while commuting. As a result, we got around 7.5L/100km.
The ride of the HR-V is nicely sorted, with MacPherson struts up front and a torsion beam at the rear. It leans more towards a comfort set-up than a sporty tune, giving you a good middle ground between absorbing bumps and providing the driver with a bit of feedback.
If you’re keen on a sportier-driving HR-V, look at the RS. Although it doesn’t have any more engine or driveline, it gets 18-inch wheels and a more aggressive suspension and steering set-up. Electric steering gives the nice benefit of easy manoeuvrability at low speeds but firming up nicely for highway driving. The LX is not masquerading as a sports car, however, and its current drive set-up fits the bill quite well.
The HR-V is backed up by Honda's five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty, and servicing is scheduled at every 10,000km or 12 months, and capped-price servicing means you'll get some change out of $300 for each service, up until the odometer goes over six digits. We're guessing that's when some major servicing needs to be done, and that will be inevitably more expensive.
Despite some newer models coming onto the scene, the HR-V remains a compelling small family car. The real strength of the HR-V comes from its functional and flexible interior, which despite having a fairly lacklustre infotainment unit feels premium for the money.
You can definitely get a lot of use out of the small footprint, and it’s otherwise an easy-to-drive package that gives good economy and decent performance.