Small SUVs currently account for around 12 per cent of the Australian new-car market, and it's still growing despite a recent overall decline in sales. Nearly 10,000 of these small crossovers are registered each month, and there are 26 different models competing for that volume right now.
For this comparison, we have two models that sit on opposite sides of that sales volume spectrum – the Honda HR-V and Holden Trax.
We've chosen the HR-V RS and Trax LTZ for this twin test, and both start at just above $30,000 before on-road costs, and sit at the pointy end of their respective ranges – the HR-V RS is one down from the flagship, while the Trax LTZ is the top-of-the range variant.
Let's get on with it, shall we?
Pricing and specification
There's a $1500 difference in starting price here, with the Trax LTZ listed at $30,490 plus on-road costs, while the HR-V RS is priced from $31,990 before ORCs.
Both have touchscreen infotainment systems measuring 7.0 inches, though the Holden's only offers Apple CarPlay and Android Auto without native navigation, while the Honda's is the opposite. Adding to that, both get keyless entry with push-button start.
The Trax gets one up thanks to its inclusion of DAB+ digital radio, while the Honda offers a HDMI port – if that's important to you. Both offer USB ports to connect media devices and/or charge phones, and both feature six-speaker audio systems.
Common features to both models include 18-inch alloy wheels, rear-view cameras with rear parking sensors, rain-sensing wipers, automatic headlights, front fog lights, LED daytime-running lights and LED tail-lights.
Both also have heated front seats, though the upholstery is leather accented in the Honda and leatherette in the Holden.
The HR-V also gets full-LED front lighting, including the fog lights, while the Trax gets halogen projector headlights and fog lights.
Further differences continue to go in the Honda's favour, including single-zone climate control compared to the Trax's manual air-con, an electric park brake (the Holden gets an old-school handbrake), low-speed autonomous emergency braking (up to 30km/h), and Honda's LaneWatch blind-spot camera that projects a live stream onto the infotainment display.
However, the Trax counters by uniquely offering blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, a tilt/slide electric sunroof, auto up/down windows all round (while the Honda only has it for the front passengers) and a more comprehensive 3.5-inch driver's information display.
Neither comes as standard with a full-size spare wheel – the Honda gets a space saver, while the Holden scores a tyre repair kit – though the Trax we had on test featured the optional steel spare.
In terms of safety equipment, the Honda gets the aforementioned AEB system and LaneWatch camera, while the Trax only gets blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, while both feature six airbags.
Both vehicles have Isofix child seat anchors on both the outboard rear seats, and three top tether points are included with both, too.
While we're on the topic of safety, both vehicles wear five-star ANCAP crash-test ratings, though the Holden's has a 2013 date stamp while the Honda's is from 2015. So, neither has been tested against the latest, most stringent criteria.
Neither vehicle gets features like adaptive cruise control or lane-keeping systems as tested either, though the HR-V offers lane-departure warning and auto high-beam in top-spec VTi-LX guise (from $34,590).
Given the HR-V picks up more features in key areas, it wins this round.
Winner: Honda HR-V RS
Both vehicles on test are more practicality-focused compared to rivals, the HR-V in particular.
Despite being 'small' crossovers, the Holden and Honda manage to feel quite airy and spacious in both rows, with the Holden feeling particularly so up front thanks to its higher ceiling.
There's a good amount of visibility and adjustment for the driver in both models, though the Holden manages to create a more premium ambience thanks to a more cohesive cockpit design despite a higher ratio of hard surfaces.
While the HR-V has plenty of soft-touch materials, the design and layout are looking a little dated, particularly in the instrument cluster and the rather aftermarket-looking infotainment system – more on that later.
You sit higher in the Trax, and the high roof line is almost van-like, whereas the HR-V feels more like a regular hatchback inside.
In terms of the overall layout and finish, the HR-V has a greater amount of more yielding plastics and leatherette-trimmed surfaces on the dashboard, doors, and centre tunnel.
However, there's a lack of cohesion in numerous areas, with different textures and grains depending on what you're looking at, along with elements that appear to come from different eras.
The centre stack layout and digital climate controls are very new age, as is the glossy centre tunnel finish and nifty adjustable cupholders and centre storage bin.
But then there's the dated driver's instruments with black-and-white LCD display, the cheap-feeling grainy fake leather on the doors, and the foamy and rubbery plastic that adorns each side of the centre tunnel and dashboard insert that has fake stitching moulded in.
It almost seems like there's a little too much going on, and the disjointed trims and finishes do little to help that – though design is subjective, we add.
Meanwhile, the Trax has a higher ratio of more utilitarian hard plastics, though the design is more clean and upmarket. There's also more consistency in the trims and finishes, which enhances the ambience.
There's a more open and airy feel to the Trax's cabin up front as well, partly because of the taller roof line, and partly because of the lighter colour scheme.
In RS trim, the HR-V gets a moulded back headliner, which is certainly more on the 'sporty' side compared to other models. However, it can darken the cabin a bit, and takes away from that feeling of space that you get in the Trax.
We also noticed the Trax has a nicer textile headliner, which again adds to that more upmarket look and feel compared to the Honda. The standard power moonroof is another point of difference compared to the HR-V.
Both vehicles offer touchscreen infotainment systems as standard, and both measure 7.0 inches. However, the Trax wins here again thanks to the inclusion of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, along with better integration into the dashboard.
The HR-V gets a tacked-on head unit that looks like you could have installed it at your local JB Hi-Fi, while the software and interface look and feel dated. It's slow, it's not super user-friendly, and there are niggles like not being able to see the map when you take a phone call.
Meanwhile, the Trax lacks inbuilt navigation, though this is countered by the inclusion of smartphone mirroring somewhat. Using the apps from your phone is quick and easy, while the native software is simple and easy to navigate. The Holden also has DAB+ digital radio, whereas the Honda does not.
Several friends and family members noted awful audio quality when calling via Bluetooth in the Honda during our time with the car; something that wasn't noted with the Holden. Something to consider.
In terms of storage up front, the HR-V does nudge ahead with a deep cupholder/bin set-up between the front seats and larger door pockets, though the Trax has a few more little cubbies for storing your phone and wallet in places like the doors and under the front passenger seat.
Moving to the second row, the HR-V offers more room for passengers, though lacks a fold-down centre armrest with cupholders like you get in the Holden.
The Honda does, however, offer a 12V power outlet in the rear, while the Trax has a 230V socket – if you ever need to use a hair dryer on the move, it might come in handy?
Neither vehicle has air vents in the rear, though this is fairly common in the segment.
Families with young children will also be better catered for with the HR-V, thanks to two ISOFIX mounts for the outboard rear seats and three top tether points across the rear seatbacks, while the Trax lacks any form of ISOFIX attachments.
One small difference in the rear accommodation as well is the ceiling-mounted centre seatbelt in the Honda, while the Holden has a more conventional set-up.
Both have map pockets behind the driver and front passenger seats, and both have adequate door pockets in the rear that can accommodate bottles and other smaller items.
Further back, the big booty game is won by the Honda, which offers a capacious 437L of cargo volume with the second row in place, expanding to 1462L with it folded.
The HR-V also boasts the company's nifty Magic Seats system, which allows for various folding configurations for the second row to maximise luggage volume or load height so a tall plant can sit in the second-row footwell, for example.
Another handy feature unique to the HR-V in this comparison is the 12V outlet in the luggage area – good for when you need to plug in something like a refrigerated esky.
Meanwhile, the Trax's boot is rated at 387L, which is larger than a lot of small hatchbacks, and expands to a respectable 1270L with the second row folded.
The Holden trumps the Honda with four bag hooks (compared to none in the HR-V's load bay), and a small cubby to the side for smaller items.
Holden has also given the Trax a more substantial luggage cover that doubles up as a parcel shelf, while the Honda's flimsy cover looks like one of those foldable window shades.
Under the boot floor is a space-saver spare in the Honda, while our Trax tester had a full-size steel replacement rim, though a tyre repair kit is standard.
In a tightly fought second round, the gong goes to the Honda here thanks to its superior practicality – but only just.
Winner: Honda HR-V RS
On the road
We took both crossovers on a 39.5km loop consisting of freeway runs and urban stints through Melbourne's east, and the results were a little surprising.
The two vehicles we have on test have very different characters, both in terms of their drivetrains and also in the way they feel behind the wheel.
First up is the Trax, which draws upon a 1.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine, common to other GM vehicles like the Astra small car range. Outputs are rated at 103kW (@4900rpm) and 200Nm (@1850rpm) sent to the front wheels via a six-speed torque converter automatic.
Meanwhile, the Honda features a naturally aspirated 1.8-litre four-cylinder petrol motor developing 105kW (@6500rpm) and 172Nm (@4300rpm), and coupled to a continuously variable transmission also driving the front wheels exclusively.
The HR-V beats the Trax in terms of overall power to weight ratio (80.5W/kg v 74.1W/kg), though it's the Holden that feels peppier thanks to its beefier torque reserve lower down in the rev range. Acceleration is smoother and stronger in the Trax from a standstill, which is a key highlight given these are urban-focused vehicles.
The Trax's turbocharged motor is also more refined, being more quiet under load and at speed, as is the slick six-speed automatic. By comparison, the HR-V feels a little underdone, and the CVT can send the engine flaring to 4000–5000 revs if you hit the accelerator too hard.
Speaking of refinement, both are a bit of a mixed bag when on the move. The ride is so firm to the point that it still isn't very settled at highway speeds, which can get a bit annoying over consistent imperfections.
In saying that, the HR-V may have a more compliant ride, but lets a lot more perceived road noise into the cabin, while the thrashy engine note under load is far from music to your ears. It's a shame Honda Australia doesn't offer the HR-V with the 134kW 1.5-litre turbo that's recently gone on sale in Europe.
As for handling, the Trax feels tauter and more car-like through the steering wheel despite its taller aesthetic, though the HR-V isn't far off in this regard.
The firmer ride we complained about earlier has the converse benefit of limiting body roll in corners, and the more direct steering and throttle controls in the Holden make it the more engaging car to drive. It also lends a more planted feel at higher speeds, feeling like a bigger car than it actually is. This inspires more confidence at freeway speeds.
Honda made a number of changes to the HR-V RS to give it a sportier edge compared to other models in the range, including Variable Gear Ratio steering, front stabiliser bars and "improved suspension". It's certainly an improvement over the uninspiring feel of other models, but it's still no benchmark.
We also noted the more intuitive blind-spot monitoring system on the Trax, which works on both sides of the vehicle, compared to the LaneWatch camera system on the HR-V that only shows a live video feed on the left side of the vehicle.
On the topic of driver aids, the HR-V gets low-speed autonomous emergency braking as standard across the range, while the Trax lacks the technology in any form. In saying that, the Trax LTZ's blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert systems aren't matched by the Honda either.
Both vehicles also offer good visibility all round, too – helpful when parking or negotiating tight city streets.
Over our test loop, the Trax returned an indicated 8.1L/100km, which is over a litre up on Holden's official 6.7L/100km combined claim.
The Honda, meanwhile, did 7.9L/100km on the same route according to its trip computer, with the official claim also rated at 6.7L/100km on the combined cycle.
Despite the at times jittery ride, the Trax is the better car to drive, hence why it wins this round.
Winner: Holden Trax LTZ
Both vehicles here are covered by five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranties as standard.
The Holden gets five years of complementary roadside assistance provided you service your vehicle at a Holden dealer, while the Honda's program is available for an additional cost – though promotional seven-year warranties have been bolstered by free roadside assistance for the same period in the past.
Scheduled maintenance is required every 12 months or 10,000km for the Honda, and every 12 months or 12,000km for the Holden.
While we praise both companies for extending intervals to 12 months in recent years, it's a shame neither offers 15,000km intervals like numerous rivals – something to note if your annual mileage is on the higher side.
Both offer capped-price servicing programs, with the Holden asking for $269, $319, $319, $429 and $369 for the first five years (or 60,000km). That's a total of $1705 for that period.
The HR-V will set you back $284, $298, $298, $298 and $298 for the first five services, equating to a total of $1476 for the first five years or 50,000km. For comparison's sake, the HR-V requires another visit to offer equivalent distance coverage to the Trax, which brings it to a slightly higher $1774.
Honda's reputation for reliability aside, it's the Trax that offers the superior aftersales support, if only by a slim margin.
Winner: Holden Trax LTZ
Picking a clear winner out of this pair is a hard one. While the Trax nudges ahead in most areas, we have to knock it hard for lacking active safety technologies expected of new vehicles today.
The HR-V will better appeal to those who are prioritising practicality, or young families that use child seats given the absence of ISOFIX attachments in the Holden.
It's also got more kit for the money, particularly in key areas at this end of the market, though it cannot match the Trax's more engaging dynamics, better-executed infotainment system, and superior ownership program.
The Holden is the nicer car to sit in, and the better car to drive, however we cannot give it the clear win based on the glaring omissions in its features list with regards to active safety, which is a requirement of new vehicles to achieve top safety marks.
So, we'll call this one a tie.
For this reviewer, there are also numerous other options in the small-SUV segment at a similar pricepoint that better the HR-V's levels of technology, while also offering a drive experience equivalent to the Trax.
The Subaru XV offers a relaxed drive, with plenty of driver technology, infotainment and cabin ambience, while turbocharged versions of the Hyundai Kona offer a punchy and sporty drive, bolstered with all-wheel traction and the availability of AEB and lane-keep systems.
Given the increasing competition in the small-SUV segment these days, we'd suggest keeping your options open and taking the aforementioned competitors for a test drive as well.