It’s been a slow few weeks for news. Ummmm, the sales figures are out. Audi is trying to conquer the world, BMW is doing well and Mercedes Benz is the current darling of the premium world. Umm, there are loads of SUVs being sold and that figure is only going up.
There, that’s about the long and the short of it.
So, when Honda asked us if we fancied a spin in the new HRV, we jumped at it.
I must confess to not really understanding the Australian obsession with SUVs. Over a third of all vehicles sold are SUVs of one kind or another, so more car makers are bringing out even more models making the choice stupefyingly huge. There are choices for every pocket and every taste with some more successful than others. I heard on the grape vine that Audi is bringing to spare?
You’ll go for something cheaper and less showy like the rest of the people in the poor seats.
So, what’s all this about a new Honda SUV then?
It’s brand new and continues the name with the HR-V last sold here more than a decade ago.
How are the looks?
From the outside there is no doubt it is a Honda with its neat design and strong front end. Honda call this a “solid wing face” but I still call it the Dame Edna Affect. The BMW X6 started this coupe/SUV look and there are those who go mad for it. Strangely, given option of an all-wheel-drive system, buyers will probably opt for the cheaper, lighter 2 wheel drive version. I’d have thought AWD would be a must have but apparently not. What we are buying is a large cabin with comfy seats and plenty of space. We want large doors for easy entry and a high driving position. We want a choice of size and shape and we want as much value as we can afford, and we want it now!
The side view is meant to be coupe-like but to me it looks like a high-set small SUV, because that’s what it is. The hidden rear door handles have been used by Honda before and always looks good. It’s fun watching the chaps trying to get into the back via the front seats because they’ve missed the rear door altogether. The high rear end combined with the “magic seats” in the back mean you can shove a couple of bikes inside instead of on the roof, or a rack, doing wonders for your fuel economy.
It is considerably better looking than the first model sold here between 1999 and 2001. That shape looked like an amphibious landing vehicle had a one night stand with a fridge. It was just wrong.
Honda says they designed this car for a young person who likes quality and has an active lifestyle. I suspect it will also appeal to singles, couples, the retired and the self-employed. In other words, most people.
And the mechanics?
It has a 1.8 in-line four cylinder engine but still no turbo, yet. The 105 kw output seems modest by modern standards and a CVT transmission is not among my favorites. In this I have been shown to have misjudged badly. The engine is smooth and the transmission rarely makes the engine sound like it is going to pop a valve. The advantage is it always goes for low fuel consumption first and foremost. The take-off is spritely thanks to a very low ratio but I recommend overtaking be planned in advance. There is not quite enough oomph for spirited maneuvers, but a manual transmission might well solve that. Sadly, a manual rather misses the point of the system deciding how to use fuel frugally as possible. Regardless of the clever controls and the small amount of fuel used, I would prefer a third pedal allowing me to select each gear myself by means of moving a lever. I would decide how fast the engine should spin, not a smart Alec computer. Best of all the HR-V uses 91ron unleaded.
What about the gizmos?
The full range of gadgets have been shoved in. Honda really has lifted its tech-game of late, and the HRV is crammed full of natty knick-knacks to make life easier and safer. I’m particularly fond of the little cameras in the side mirrors. When you indicate, the camera on that side shows what’s alongside and displays it on the centre LCD screen. In no time at all you learn to quickly glance at it before checking the mirrors. The field of view is excellent so no cyclist should ever fear being run down by a marauding Honda. This is an option available on few other brands.
The infotainment system is now seen in all new Hondas. It mirrors some of the apps on your phone with a bridging app “Honda” app. It doesn’t work as seamlessly as I would like and the Satnav is also an app on your phone, which can be hard to use. Earlier problems have been solved. When first introduced, the app would shut down when a phone call came in. This meant the LCD went to you call, but did not return to the Navigation. You needed to restart the Satnav each time. It drove you mad, but there’s more.
The phone needs an HDMI cable for video as well at the Apple cable for power. There is a two level console with a hidey hole underneath to keep the whole lot out of view, but then of course you can’t see your phone. Whether that is a good or bad thing is up for debate. At least you don’t have cables festooned like demented decorations from the ghosts of Christmas past. That aside, the cabin is neat and ordered. The seats are comfy and the higher up the range you go, the better it gets. As with all cars, the base model and the top model differ little apart from accessories. The mechanics are the same, so it’s leather and gadgets which add the value. The list of inclusions in the top model is a long one, and the driver assistance suite is among the most notable. Apart from the fab mirror cameras you get city braking to avoid collisions at low speeds, and automatic high beam. It is “seen and be seen” which makes you as visible as possible to others which Honda hopes will prevent nasty incidents.
The handling: Is it a blancmange or a greyhound?
The fuel tank is centre mounted and this is perhaps why the handling is as good as it is. The HRV feels very much like the excellent Civic to drive. Despite the high set body, the centre of gravity is kept lowish. The ride is very good, very good indeed. You sit high and can really stretch your legs out once you’re on the open road. Once on the highway there is little to do but relax, but not too much of course. Because the HR-V feels like the Civic to drive, the handling is car-like. In fact it is much better than you might expect. Honda steering has always been pretty good and while it isn’t quite as sharp as a Golf, it is still very comfortable. Electric steering can mean a lack of road feel but there is a degree of feel which becomes more familiar as you spend more hours in the saddle. It feels nicely weighted and gets heavier at speed. While we didn’t throw her round too many taxing corners, what was thrown at her was handled with the aplomb of a veteran.
I liked it very much. At the risk of repeating myself, All-wheel-drive would be my preference were it an option. There is a bit of torque steer because all of the power goes through the front wheels. When you stick the boot in you feel a slight pull on the steering wheel as the motor does its thing. It doesn’t adversely affect the handling so I suppose it’s just a matter of preference.
Finally, is the HR-V a gay car?
As always I try to imagine a classy couple with their doggies and other bits and bobs preparing for a weekend away. I try to picture them loading their scarves and spare shoes as well as bags and blankets. I’m not sure why we try to take the contents of a 2 bedroom unit when we travel, but that’s what we do. It seems almost impossible to put in only what we need, then leave on time. We like our hatch-backs and I perhaps we would do better thinking of the HR-V as a large compact hatch-back rather than a small SUV. Without the AWD you’ll not be going off road anyway.
There is plenty of space, good fuel economy, reasonable acceleration and a decent sound system. The cabin uses good quality plastics and that two level console is a great feature. All in all, a sensible design that is reasonable value for money. It could be a smidgen cheaper, but it isn’t.
There are a few worthy competitors: Jeep Cherokee and Volvo V40 come to mind. Also, Honda’s own slightly bigger CR-V is a favourite. All are slightly more expensive on average but a canny buyer will make sure he or she is getting what they are paying for. As always, look around when buying, but try and keep your choices to a few or you’ll be driven completely potty.
Would I buy one? This is a hard one. If I was buying an SUV I’d at least want AWD, if not a proper 4WD system. On that basis alone I’d have to say no, but I can see it appealing to those who don’t care for such things. Don’t mistake this for dislike. The HR-V is a good and capable vehicle and feels solid and well built. As most of you know, I’d usually go for a sporty convertible. That’s no help I know, but there it is.
Price (drive-away in NSW): VTi $29,157, VTi-S $31,654, VTi-L $36,804, VTi-L + ADAS $37,834
Engine & Trans: 4cyl 1.8L, Euro 5, 91ron unleaded, 6.6L/100k
Warranty: 3 year/100,00k and 6 years for rust