Honda’s HR-V, one of the original compact SUVs, has come a long way over the past 20-something years.
Car tested: Honda HR-V e:HEV Advance
It all started as a slim, wagon-style SUV in the late ‘90s, the HR-V was cool and alternative and, lest we forget, predated the likes of the Nissan Juke by aeons.
Now there’s a brand new Honda HR-V, the car you see here and once again, Honda has torn up the form book to produce something fascinatingly, willfully different from what’s gone before.
For a start, the new crossover HR-V design is something interesting (at least, to these eyes), also unique on the road, while underneath, Honda has pushed hybrid electrification tech to the max to create ‘an optimal balance of fuel economy, low emissions and dynamic performance,’ the company says.
Hands up meantime anyone who can say what ‘HR-V’ actually stands for. To save you Googling it, I can confirm it’s a derivation of “Hi-rider Revolutionary Vehicle.’ Or at least that was the original interpretation.
That didn’t so much apply to the second generation HR-V, born in 2013, which was an altogether more functional, anodyne offering…
Happily today it’s all change again and we have another distinctive, high-riding HR-V, based around a sleek, compact, coupe-like bodyshell and a blaze of Honda’s latest e:HEV techno-wizardry to provide the power.
Honda is pushing hard with the trick two-motor hybrid system underpinning the new shape HR-V, which is the only powertrain on offer.
Essentially this lifted from the latest Jazz, albeit beefed up with a stronger battery and extra power to take into account the HR-V’s greater size and weight.
So this means Honda’s familiar four-cylinder 1.5-litre i-VTEC engine is paired with two compact electric motors, a lithium-ion battery and a CVT-style box.
Ingeniously, perhaps, this is a hybrid system that’s constantly on the move, shuttling back and forward between three drive modes – electric drive, hybrid drive or engine drive – depending on speed and driving style, the system ICU constantly deciding which is the most fuel-efficient mode for that particular moment.
Sometimes, the engine is not directly driving the car but charging the battery to power the electric motor to get the HR-V moving. Impressed? You should be.
Dynamically, the HR-V is on the pace. This is an agile, compact urban SUV that’s easy and fun to steer and feels zippier than Honda’s 0-62mph time of 10.6 secs suggests.
There’s good power (131PS) and torque (253Nm) on tap and the little Honda accelerates well, cruises easily and handles neatly should you point it down an interesting switchback road. Accurate, well-judged steering gives a good idea of what the front wheels are doing.
The body roll is well contained. There’s strong grip via the (standard) 18-inch tyres but road noise can sometimes be loud and ride quality is a touch bouncy over average B-roads. Some might question the presence of the biggish wheels and tyres on a car this size but along with the raised ride height and gappy wheel arches, true, they do give the HR-V its own attitude.
On the move, you can select different drive modes (Sport/Normal/Eco) but while the way the powertrain keeps cycling between different drive modes is clever, it’s a bit disconcerting if you’re a keen driver as you’re not really sure what’s going on.
Likewise, pushing on, you can have the engine seemingly over-revving, out of step with the car’s actual speed, just like the bad old CVT effect of the past.
But that’s not what the HR-V is all about. Central to the action is a hybrid system designed specifically for energy efficiency. Indeed, via steering wheel paddle shifts you can adjust energy recovery yourself.
Economy? Over a week on test, I averaged 45.7 mpg. Putting that into perspective, Honda’s Combined figure is 52.3 mpg with C02 emissions set at 122 g/km.
Lamentable, though, is the Honda’s invasive Lane Keeping Assist System with its badgering array of bleeps which is a real burden and worse still, cannot be switched off. It’s a real killjoy and would seriously deter me from signing up.
Ah, but the interior and the HR-V’s sleek “noiseless” design, overall, both are class standouts in my book. The simple, uncluttered shape is very striking.
Inside, there are clear dials and an excellent central touch screen. Even knobs! Love the retro-style air flow adjusters on the dash top. You get a high seating position (naturally), comfy seats and great all-around visibility.
Luggage space is excellent and Honda’s trademark “Magic” rear seats which cleverly tip up to boost carrying ability are as brilliantly simple as ever.
There are three HR-V grades to choose from. Elegance gives you Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, adaptive cruise control, front heated front seats, rearview camera and DAB radio with Bluetooth. Prices start at £27,960.
Advance adds a power tailgate, dual-zone air-con, heated leather steering wheel, LED front fog lights and black synthetic Leather and fabric trim. From £30,210.
The range-topping Advance Style (£32,660) gives you a premium audio, two-tone roof, wireless charging and more.
So where does this end up? Well, something like the Nissan Juke in this class will be cheaper and have a more direct drive feel but lacks the Honda’s technical sophistication.
Honda has unquestionably raised the bar with this latest HR-V which has to be one of the most distinctive, interesting compact SUVs around. Honda is a fascinating company for many reasons. It’s a company that’s always on the move, always springing surprises and now here’s the latest, new generation HR-V to give the small crossover formula another twist.
As a motoring journalist, he’s been writing about cars for a long time, starting in London in fact around the time the Sex Pistols first began limbering up….
Thereafter his journalistic remit has covered both new and classic cars, some historic motorsport reporting plus a long spell in Tokyo, covering the Japanese car industry for a range of global media outlets. Peter is a car writer and tester in the UK. Gooner, Alfisti and former Tokyo resident. If it has wheels, then he is interested.