On the Road Review: Honda HR-V

After a glorious sunny September, the early fall skies are opening up as monsoon rains are visiting to end the month. Thankfully, an all-wheel-drive crossover is visiting as we must head north to Caribou for the day.

Honda’s latest offering is the subcompact class HR-V crossover, a small wagon based on the even smaller Fit car. The HR-V offers a taller cabin with a higher seating position, more overall cargo space, plus the all-season flexibility afforded by AWD — virtues that the diminutive Fit lack. Built in Celaya, Mexico, the new 2016 HR-V is also the latest entry in a suddenly hot category, competing against some other recent arrivals such as the Chevy Trax, Mazda CX-3 and Jeep Renegade as well as the Nissan Juke, Kia Soul, Buick Encore and Subaru Crosstrek XV.

Honda has an excellent track record with building successful small crossovers; the compact class CR-V is currently America’s favorite small SUV/crossover. There is a lot of similarity between the two Honda offerings — space efficiency, interior designs and overall drivability — so Honda fans will not be disappointed. Just remember, the HR-V is smaller due to its Fit roots.

With heavy and steady rain falling for much of the day, the HR-V’s wipers are in constant motion and the driver must pay close attention to the flooding truck grooves on the highway at the selected pace. Thankfully, satellite radio is a constant companion on this trip, helping with the boredom of this protracted drive through the hinterlands of northern Maine. Unfortunately, HR-V buyers have to opt for loaded EX-L models if they are satellite radio fans; LX and EX models cannot be so equipped.

The HR-V works its way into this segment, however, with a heavy dose of features that will have wide appeal. Safety features are prominent, with a Five Star crash recognition, while the customary portfolio of Honda driving virtues are evident from the first turn of the wheel. Nimble, responsive and confident, the HR-V feels like a plus-size Fit that still drives with a certain verve; not a swift verve, but a consistent verve nonetheless.

Power is supplied by a 1.8-liter aluminum in-line four-cylinder engine making 141 horsepower and 127 pound/feet of peak torque. AWD models only come with a CVT automatic that ensures enhanced fuel economy and smooth responses, but the HR-V will not be noted for its acceleration. Midrange and highway passing maneuvers must be planned; more power is necessary for rapid acceleration. This is similar to other offerings in this group; the Honda is not any slower than its rivals. Max fuel economy over max power is the goal here, and the HR-V seems well positioned to accomplish that effort.

EPA estimates are 27/32/29 mpg for AWD models, as high as 35 mpg for front-drive LX-versions with the standard six-speed manual gearbox. My realized economy varied with usage, with a high of 31.4 mpg and a low of 24.6 mpg, mostly accomplished with the Eco mode selected. With light or no throttle, the HR-V’s center dash gives off a green glow to signify efficiency; otherwise, the ring around the speedometer displays the same white lighting as other gauges. Given that the EPA tests vehicles at 60 mph on the highway cycle loop, and that real-world highway driving is done at 70-80-mph, there is bound to be some mileage discrepancies.

HR-V EX-L trim brings heated leather seating, a power sunroof, keyless access and ignition, 7-inch touchscreen for the audio and navigation, plus Honda’s LaneWatch right side camera. LaneWatch is useful — others think not. But soon, we will have cameras instead of mirrors, so LaneWatch is one sign of the future. A large rear view camera is included, as are fog lamps, LED lighting, as well as RealTime AWD that lacks any selectable low range settings.

As with the Fit, Honda has done an excellent job of maximizing available HR-V cargo room in what is a very tidy package. Rear seating space is adult-friendly. You can fold the 60/40-split seatbacks flat for additional cargo space, or, flip the bottom cushions up for a deep hold that swallows lots of stuff. With the gas tank under the front seats, like the Fit, there is ample rear cargo room. The contrast, for me, is the driver’s seat (lacking power adjustments) sitting atop a platform that leaves little room to tuck your feet rearward on log drives, like shifting your feet under your knees with cruise control on, just to change the angle and comfort of your legs. Small nuisance, aggravated by a tilt/telescoping steering wheel that does not have enough range.

The HR-V’s cabin could also be quieter at road speeds. The tire and road noise seems excessive, something that some additional sound insulation could mask. While these new subcompact crossovers are not Lexuses, that doesn’t mean they can’t be quieter.

And while the HR-V did a fine job of plowing through 10 hours of relentless rain, and a subsequent six-hour slog to Massachusetts, these long drives served to highlight some other interior situations. Nice job with the dual-level cupholder slots, but there is no space for traveling paraphernalia on the console; key’s, cell phone, etc. The auxiliary power sockets are also under the “floating” console’s upper deck and awkward for the driver to access, let alone see. In addition, the touch-screens for audio and climate changes are not as easy to use as conventional knobs and buttons — especially when bouncing along less than perfect roads. The redundant steering wheel audio controls will become your preferred operation method.

These nit-picks aside, the HR-V is a smooth driver, offers plenty of functional interior space, and will be a credible entry into this new segment. Will it rob sales from the CR-V? Maybe some buyers will elect the smaller wagon because of where they live and park, or their own physical preferences, but the small price gap, the small fuel economy gain, and the size variance will likely leave the majority of Honda crossover buyers still electing to purchase the CR-V.

HR-V pricing starts at $19,115 for front drive, manual transmission LX models. Our EX-L tester, listed for $25,840. A front drive EX-L will be about $1,000 less.

Tim Plouff

Tim Plouff

Columnist at The Ellsworth American
Tim Plouff has been reviewing automobiles in the pages of The Ellsworth American weekly for nearly two decades.
Tim Plouff

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