When we first put Honda’s little CUV through its paces down in Miami last year, we were pleasantly surprised by how well balanced it was, and the way in which engineers and designers had given the little compact crossover its own identity. It may sit in an increasingly overpopulated segment, but this clever morsel of engineering is more than just another one of Honda’s unexpected engineering success stories.
The HR-V is a commuter car in every sense of the word, because even though it may be about as unpretentious as a… well, Honda, it brandishes its Honda-ness with gusto when it comes to practicality and dependability. This is what you get your kid if the Fit seems too small on them, and the CR-V is too unwieldy and pricey. There’s a balance with the HR-V that’s easy to notice and hard to ignore, where the best of both vehicles has been implemented in order to offer the buyer a car that they will rave to their friends about, even if it is little more than a compact crossover.
We revisited the HR-V for a weeklong test (as opposed to our short first drive last year) where everything from grocery store runs to picking the toddler up at daycare could be put to the test. We even got some torrential rain one day, allowing us to test out Honda’s Real Time AWD system, along with a few active safety systems. The HR-V provided me with a straightforward and predictable seven days of practicality, and I walked away believing that Honda’s HR-V makes one of the strongest pitches in its segment today.
Sitting atop 6.7 inches of ground clearance, the HR-V has just enough lift that weekend camping trips don’t require fresh oil pans and getting in and out is easy for any age group. The EX-L version that I received also had things like glowing honeycomb LED tail lamps, 17-inch alloy wheels, DRLs, auto headlights, fog lamps, heated mirrors, a spoiler, and a set of dapper roof rails across its spine. But despite the handsome Misty Green Pearl paint and feline-like stature, the HR-V doesn’t go wild or polarizing. It’s neither objectionable nor memorable; it doesn’t offend, but won’t attract attention, either.
Exterior pros and cons
+ Easy to drive, park, and get in and out of, the HR-V is a perfectly proportioned CUV both in ride height and overall footprint.
+ Those honeycomb LED rear taillights are slick, and the front setup is all automatic.
+ The metallic roof rails, rear spoiler, horizontal and honeycomb grille fins, and Misty Green Pearl paint all look terrific.
– It’s kind of forgettable, as Honda intentionally played it safe to make it palatable for as many people as possible.
– While it’s nice that there isn’t a ton of chrome on this car, all of the shapely plastic lower portions look rather cheap without a darker, shinier shade of black.
The 1.8-liter motor is an old-school single-overhead-cam unit, and I found it to be a rewarding powertrain when spurred on with the duo of paddle shifters on the steering column. It’s got a CVT that lets shift points run all the way to red line, 141 horses for just enough top end pull, and a 29 mile per gallon average that remained remarkably consistent. Is it a thrasher like the energetic 2.5-liter version of the Mazda CX-3 or the jumpy Mitsubishi Outlander Sport? No, but it offers a safe and solid power delivery that can be tweaked with the paddle at the driver’s discretion, which should be more than enough for most of the people who are shopping in this segment.
Powertrain pros and cons
+ A 27/32 city and highway average is quite good, making a strong argument for why SOHC engines are still viable.
+ Selecting gears with the paddle shifters causes the CVT to snap to attention, and in “S” mode proved to be the best way to get up to speed on the highway.
+ Not having a turbo means less power, but it also means better reliability and fewer headaches down the line for those who like to hold onto their cars.
– A relatively meager 127 foot-pounds of torque and a drive-by-wire engine results in a fair amount of initial acceleration lag.
Opting to upgrade to the EX-L lands you a lot of standard interior goodies, including a leather bound steering wheel and dual stage heated seats, an automatic climate control system, and a tight little tech bundle. Much like the Fit, Honda’s CUV is deceptively small on the outside, but houses tons of space inside. Every seat in this CUV is surprisingly spacious, and the cargo area in the back is way larger than one might expect, and with the ability to fold every seat in the HR-V completely flat, moving day doesn’t look so bad after all.
Interior pros and cons
+ Loads of cabin space for passengers, pets, parental units, and produce.
+ Leather wrapped everything, heated seats, push-button start, electronic e-brake, and an attractive cabin design all make strong arguments.
+ Favorite additional touches include the standard sunroof, surprisingly good stock audio quality, button-free climate controls, an extra front center storage tray with HDMI, auxiliary, and USB plugs, and depth-adjustable cup holders.
– No fold-out center armrest in the back.
– Rear seat headrests sit too far forward, forcing taller passengers to crane their necks and can cause upper back discomfort when left in their lowest setting.
– The center storage compartment is notably under-sized, soft touches are plentiful but not well-padded, glare and reflections are an issue on the touchscreen when the sunroof is open, the power windows are painfully slow, and the driver seat doesn’t have power controls.
Tech and safety
While the interior had as many strikeouts as it did home runs, the tech and safety end of the HR-V was very impressive. Honda has always been an industry leader when it comes to safety, and its most recent offerings don’t disappoint. From traffic warnings and multi-view reverse cameras to the loaded 7-inch touchscreen and Honda’s handy LaneWatch passenger side camera, the standard run of electronic goods on the EX-L model is commendable.
Tech pros and cons
+ The HR-V is home to several airbags, and comes supported by Honda’s outstanding ACE body structure.
+ Seven-inch touchscreen is filled with useful info, and comes with Honda satellite navigation, voice recognition, HondaLink smartphone applications, Bluetooth controls, and things like SMS texting and Pandora compatibility.
+ If being able to push the LaneWatch button anytime you want to check you passenger side blindspot doesn’t appeal to you, maybe having multiple reverse camera settings will, all of which get piped directly to your touchscreen in full color.
– While the navi does look nice and flaunts lots of info, Mazda has it beat with the 3D maps found in the CX-3 and speed limits on the screen that light up yellow when speeding.
– No Apple CarPlay or Android Auto compatibility, and LaneWatch only covers the passenger side.
From a pure driving perspective, the HR-V offers an experience that is about as cut and dry as it gets, with just enough engagement thrown in to keep lead-footed individuals amused. It’s an extremely easy vehicle to drive, park, and put up against the competition, and it does its job very well, making a strong argument for why this segment has become so hot. The disc brakes in every wheel clamp with virtually no bias, cornering is bouncy but manageable, and while electric steering feedback is somewhat spongy, it isn’t bad. In heavy rain, Honda’s Real Time AWD worked remarkably well.
Road noise is minimal, even when cruising at high speeds in ECON mode, and passenger accessibility to controls and compartments is a non-issue. Grocery runs are a cinch too, as it whips in and out of parking spots easily thanks to its soft steering, multitude of camera angles, and small size, and stowing those bags of vittles is a breeze due to the surprisingly large cargo space. The HR-V’s terrific cargo capacity, high MPGs, and Honda reliability make it a sure-bet for those cross-shopping the CUV segment.
Wrap up and review
I feel like the HR-V is going to do what the Civic did for Honda in the 1980s and ’90s. It’s the simple, safe bet for anyone wanting a compact crossover, because in true Honda fashion, it’s a very balanced showing of what the automaker is capable of. In EX-L trim you get a lot of standard options for $26,720. Offering lots of cabin space for being so small, dependable all-wheel drive, and Honda reliability, the only thing that we can think of that’s missing from the HR-V lineup is an Si model. But maybe that’s our inner enthusiast speaking.
Trim fantasies aside, the HR-V doesn’t have snow, mud, or gravel traction settings or the manual gearbox option like the Jeep Renegade, nor the power and driving dynamics of the 2.5-liter CX-3 or the surprisingly good Mitsubishi Outlander Sport. Simply put, the Honda HR-V is perfect for anyone wanting to play it safe (a smart business case considering the segment), but don’t expect it to bring out your inner child.