Sometimes bigger isn’t always better. Large SUVs don’t always fit in garages, and they cost more, especially at the pump. And because high-end technology is no longer limited to luxury models, even small SUVs come with tons of affordable features. But what if you actually do need the room? Is it worth the upcharge? Honda’s SUV lineup straddles both ends of the spectrum. But is Honda’s smallest SUV as good as its largest?
Honda’s smallest SUV: HR-V
The smallest SUV (technically a crossover) that Honda makes is the subcompact HR-V. It rides on the Fit hatchback’s platform, but the HR-V is not just a lifted Fit.
It does, however, borrow a few tricks from the Fit. One is the “Magic Seats”, which allow the 2nd-row seats to fold and move basically anyhow and anywhere. It also now comes with Honda’s safety feature suite as standard, which is why it’s an IIHS Top Safety Pick.
The HR-V does have a different powertrain, though. All HR-Vs have a 1.8-liter four-cylinder making 141 hp and 127 lb-ft. Unfortunately, as Roadshow reported, the 6-speed manual is gone. At least in the US, according to Car and Driver. The only transmission we get is a CVT, although the Sport trim does at least get shifter paddles. Front-wheel drive is standard, although all-wheel drive is available with any trim, and standard on the top-of-the-line Touring.
Honda’s smallest SUV has a comfortable interior, and while its 6.7” of ground clearance isn’t enough for hard-core off-roading, it’s easy to climb in and out. One demerit is that Honda removed all physical climate control switchgear in favor of touchscreen controls. The infotainment controls, however, are simple and easy-to-use, but you’ll need to step up to the Sport trim for Apple CarPlay.
Car and Driver praised the HR-V for offering plenty of space for cargo and passengers, although the roofline does impact headroom. However, reviewers noted the engine is buzzy, especially at highway speeds, and uneven surfaces can make the HR-V ride rough. Although the HR-V represents good value—the cheapest starts at $20,820—Car and Driver placed the small Honda SUV in 4th place out of 5 in its small SUV comparison.
Honda’s largest SUV: Pilot
The Pilot isn’t only Honda’s largest SUV, it’s Honda’s only 3-row SUV. Other than that, it’s fairly similar to the smaller Passport. Both have the same 3.5-liter V6 making 280 hp and 262 lb-ft, although the Pilot gets Honda’s 9-speed transmission as standard.
Both offer AWD with multiple terrain-specific driving modes, but the Passport has slightly more ground clearance, Motor Trend reports. But the Pilot is safer than the Passport, with its latest safety feature upgrade making it an IIHS Top Safety Pick+.
In the past, Pilots have been somewhat unreliable: their transmissions, in particular, have been problematic. However, it appears Honda has addressed these issues with its latest large SUV. Car and Driver reports the 9-speed automatic no longer hesitates noticeably on downshifts, and the transmission as a whole is more responsive. In addition, Honda has reworked the Pilot SUV’s stop/start system, making operation smoother and quieter. Honda also improved the Pilot’s infotainment system: it’s now faster and has a physical volume knob.
While the Honda Pilot is a 3-row SUV, it’s technically mid-size, so the 3rd-row seats are rather tight. And while Motor1 ranked the Pilot ahead of the Chevrolet Traverse, the Traverse had a larger cargo capacity. Reviewers noted that even the Odyssey minivan had more space. In addition, although Roadshow reports the Honda SUV rides comfortably and handles well, the upper trims’ larger wheels ruin the ride somewhat.
Autoblog noted that the Pilot’s interior is very practical, with lots of storage bins and cupholders, and high-level trims like the Elite get features like heated front and 2nd-row seats, LED lights, and leather trim. You also don’t need to pay for the $50k Black Edition to get all these features. However, the Honda SUV was louder on the street than the Ridgeline pickup.
Which is the better buy?
As you can imagine from their size disparity, these two Honda SUVs aren’t really going to be cross-shopped.
The HR-V starts at just under $21k, with the top Touring trim starting at $28,890. Meanwhile, the cheapest Pilot starts at $31,650; excluding the Black Edition—which isn’t really worth the price—the Elite with standard AWD starts at $48,220.
And, fitting with its smaller size, the HR-V is also more fuel-efficient. The front-wheel drive model is rated at 28 mpg city/34 mpg highway and the AWD at 26 mpg city/31 mpg highway. In contrast, the 2WD Pilot gets 19 mpg city/27 mpg highway, and the AWD model gets 18 mpg city/26 mpg highway. The 9-speed only adds 1 mpg city.
So, if you’re after a compact, fuel-efficient Honda SUV, the HR-V is the better choice. But if you genuinely do need the space, the Pilot is the way to go.
Alternatives to these Honda SUVs
However, these two SUVs aren’t necessarily the best in their segments. While Consumer Reports did find the HR-V’s reliability above-average, it’s not a CR-recommended subcompact SUV. And although the Pilot is recommended by CR, its reliability is merely average (still better than the Passport’s, though). In addition, both SUVs scored worse in CR’s testing than the CR-V, which falls between the two in size.
The Pilot was beaten out in score and reliability by quite a few other mid-size 3-row SUVs. The Kia Telluride and Hyundai Palisade both scored significantly higher in CR’s testing, as did the Mazda CX-9. All 3 are also either as reliable as the Pilot or more reliable. Car and Driver also ranked the CX-9 ahead of the Pilot. Also, if you really need interior space, more than genuine off-road capability, a Honda Odyssey is arguably the better choice.
In Car and Driver’s small SUV comparison, the HR-V lost to models like the Mazda CX-3 and Jeep Renegade. Although CR ranked the Renegade below the HR-V, the CX-3 did score higher than the HR-V. Also, the Hyundai Kona scored higher overall and had a higher reliability. And unlike the HR-V, the Kona is also available as an EV.
So, although Honda does make a small and large SUV, they’re not necessarily the best in their class.
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