Gareth Butterfield finds the Honda HRV surprisingly entertaining
IF you’re in the market for a crossover then there are three important boxes you’ll probably want to tick.
Firstly, it needs to look pretty good. There’s no point parking up at the school gates and feeling jealous at the sight of your mate’s Nissan Juke.
You’ll also want it to store loads of stuff, so boot space and practicality are going to be high on the agenda.
It’ll also need to be moderately high off the ground Not so high that it pitches, wallows, or begins to compete with its small-SUV stablemates, but high enough to make the driver feel more important than the one in the hatchback upon which it’s based.
Happily, Honda’s SUV ticks these boxes. I grant you, its looks are far more conservative than the first HRV which set a trend and started off the whole small crossover revolution back in the late 1990s, but the new one has a non-controversial appearance that will sit well with the style-conscious yummy mummies on the school run.
As for practicality – well, its boot is excellent. It’s one of the biggest in the class and it has an almost flat boot opening with seats that, again almost, fold flat. And there’s a bonus, too. Its rear seats fold up from the base, which makes an additional tall loading area in the middle. This, along with some decent-sized compartments in the front makes, it arguably the most practical small crossover money can buy. Although it is one of the biggest, in fairness.
With this being an ancestor of the car that started it all, it’s also got a crossover-style raised driving position, perfect for lording it over the Honda Jazz drivers. So it’s all there. Every box ticked. The perfect crossover?
Well, actually, it gets better. The Honda HRV has a trick up its sleeve that few rivals can hope to match. It drives really well.
The ride’s not perfect, but it handles better than you might think. Certainly better than a jacked-up Jazz really should. And it also has one of the best manual gearboxes I’ve used in any car, let alone any crossover. This, with its stubby little gear-lever, thick-rimmed steering wheel and supportive seats, mark the HRV out as the surprise sportsman. It’s a bit like taking your Auntie Flo to a skating rink and discovering she’s brilliant at it.
Not that that’s important to most Crossover buyers, of course. These are the people who have shunned the usually rather competent smaller versions in pursuit of something that looks like it could drive over a ploughed field but actually can’t. Crossover buyers are not exactly the GTi generation.
And it’s not as if the HRV isn’t without its faults, either. The infotainment system is pretty awful. Its layout looks cheap and feels fiddly. And the touch-screen buttons on the dashboard might look pretty but they’re actually a bit awkward to use. That said, it’s all beautifully made and very attractive.
That gearbox, incidentally, with its stubby little gear lever, might be absolutely brilliant, but the automatic option is pretty awful. It’s one of these continuously-variable units which doesn’t select ratios, but flails the revs around to match the demands from the engine. I’ve never been a fan.
What is impressive, however, is the engine range. There’s a diesel version and a petrol version and, while the 1.5-litre petrol engine is remarkably good, it’s the 1.6-litre diesel that really delivers the numbers. It’s possible to knock on the door of 70mpg and, as long as you keep it above 2,000rpm, its as punchy as it needs to be. That, mated with the gearbox I won’t shut up about, makes for a really nice, effortless drive.
It’s not the cheapest car in the sector. The HRV can be had for less than £20,000 but to get the best equipment you’re better hopping up to the mid-range SE. That version with a diesel engine would cost just over £21,000.
That said, running costs will help as not only is the MPG excellent, CO2 emissions are only a shade north of 100g/km. And, don’t forget, it’s a Honda. So it’s very unlikely to cause you any problems.
So while it’s not perfect, it’s among the best in its breed. If you’re in the market for a crossover you’ll be aware of your priorities. If price is the only factor, look elsewhere. But if you’re after something practical, good to look at and surprisingly good to drive, the Honda might be all the car you’ll need.