Honda returns from ‘the dead’, with its best compact crossover ever
At long last, Honda has awoken from its torpor and produced a car worthy of the brand badge, states Iain Robertson, its revised but ostensibly all-new HR-V tackling brand issues head-on, with a renewed sense of vigour and vital enthusiasm.
Honda has been under the cosh recently. Its announced departure from producing cars in the UK is a major disappointment that is sure to hurt brand sales overall, especially from its most dedicated customers. Yet, while it admits that ‘Brexit’ was not behind its decision to reinforce its manufacturing stance in North America, it is also closing its production facility in Turkey. The fall-out in the UK will be serious, not least with employment levels in Swindon, Wiltshire.
From having been a total fan of Honda motorcars for many years, my own position altered significantly in recent times. The company has been behaving like a headless chicken for the best part of the past decade, seemingly unable to address its new car market with any success, or judicious definition. Recognising that its Legend, Accord and even FR-V models were bordering on being out-of-step with market demands, all of its manufacturing effort was being concentrated on both Civic and CR-V models. Even its outgoing HR-V was like an ‘afterthought’, from a company that had led the market in decades past.
Completely unexpected, the company has launched a much-altered HR-V, its junior-league SUV, or more correctly crossover model. Featuring sportier styling and detailing, the new Honda HR-V is now the company’s most sophisticated subcompact crossover model ever. Every single aspect of the car has been improved and it now benefits from enhanced driving dynamics and a wider choice of fuel-efficient engines that include 127 and 179bhp versions of the 1.5-litre petrol (non-turbo and turbo versions) and a 117bhp 1.6-litre ‘clean’ turbo-diesel. All engines are mated to a six-speed manual transmission as standard, while the petrols are also available with Honda’s truly intelligent (7-speed, reactive) CVT automatic that works with and not against the driver.
Inside, the 2019 HR-V offers impressive interior space and, thanks to innovations like Honda’s wonderful Magic Seat system, as featured on the Jazz hatchback, high levels of versatility. Higher grade soft-touch materials define the cabin as an optimal blend of new-found practicality and refinement, while also lifting its status several vital levels upwards. In overall design terms, the car combines the elegance and fluidity of a coupé, with the utility and durable strength of a crossover.
On higher-grade models, the alloy wheels have a new 17.0-inch diameter design, while headlights and rear lights are upgraded to full LED units. Noise insulation improves interior refinement and extensive aerodynamic developments below the car enhance vehicle stability at speed. Very few aspects of the previous generation model remain untouched.
The HR-V Sport variant features a dynamic styling pack, which comprises a slim front splitter, side skirts, wheel arch mouldings and a more aggressive rear bumper, all finished in black. It also includes black door mirror caps, dual exhaust pipes and 18.0-inch alloys. This version cracks 0-60mph in 7.5s (9.9s for the lower-powered petrol engine), with a top speed of 133mph, while emitting 151g/km CO2 and up to 42.2mpg (WLTP figures). If you desire fuel economy, the diesel returns up to 56.5mpg.
A Synaptic Damping Control (SDC) system is fitted to all models as standard and enhances both ride comfort and handling by modifying damping forces according to the road surface and driving conditions. In driving the car, you can feel it muscling sinuously over the road surface but it is never unsettling and retains a big percentage of control for the driver and comfort for occupants. Thanks to increased frame rigidity (up by over 30%), the HR-V delivers reassuring handling characteristics that whisk it to the top of the class. Its motion adaptive electric power-assisted steering system helps to minimise understeer, to result in exceptionally linear driving behaviour making HR-V one of the most confidence-inspiring cars in the crossover segment, especially if driven enthusiastically. In many respects, the new HR-V feels (in Sport trim) as dynamically gifted as the Honda CRX sporty coupe of the late-1980s, which proves a long-held suspicion that Honda was fearing its own past needlessly.
Its boot capacity of up to 470-litres with the rear seats upright, increases to 1,103-litres with the rear seats folded. Honda’s renowned Magic Seat system serves to increase overall cabin practicality, its flip-up rear seat bases providing carpeted storage within the cabin, should it be required. When I first experienced the Magic Seat set-up in the original Honda Jazz, I postulated that Honda should factor it into any and all of its hatchback models. That the company did not, I believe, is much to its loss.
As you might imagine, the new HR-V is packed with electronic driver and safety aids, while connectivity levels are at an advanced level. With dramatic comfort improvements, with better seats, improved driving position and seemingly better space utilisation, Honda appears to be shaking-off the atrocious torpor that seemed to set-in in the period following its founder’s passing in the early-1990s. The simple truth is that it seemed to be too readily diverted by its Type-R Civic model, which has never met true consumer expectations head-on but, from which, it could never hope to survive.
In just one model, this new HR-V, the company has shaken itself down and resurrected all that we once believed Honda was capable of. All of which combines to make the new HR-V one of the most complete examples of Honda’s sometimes troubled model lineage. It still has an immense amount of work to do and I admit to having stated that Honda had fallen off my personal new car radar but the new HR-V serves to re-hike it into ‘superbrand’ status!
Conclusion: Honda needed to demonstrate that it had not lost its mojo and the comprehensively revised HR-V highlights that it has returned lock, stock and barrel. The new car goes on sale imminently and prices will be announced nearer to that time.