Gareth Butterfield tests the latest version of the Honda HR-V
IT’S quite hard to pigeon-hole the Honda HR-V. On one hand it’s a small, moderately sporty hatchback with jacked-up suspension, a practical interior and Honda’s legendary reliability. Or is it a jacked-up four-door coupe with a practical interior and Honda’s legendary reliability? Or is it a small SUV with no four-wheel drive, but a practical interior and Honda’s legendary reliability?
Whatever it is, be it “crossover”, coupe, hatchback or as Honda itself puts it, a “subcompact SUV”, it’s a bit niche, so it won’t be a big seller. And that’s a pity, because it’s actually pretty good.
I’ve been testing the Sport version, which packs in an inexplicably powerful 182PS engine and, I’m delighted to say, one of Honda’s wonderful six-speed manual gearboxes.
The HR-V is available with a CVT automatic gearbox, but Continuously Variable Transmission systems tend to be continuously annoying in my experience, letting the revs flail around and the noise increase disproportionately to your progress.
There’s also a lowlier, 130PS non-turbo version of the 1.5-litre petrol engine, and a 1.6-litre diesel engine, the latter being really rather good, if becoming a bit taboo. But the VTEC engine in the Sport is a marvellous thing.
Surprisingly, despite the lofty suspension and relatively high sides, the Sport version is pretty, well, sporty. It comes with performance dampers and suspension tweaks, along with a variable-ratio electrically-assisted steering system that feels far more connected than we’ve come to expect from modern cars. Especially crossovers, or SUVs, or whatever this is.
The HR-V’s exterior looks are a bit questionable, in my book, but they are lifted a bit by the slick touches of the Sport version, such as the large alloy wheels and the slightly flared arches.
Inside, a Honda devotee will feel instantly at home, as it’s all fairly faithful to the brand’s current design ethos. Chunky, simple, perhaps a bit dull, but very comfortable and practical. Sensible, y’might say. But the “red wine” leather in my test car certainly helped to give it a quirky lift.
The big strength of the interior is the packaging, though. Rear space is excellent, and the 453-litre boot is well above average. Honda’s clever “Magic Seating” has been lifted from Jazz, too so don’t be put off by the coupe roof-line of the HR-V. It’s a very practical small SUV. Or something.
While the dashboard layout is easy to figure out, and smart in a “minimalist” sort of way, the 7-inch touch-screen infotainment system feels a bit low-tech compared to a few rivals and touch-sensitive heater controls are not as good as rotary nobs and buttons – never let a dealer tell you otherwise.
Some people might struggle a bit with over-the-shoulder visibility, thanks to that swooping roof, but thankfully front and rear parking sensors come as standard from mid-level SE trim and range-topping EX models get a rear-view camera from the factory.
Handling is better than it needs to be, and there’s plenty of safety kit bundled in with all versions if you do ever get it a bit wrong.
Fuel economy is strong in the petrol versions, even the Sport, and excellent in the diesel. 70.6mpg is what they claim, so expect to get 50mpg all day long with ease.
And that just leaves us with the price. In its very basic form, the HR-V S will set you back a shade over £20,000. The better SE is currently listed at £23,650 and, if you jump all the way up to the sport, once you’ve added a few goodies, you’ll be knocking on the door of £30,000. And that’s quite a lot, even compared with some of the German competition.
But Honda’s residuals are usually strong, thanks to its reputation for building cars really, really well. And there’s always that legendary reliability to bear in mind.
So whatever it is, coupe, SUV, crossover, soft-roader, it really doesn’t matter. It might be a bit niche, but there’ll always be someone ready to fill a niche.
Fundamentally, it’s a nice car. It’s easy to live with and, with a bit of sporting flair added in it’s also surprisingly fun. Another solid effort from Honda.