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Hybridised HR-V is Honda’s route to interim petrol efficiency



What Honda does not know about petrol-electric hybrid technology is hardly worth knowing, states Iain Robertson, as the Japanese carmaker neutralises its styling stance but insists that it has a viable route to meet future transportation demands.

Due in the UK this autumn, Honda’s new HR-V has ditched diesel defiantly to rely on petrol hybrid engineering, rather than barrel headlong into the EV sector, a factor that I can appreciate, when contemplating the firm’s broader strategy towards alternative fuel options. After all, the company can change direction with moderate speed, having productionised all-electric, part-electric and, more notably, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles over the past twenty-odd years.

Toyota would argue that it was first to market with hybrids, which might be true in Japan but Honda launched the intriguing first-generation Insight in the UK, prior to the Prius’ arrival. I was fortunate enough to enjoy twelve months’ stewardship of the delightful and incredibly advanced two-seat coupe model, which demanded a somewhat different mindset in both usage and maintenance. While it was capable of generating double-takes from interested observers, who might spot its visual similarity to the earlier and much missed CRX sports coupe, it was a markedly different proposition.

If anything, the original Insight was every bit the radical newcomer for a new age, introduced at least a decade before any other carmaker dared to follow suit. Its carefully streamlined bodywork (drag coefficient of 0.25), with chamfered fenders, rear wheel fairings and a virtually flat underbody was a glimpse into the future that had turned concept into tactile reality. Despite a compact battery pack located beneath the boot floor that also offered a deep bin for storage long before the most recent Ford Puma declared that it had done it first, it also obviated even vestigial rear seating, the Insight innovated with lightweight construction (850kgs) using lashings of plastic composites and aluminium alloy.


It demanded caution. Doing a ‘William Woollard’, with one foot placed jauntily on a front wing, was a sure-fire way to bend metal. Slamming the bonnet carelessly could cause a visit to a specialised coachworks. As a now-deceased colleague proved, smoking a ciggy without due care would cause irreparable damage to the eco-friendly seat trim, which was far from fire resistant. Powered by a diddy 1.0-litre petrol-triple that was linked directly to an electric motor that fed a 144v Nickel Metal-hydride (NiMh) battery pack, it developed a meagre 67bhp boosted by 13bhp of battery power. It was enough to whisk an Insight from 0-60mph in around 11.0s, topping out at 112mph (more, in the right conditions), while returning in excess of 80mpg.

The latest variation on the theme is known as ‘e:HEV’ and, in the new HR-V model, its 1.5-litre displacement across four cylinders produces a total power output of 128bhp, the driver being able to draw on an impressive 186lbs ft of torque. Its fuel-efficient hybrid system emits CO2 at around 122g/km and consumes fuel at a conservatively quoted rate of 52.3mpg (both WLTP official figures). Combined with a pair of electric motors, it means that the HR-V can be accelerated from standstill to 60mph in a modest 10.3s, with a top speed of around 118mph. It is quite different to Insight in that it is a five-seat crossover and a lot heavier. However, its most important benefit is that there is no need to plug-in and charge the battery, which also removes range anxiety. The HR-V combines responsive performance and efficiency equivalent to an electric vehicle but with the usability and flexibility of a traditional petrol powerplant, for the moment.

Left to their own devices, the car’s three drive modes swap seamlessly between each other to ensure optimised performance of each component regardless of driving situation. The intelligent Electronic Control Unit cycles automatically and constantly between electric, hybrid, or engine, dependent on which is the most fuel-efficient drive mode at any given time. When driving at a sustained high-speed, such as on motorways, the system operates on engine power, as that is the most efficient for that scenario. If further acceleration is required, such as when overtaking, the car will switch to hybrid drive for the extra performance boost. Yet, power from the engine-driven generator can be diverted to recharge the battery, offering additional efficiency benefits.

Should the driver intervene, ‘Sport’ mode can be activated via the drive selector, which sharpens throttle responses, while the ‘Econ’ mode adjusts the air conditioning system and pedal response for an emphasis on fuel efficiency. Left in ‘Normal’ mode, the HR-V is best balanced between both scenarios, but the driver can select all driving modes at the twist of a switch to personalise his driving style.


On the other hand, for a more EV-like experience, drivers can also select B-range from the transmission, which offers a choice of energy recovery levels, when coasting, or braking. The level of energy recovery and the resultant deceleration force can be increased substantially over the normal D-range, simply by tapping the paddles behind the steering wheel cross-spokes. For what it is worth, the transfer between the drive modes, which also includes the stop:start function, is all but imperceptible. Rather than using a conventional power split system, with a planetary gearbox that would create high levels of friction, the fixed gear transmission creates significantly reduced resistance, which means that the HR-V consumes less energy, when driving in pure electric mode.

Finally, you might notice that the fussiness of the front-end styling of previous generation Hondas has been replaced by anodyne parallel ribs. At their best, Honda models have looked unadorned but comfortable in their panel work. At their worst, any semblance of a familial appearance has been overly ornate and overwrought. The new HR-V virtually defies description at the front, although the rest of the car fits into a typical crossover vibe.

Conclusion:          If looks sell, Honda will lose out with the new HR-V. Yet, as a driver’s car, it more than passes muster, with a better proportioned cabin than before and a usefully efficient drivetrain. Until an all-electric version is demanded by the changing new car market, hybrid technology offers a better alternative.