Motoring

MOTORING: Honda HR-V: Adding something extra

Crossovers are a dime a dozen in the new vehicle market, promising a broader spread of talents than conventional cars. So what makes the recently updated Honda HR-V stand out from the crossover crowd?

In the ever-escalating quest for greater sales success, motor manufacturers regularly apply their design and engineering capabilities to invent new vehicle categories.

Some have been less successful (think Range Rover Evoque Convertible). But others have spawned an entirely new automotive arms race.

One of the best examples is the crossover. Initiated by the arrival of the original Nissan Qashqai in 2006, the crossover class now boasts a healthy field of competitors, including the Honda HR-V.

One of the brand’s more popular models, the HR-V regularly outsells its budget-focused siblings, the Brio and the Ballade. Recently updated, the crossover now features a slightly more aggressive front end, together with improved standard spec.

Most of the upgrades have been applied to the interior, starting with the 17cm touchscreen now offered as standard across the two-model range. It incorporates Bluetooth and USB connections, but Honda has yet to adopt Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

Instead, it offers a screen mirroring function, which allows a smartphone connection via a mini-HDMI cable – as if we need a reason to own more cables! With the Apple and Android systems enjoying increasing support, Honda’s decision to use their own, less convenient, setup is an inconvenient curiosity.

The interior is a well-crafted space in terms of look, feel and functionality. Design-wise, its pared-down execution means there are very few switches: the entire climate control setup, for example, is operated exclusively via a touch panel.

In fact, a quick look at the centre console and centre stack area reveals just eight buttons or switches (including the infotainment system), two of which control features that are nice-to-haves: an engine start button, and an electronic park brake.

The design combines with good quality materials, including a piano black finish for the centre console. Our Elegance test car also featured leather seats with contrasting stitching.

Overall, it’s a cabin that couples a strong sense of sophisticated style to decent comfort levels. Highlights include the space and versatility: rear passengers enjoy an impressive amount of legroom, and even the HR-V’s coupé-like roofline doesn’t dent headroom.

Any car hoping for success in this class requires a decent dose of versatility, and the HR-V is blessed with Honda’s MagicSeat system – one of the more ingenious designs in space creation.

With a simple movement, the rear seat squabs can be folded up to create a cavernous loading area. The car’s total load area amounts to just over 1,000 litres.

The styling upgrades for the HR-V are less extensive, but leave an impression nonetheless. A redesigned bonnet and bumper are matched to an all-LED light setup for the daytime running lights, fog lamps and headlights.

For a family-friendly car (and a family-friendly Honda at that), the HR-V’s front end looks surprisingly aggressive. Just as well, given that rivals such as the left-of-centre Toyota CH-R and the brand new, daringly different Hyundai Kona can easily steal the aesthetic show.

The rear styling changes amount to a new chrome strip in the centre of the tailgate above the number plate, and smoked taillights in the same design as the previous version. The HR-V also retains its coupé-esque shape, with a roofline that slopes towards the rear and manages to offset the MPV sensibilities that are part of the car’s DNA.

The engine line-up comprises a pair of four-cylinders: a 1.5-litre mill with 88kW and 145Nm, and the 105kW/172Nm1.8-litre unit powering our test car. The only gearbox choice across the range is a CVT, driving the front wheels.

Both motors are naturally aspirated, which always means there’s a penalty to be paid at higher altitudes. Despite that, the 1.8-litre engine worked well, delivering good all-round tractability and decent responses.

A successful crossover is one that lives up to the concept expressed by the category’s name: mixing the body size and enhanced practicality of a larger vehicle with the driveability and handling of a regular car.

It’s a party trick the HR-V performs with conviction, blending its family-focused MPV talents with the ease of use of a smaller model.

On the move, the Honda responds well to inputs and generally feels very capable in the conditions in which it’s expected to perform. It soaked up varying road surfaces without complaint.

The steering is user-friendly, and ride setup comfortable, ensuring that the HR-V delivered an easy drive. The converse, of course, is that it won’t ever be described as anything approaching “exciting”.

But then, it’s not that kind of car, nor does it pretend to be.

Delivering one of the biggest surprises in the HR-V package is the CVT gearbox. I’ve previously described the technology as everything from “not the best idea” to “hateful”, but like so many things, it is getting better with age.

While CVTs used to deliver a very good (and very annoying) impression of a slipping clutch, with what felt like an equally frustrating lack of go, they’re increasingly starting to feel like an acceptable gearbox option – or at least one that is no more intrusive than a regular automatic.

And so it is in the H-RV. Under heavy load, the CVT will still deliver an agonising, mechanical shriek, but it soon settles and normal service is resumed.

It’s also linked to shift paddles on the steering wheel, although they remained largely untouched in my time with car, simply because the HR-V never feels like it wants to be driven in a way that requires shift paddles.

Instead, left to its own devices, the CVT is unobtrusive, inoffensive and just helps the HR-V deliver an enjoyable drive.

Priced against two major rivals – Toyota’s CH-R and the now ageing Nissan Qashqai – the HR-V is an interesting contender.

For around the R420,000 mark, all three offer similar spec, but the Honda is the most powerful of the lot, and slots in between its two rivals in size, while the Qashqai is the clear winner of the space race.

This latest Honda HR-V certainly delivers on the crossover requirements of practicality and ease of use. But it also achieves a level of all-round class that isn’t common to this corner of the market – and that’s what gives it an edge over the rest. DM

PROS

A classy execution of a versatile vehicle. Engine and gearbox combo works well.

CONS

Similar money will buy a Nissan Qashqai with similar spec, but a good dose of extra space.

VITAL STATS

Honda HR-V 1.8 Elegance CVT

Engine

In-line four-cylinder, 1,799cc

Power

105kW @ 6,500rpm

Torque

172Nm @ 4,300rpm

Power-to-weight ratio

82.42 kW/ton

Gearbox

Continuously Variable Transmission

Wheels/tyres

17-inch alloy, 215/55 R17 tyres

0-100 km/h

10.1sec

Top speed

188km/h

Fuel tank capacity

50 litres

Fuel consumption (claimed)

6.8 litres/100km

Operating range (claimed)

735km

CO2 emissions

162g/km

Retail price / as tested

R419,900

HEADLINE FEATURES

YOUR NEXT ARTICLE