Overall rating: 4/5
The original Honda HR-V was present at the start of the crossover SUV boom but has been notably absent for some time, now it is back with a more conventional look that already betters most rivals. Reinforcing its case on-road is a sharp, refined chassis and an impressive diesel engine, while inside it features one of the best interiors on the market.
In the Metal:
Honda didn't give its designers the easiest of briefs when it came to shaping the new HR-V; it had to be compact yet it had to maximise every millimetre of space inside and offer all the various practicalities buyers now expect from such cars. On top of that, it had to look appealing enough to lure customers away from more well-known and popular models. The good news for Honda is that they nailed the brief.
Look around the HR-V and you'll struggle to find a bad angle on it and proportionally it works very well. From the front, the grille and headlight units form one singular design element that also draws in the bonnet and bumper. The lower section of the bumper neatly incorporates two oval fog lights and additional ventilation for the radiators. It works very well as a cohesive design. What the HR-V might lack in overall length it makes up for in height, with a roofline that appears to take a more coupé-like form to a rear, where there's a minimal overhang. Continuing that coupé style is an upwardly curving swage line that extends from the leading edge of the front doors into the C-pillar where the rear door handles are neatly integrated.
Inside, Honda has made very good use of space to give the HR-V one of the most capacious interiors of the class. Thanks to some clever packaging, such as placing the fuel tank under the front seats, the rear benefits from increased headroom as well as the integration of Honda's innovative 'Magic Seats' that can be folded flat to increase boot space or fold the seat base upwards to boost floor-to-ceiling space. A raised ride height and generously proportioned rear door apertures make access hassle free. Up front is a distinctly driver centric affair with a taller-than-usual centre console that complements what is ergonomically a very well laid out cabin. The centre of the dashboard features a seven-inch Honda Connect touchscreen, which is standard on ES and EX trim grades. Below that is a smaller secondary touch sensitive control panel that handles the ventilation and climate controls.
Honda hasn't simply set out to deliver a compact SUV that's big on interior space; on the road it performs well too. Much of the car's mass has been centralised and the centre of gravity kept low thus making the HR-V surefooted through bends. The steering has a more direct feel than many of its rivals' offerings though it remains light to the touch at slower speeds. Up the pace and the Honda corners well with little in the way of understeer creeping in. The suspension isn't perfect though; it does have the tendency to feel a little too firm over bigger bumps, but on the whole its performance will give the majority of people little to complain about.
In terms of driving position the HR-V's supportive seats and driver-centric cockpit make for a good setup though there are some niggling issues such as the low-set rear view mirror that, along with the hardware that deals with the road sign recognition system, encroaches quite a bit on forward visibility, creating a potentially large blind spot.
Playing an excellent supporting role to the chassis is the 1.6-litre i-DTEC four-cylinder diesel engine that we've already seen in the Civic and the larger CR-V. At urban speeds, the engine is little short of excellent, offering plenty of low down pulling power resulting in little in the way of engine revs to make decent progress. As the engine speed increases in lower gears so too does the noise, never to the point of it becoming overly intrusive, but we feel that Honda could have added a touch more in the way of sound insulation to really make the HR-V feel even better. At motorway cruising speeds, it feels more refined and settled on the road too. The six-speed manual gearbox not only contains a good set of ratios it is also really pleasing to use. Honda has kept a mechanical feel to the action of the short, slender gear selector.
If your preference is for an automatic transmission you'll have to look at the 1.5-litre petrol engine, as currently that is only automatic offering. A word of warning however; it comes equipped with a continuously variable transmission (CVT) that simply is not enjoyable to drive despite efforts to make it feel more like a regular automatic. It has been hinted that the diesel engine may get an automatic option but there is no definite timeline for this.
What you get for your Money:
There will be three specification grades available on the HR-V. Full pricing has yet to be confirmed but the entry-level HR-V 1.6 i-DTEC will be priced from €25,995 (a petrol-fuelled version will be cheaper). For that buyers will get 16-inch alloy wheels, Bluetooth, cruise control, automatic lights, a multifunction steering wheel, electric windows all round and climate control.
What is more likely to pique buyers' interests is the ES grade as it features 17-inch alloy wheels, Honda Connect and the Dynamic Safety Pack, which includes Forward Collision Warning, Traffic Sign Recognition, Lane Departure Warning, High Beam Support and a new Intelligent Speed Limiter. This uses the Traffic Sign Recognition cameras to automatically limit the car's speed according to the current speed limit zone. It's a smart system that in theory can virtually eliminate the risk of straying over the limit and being caught out and fined. However, we found that in cases where the system detects a drop of speed limit from say 50- to 30km/h the swift reduction in speed can be an issue to other road users.
Those seeking a more luxuriously appointed HR-V will like the range-topping EX model with its leather interior, panoramic glass roof and convenient features such as keyless entry and start. It also comes with heated seats, LED headlights, a reversing camera, roof rails, privacy glass and Garmin satellite navigation that includes free map updates for five years.
Despite being out of the compact SUV segment for some time, Honda has done an excellent job with the new HR-V. It hits the target in a multitude of key areas when it comes to practicalities but just as importantly it performs very well on the road with a highly frugal yet useable engine. If there was a new car capable of winning over a lot of new buyers it's this.