Honda HR-V review
The new Honda HR-V is amazingly spacious for such a compact car, and beautifully built, as you'd expect.
Neil Briscoe
Neil Briscoe
Pics by Shane O' Donoghue

Published on February 4, 2016

Good: lovely diesel engine, huge space in the back and boot, quality

Not so good: a bit pricey, steering not sharp enough, front seats unsupportive

Hello, and welcome to 1998. We're sure this will be an exciting year for cars, as motor makers such as Rover Group and Saab gear up for new models to bring them into the 21st century, and Honda, which this year will be supplying engines to the Jordan F1 team, has a new wheeze - a car that looks like a chunky, slightly futuristic 4x4, but which actually has the mechanical package (and hopefully the running costs) of a Civic hatchback. It's a mad idea, but hey, who knows? It might catch on...

Ah, hang on. We appear to have been caught in a time-loop, a chronological vortex from which (or from when, if you like) even Douglas Adams would (will, will-have, won't-have) struggle to imagine an escape. What's new is old, what's old has come back around again and all my clothes, influenced by the cast of Friends, have come back into fashion again. Sort of.

And Honda, following a full decade of a gap in production, during which every other car maker and every other car maker's dog have followed Honda's original lead down the crossover path, is now making the HR-V once again. Not the original one, obviously. That would be daft.

Mind you, it does still keep its close mechanical affiliation with the Honda Civic, with a dash of new Jazz thrown in for good measure and as those are both cars we (alright, I) really quite love, it would be reasonable to expect some good things from the new HR-V.

For a kick-off, it plays an interesting game in terms of its size. Rather like a Skoda Yeti, it's a bit smaller than the benchmark Nissan Qashqai, and could almost be considered a rival for cars such as the smaller Nissan Juke or Peugeot 2008. Ah, but Honda's engineers have played a blinder on the packaging front, so the relatively compact HR-V actually has a boot bigger (by a not-inconsiderable 30 litres) than the Qashqai and surprisingly good space in the cabin too - even with the front seats fully back on the rails, rear seat passengers should still have at least adequate legroom.

The cabin's not perfect though. While the quality levels are excellent, and this EX model comes with a massive stack of standard equipment (leather, panoramic roof, parking sensors and camera, LED lights, satnav and a big, bright touch screen) there are a few bum notes. The style is a bit quiet, a touch nondescript (something that could also be said of the exterior, which shows Honda is starting to rein in the mad styling of the current Civic) and the front seats are simply not up to snuff. Certainly, if you're on the tall side, you'll find that they're just too unsupportive under the backs of your legs, which leads to aches on long journeys.

The engine is still a belter, though. It's a touch noisier here than in the Civic, but the i-DTEC 1.6 still has some thoroughly good qualities. It's smooth and quick to rev, and the six-speed manual gearbox has you constantly turning to the Lee-Enfield rifle catalogue for comparisons. It's frugal too - 55mpg on a long journey, 45mpg around town - and has reasonably low CO2 emissions, albeit not quite as low as the Qashqai 1.5's 99g/km. Then again, it has a 15hp advantage over the Qashqai, and you could almost describe the experience as sporty.

Well, you could if someone had remembered to sharpen up the steering a bit. After the thoroughly lovely helm of the Civic, the HR-V's wheel is a bit of a let-down - it feels woolly and uninformative, and can even make the car feel a touch lurch-y on turn-in to a fast corner. The HR-V's chassis balance is actually quite good, with adequate grip and a decent ride, but the woolly steering just doesn't let you exploit or enjoy it.

It is safe though. Standard safety kit includes active city braking, plus a helpful warning that bongs when it reckons you're getting too close to the car in front. Nice to think that your kids are being carted around in something solid; nice too to think that, as with all Hondas, the build quality feels utterly bomb-proof.

Not perfect then, and we're still waiting for the compact crossover that will just blow us away with sheer brilliance, but the new HR-V, nearly 20 years on from the original, is a solid class entry and a hugely likeable car. Fix the steering and fit some nicer front seats and you'd have an easy class leader.


Tech Specs

Model testedHonda HR-V 1.6 i-DTEC EX 
Pricingas tested €32,895; starts at €23,995
Engine1.6-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel
Transmissionsix-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Body stylefive-door compact crossover
CO2 emissions104g/km (Band A3, €190 per annum)
Combined economy70.6mpg (3.8 litres/100km)
Top speed192km/h
0-100km/h10.0 seconds
Power120hp at 4,000rpm
Torque300Nm at 2,000rpm
Boot space470- to 1,533 litres
EuroNCAP rating5-star; 86% adult; 79% child, 72% pedestrian, 71% safety assist
Rivals to the HR-V