According to Honda, your next vehicle might well be a Crossover. This bold statement is based on the statistical fact that sales in the local Crossover/SUV segment have recently grown by more than 5% – something of an eye-opener when viewed in contrast with most other automotive segments that are seeing a decline in sales. The lure of a higher driving position, greater ground clearance and that more macho styling statement has resulted in our market being flooded with Crossovers from all manufacturers to meet the demand, and the HR-V is Honda’s latest addition to this burgeoning segment.
Honda sold the original HR-V in limited numbers locally between 2002 and 2004, which makes it a pioneer in the compact SUV segment. The latest version employs Honda’s new small-car platform (also underpinning Brio, Mobilio and Jazz) which allows the fitment of the “magic seats” in the second row that can fold completely flat to aid practicality.
According to Honda the styling reflects a merger between an SUV and Coupé. The latter is most evident in the sloping roofline towards the rear as well as the hidden rear door handles. The SUV styling can be seen in the HR-V’s purposeful stance, ground clearance and 17-inch wheels. The front end reminds of its bigger brother, the CR-V, with Honda’s signature V-shaped grille, while the standard LED lights on the 1,8 adds a touch of sophistication. The rear design is tidy with the large light clusters the obvious focal point. The HR-V appears classy with a touch of sportiness and the design received favourable remarks from most journalists on the day.
Inside the styling reminds of the latest Honda Jazz with the addition of a second-tier accommodating the climate control panel underneath the 7-inch, colour touch screen infotainment system and a lengthy horizontal air vent on the passenger side dash area. The centre console housing the transmission shift lever is raised to free up storage space underneath, including the power and USB ports. The leather-clad seats, in combination with some soft touch areas on the dash and door panels, help to impart the cabin with a premium feel, although the sea of dark grey may appear a bit sombre.
Although the HR-V is classed as a compact SUV/Crossover, it offers more interior space than most of its rivals. The sit-behind-yourself test revealed that even with my lengthy 1,94 m frame, there was still enough legroom at the back and my head was only just touching the sloping rear headliner. According to Honda, the interior space is more comparable to that of a Nissan Quashqai than, for example, a Ford Ecosport. The boot is a spacious 393 litres growing to 1 002 litres with the second-row seats folded flat. Prospective owners will be glad to hear that it carries a full size spare under the boot board.
Specification-wise the 1,8 Elegance will not be found wanting. It has climate control, cruise control, auto wipers and lights, reverse camera and Bluetooth connection for your phone, to name a few. Safety is covered by standard ABS, airbags (front side and curtain) and electronic stability control.
How does it go?
The vehicle I drove was powered by the familiar 1,8-litre naturally aspirated petrol engine delivering 105 kW and 172 N.m. Although Honda is slowly entering the downsized turbopetrol era, there is no confirmation as to when one of the new units will be available for HR-V or any other vehicles in the Honda range (bar Honda Civic Type R that is launching soon). The perennial problem with naturally aspirated units is the lack of torque at low engine speeds, necessitating a fair amount of revs before adequate forward motion is achieved.
The engine’s lack of low-end impetus is exacerbated by the fitment of a continuously variable transmission across the entire HR-V range. Although the transmission is easy-going during light throttle applications, it struggles to provide a refined driving experience when pushing on. Our test route through the Western Cape was mostly on motorways or 100 km/h country lanes which meant a lot of pulling away at junctions to join the high-speed traffic. In this scenario the CVT will mimic a downshift (or two) and hold on to the virtual gear until the redline is reached. Then the engine will sit at the redline until the vehicle speed increases to the desired speed. This results in quite a lot of engine noise and vibration seeping into the cabin. The driver can opt for paddle shifters to mimic further virtual gears for a more natural experience. In my opinion the transmission will be much more at home in the city environment where stop-start traffic is the name of the game.
The ride is well damped but on the firm side of the comfort spectrum. This enhances the feeling of responsiveness during direction changes but might hamper occupant comfort on pothole-infested roads or rough city centre environments.
The entry level 1,5 Comfort CVT comes in at R299 900 and the 1.8 Elegance CVT we drove at R354 900. This puts it at the top end of the “affordable” compact Crossover segment, placing it above a number of competitors available with similar specification at a lower price. Considering this, the HR-V also squares up to the larger SUV segment, potentially placing among such capable and popular opposition as the Nissan X-trail and Ford Kuga, which might be a problem.
Given its lofty pricing, it is perhaps a better idea to think of the HR-V as a CR-V lite. If you want a Honda SUV and the CR-V is slightly too big, then the HR-V might well fit the bill perfectly. Where it gets complicated is when you start to compare value-for-money to other players in this over-crowded segment. Even so, the Honda badge might be enough to persuade buyers to opt for the HR-V given the strong long-term ownership and reliability values for which the brand is known.
Engine:1,8-litre, four-cylinder, petrol
Power:105 kW @ 6 500 r/min
Torque:172 N.m @ 4 300 r/min
0-100 km/h:10,1 seconds
Top Speed:188 km/h
Fuel Consumption:6,8 L/100 km
Maintenance Plan:4-year/60 000 km service plan
Notes:*All claimed figures