The Most Popular Compact Crossover Gets a Baby Brother
Gas may be relatively cheap in mid-2015, but many of the polls show car buyers still remember the recent days when gasoline looked like it would top $5/gallon and keep on climbing. Meanwhile,
the automakers have vehicles coming into the market that were planned during those days of streaking gas prices. The result is a pleasant convergence of smart-size, 30+ mpg fuel-efficient vehicles like the 2016 Honda HR-V, which Clean Fleet Report recently had the opportunity to drive for a short test.
The HR-V is one of a cluster of new vehicles that have entered the market blazed by the Nissan Juke. Joining the HR-V this year are the Chevy Trax, Jeep Renegade, Fiat 500X and Mazda CX-3. We’ve got First Drives or Road Tests on the first two coming up soon. Combined with the bigger brothers—the compact crossovers—this category of vehicle has been ramping up sales and are set to become the most popular market segment, passing up midsize sedans.
In the business world that word—right-sizing—had all kinds of negative connections. It was a code word for pruning older employees and marginal assets from a corporation. I’d like to reclaim the word and apply it to the 2016 Honda HR-V. It’s got all the attributes of a vehicle that’s designed around people rather than just for people. That starts with a small footprint, based on the Honda Fit subcompact, but also includes an interior with cargo capacity on par with its compact big brothers.
In addition, though this looks like an entry-level vehicle based on its size, the list of standard features and optional equipment is substantial. The list includes
safety equipment like Vehicle Stability Assist with Traction Control, an anti-lock braking system, electronic brake distribution, Brake Assist, a tire pressure monitoring system, daytime running lights and a multi-angle rearview camera. It goes on with a half-dozen airbags, halogen headlights, LED brake lights and steering wheel-mounted multimedia controls on all models. What is controlled varies depending on the model with the base model featuring a 160-watt AM/FM/CD with four speakers and a five-inch color display while the upscale models have a 180-watt system with six speakers and a seven-inch display with high-resolution WVGA.
The 2016 Honda HR-V has a big hook for this part of the market—it’s small on the outside but big on the inside. It’s interior cargo space is almost as big as its “big brother” CR-V at almost 60 cubic feet with the back seat down. That’s only a bit more than 10 cubic feet less than the CR-V, still enough for a good Costco run.
Honda’s hope is that this becomes the new gateway vehicle for the brand, augmenting or replacing the Fit and Civic sedans by offering more functionality at a price in the same ballpark. The
Honda representative at a recent Western Automotive Journalists event said the company hopes to sell 70,000 units the first year with half of those purchases representing new customers to the brand.
Honda has always been a believer in “less is more,” a philosophy they’ve embodied in using their strong engineering foundation to crank out four-cylinder engines that not only were more fuel efficient than their six-cylinder options, but rivaled them in power. Honda have executives have long-argued that engines like Detroit’s old favorite V-8s were dinosaurs from another era and the HR-V reinforces that stance. It’s 1.8-liter four-cylinder SOHC iVTEC engine delivers 141 horsepower near its 6700 rpm redline while promising 35 mpg highway in the two-wheel-drive version with the CVT (continuously variable transmission) transmission. The least fuel economy the HR-V will give you is 32 mpg highway in the all-wheel-drive model with the CVT. Finally, kudos to Honda for continuing to offer a six-speed manual option in the two-wheel-drive models.
The 2016 Honda HR-V is going to be marketed aggressively by Honda, starting under $20,000 ($19,115 to be exact) and topping out in the mid-$20,000s with all of the bells and whistles Honda
has to offer, including a navigation system and all of the technology Honda can load into this subcompact crossover.
Based on the initial market response we’ve seen (6,000 sales in the first month), Honda appears to have hit on a winning formula.
We only had a brief time to check out the HR-V on some local roads in Monterey, CA, but that gave us a chance to push the car up some substantial hills and around some challenging corners. We did notice that the Eco-mode did change the throttle response noticeably. That might not bother you in around-town driving, but on a critical passing situation or attempting a hill climb, it can hamper your safety or sense of control in the situation.
Our most significant impression for the 2016 Honda HR-V is that of space an functionality. While it’s got a functional back seat, when you need hauling capacity that seat disappears and a spacious cargo hauling capacity is revealed.
We liked the steering wheel controls, which are standard, since they are well-placed and simple to use. They’re a great bonus for a vehicle in this class.
No one is going to mistake the HR-V as the replacement for the long-lamented loss of the S2000, even with its paddle shifters. It’s a crossover designed to deliver enough power to tackle the challenges of suburban living while delivering superior fuel economy. Like most Hondas we’ve driven in recent years, the road feel was superior to some of its competitors in this class. There was no sloppiness in the steering and every maneuver in our short drive found the HR-V delivering as-expected precise inputs to the driver. The electric power-assisting rack-and-pinion steering and MacPherson strut front and torsion-bar rear suspension, mated to 17-inch wheels, never gave a hint of instability or lack of control.
Even with the proliferation of models in the new sub-compact crossover class, the completion has to be concerned when Honda jumps into the fray. With the best-seller in the slightly larger segment (CR-V) already solidly ensconced in the showroom, the HR-V should give Honda a potent weapon in what is shaping up as the hot portion of the new car market.
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Road Test: 2015 Nissan Juke
Road Test: 2015 Honda CR-V
Road Test: 2015 Honda Fit EX