Magic Seats and Borrowed Technology Build a Smaller Honda CUV
Add the 2016 Honda HR-V to the growing list of subcompact crossover sport utility vehicles, a category that came from nowhere but will tally close to 270,000 units sold by the end of 2015. The versatile little HR-V is also added to Clean Fleet Report’s All-Wheel Drive 30 MPG Club.
Resurrecting an Old Name
The HR-V badge for the diminutive sized crossover may be new to American car buyers, but not to those in Europe, Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines or its home market of Japan. Launched in 1999, long before consumers cottoned to the idea of a very small version of a large SUV built on an automobile chassis, the first generation HR-V was dropped from the Honda lineup in 2006.
Like its predecessor, the new version is marketed to a young demographic (read Generation Y, also know as Millennials). It caters to this group’s desire for vehicles with the benefits of SUVs, such as elevated seating position, large cargo space, along with the maneuverability and fuel economy of a reasonably priced small car.
And, just in case you’re wondering, according to Honda’s HR-V history website, the abbreviation HR-V stands for Hi-rider Revolutionary Vehicle.
Fit + Civic + CR-V = HR-V
Vehicle platform sharing—variations of a vehicle that shares most of its under-the-sheetmetal mechanical components to create different vehicles—is widespread in the auto industry. With the
HR-V Honda called on the popular Fit hatchback to supply the platform, but it is a foot longer than the Fit, which pays dividends in interior room.
Suspension duties are handled by a fully independent MacPherson strut design up front, with a torsion beam in the rear. Steering is electric rack and pinion, while stopping power is provided by ventilated discs in front, solid discs in the rear.
For motivation the automaker grabbed the 1.8-liter i-VTEC four-cylinder engine from the Civic. Here it makes 141 horsepower and 127 pounds-feet of torque. Output is directed to the front wheels via a CVT (like the original) with a sport mode and paddle shifters on uplevel models.
All-wheel drive traction is courtesy of the HR-V’s bigger brother, the CR-V compact crossover. The Real Time AWD with Intelligent Control System automatically directs power rearward whenever the front wheels begin slipping, which can include rain-slicked roads as well as snow-covered highways.
Most small crossovers are bought with fuel economy as a priority. The HR-V’s resume includes an EPA rating of 32-mpg highway/ 27-mpg city/ 29-mpg combined for all-wheel drive; 35-highway/ 28-city/ 31-combined for two-wheel drive.
The 2016 HR-V’s borrowed elements from its successful siblings are combined into an appealing and credible package.
On The Road
Unlike when I drove Nissan’s outré styled Juke, passerbys gave little notice to the HR-V; it was a visual wallflower compared to the Nissan. That doesn’t mean the Honda is ugly, it just doesn’t try too hard to get noticed.
A short, creased hood drops quickly down to a gloss-black grille with a centered, large Honda badge and air intakes above and below. The grille is flanked by a pair of upsweeping angular headlamps with LED daytime running lights set within them.
The doors feature bold creases that break up the slab-side look, while an upswept character line blends into the rear sloped roof to give a coupe-like appearance, aided by rear door handles hidden in the C-pillar.
Back side, a rear spoiler, small back window, rounded tailgate and large tailamps exhibit little identifying personality.
The 2016 HR-V’s styling is unmistakably Honda: neat, restrained but tasteful, compact in appearance and unassuming almost to a fault.
Inside, the same conservative motif from the exterior carries over to the cabin. It‘s simple with soft-touch surfaces and hard plastic materials appropriate to the price point. The asymmetrical dashboard is clean with Honda’s latest touchscreen infotainment system positioned dead center.
The driver faces an instrument cluster with a large, centered analog speedometer and a tachometer to the left and an information display to the right. When engaged, ECO Assist changes the speedometer illumination from white to green depending on fuel consumption.
A tilt/telescoping steering column along with a manual seat height adjustment made easy work of finding a comfortable driving position. The driver’s seat is terrifically supportive and its comfort
was welcomed on a 300-mile round trip from Olympia, Washington to Bellingham to visit our oldest son.
HR-V’s exceptional outward visibility and sight lines made it an easy car to drive on the freeway, in urban environments and crowded shopping mall parking lots.
Several competitors offer higher horsepower and torque numbers, but I found the engine to be more than adequate for the task of motivating the 3,100 pound cute-ute, although at 9.5 seconds, the 0 to 60 mph sprint wasn’t much of an adrenaline rush.
Overall, I was, and think most folks will be, pleased with the 1.8-liter four. Honda’s celebrated VTEC variable lift-and-timing valve technology is tuned here for a broad and powerful midrange. Peak torque is widely available, enhancing responsiveness in a wide variety of situations. However, when hard, quick acceleration was needed, the engine felt a little sluggish and the raucous drone created by the CVT is loud and annoying.
Although the HR-V doesn’t offer a sport-tuned suspension, it does have steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters. The driver can activate manual shifting by touching one of the paddles (right for up-shifts, left for down-shifts). After 15 seconds of inactivity, the transmission returns to fully automatic mode.
Want to keep it in manual mode? No problem; move the shift lever to the “S” (for Sport) position and shift to your heart’s content—it will hold a gear and adds a little fun on back country curvy roads.
The HR-V’s suspension goes the middle road between firmness and comfort. It provided a controlled ride on the highway and smoothed out problems on the road, keeping its composure quite well on rough pavement while dealing with potholes in typical small car fashion—jarring at times.
Honda’s electric-assisted power steering is better than most. It’s light, yet accurate and responsive overall, and the car feels nimble when changing direction.
This is not a carve-the-corners, athletic small crossover, and it doesn’t try to be one. Overall, the HR-V has better road manners than most of its contemporaries.
When Honda delivered the HR-V, the fuel mileage readout was an even 30 mpg. Our week of driving was fairly reflective of an average owner—a long freeway trip, in-town stop-and-go traffic and a leisurely Sunday afternoon drive in the country. After adding our 427 miles to the odometer, the pint-size crossover yielded 31.3 mpg, a couple of mpgs more that the EPA’s 29 mpg combined.
HR-V’s Trump Card
The HR-V is cleverly packaged with legitimate four-person seating—enough room to take friends to dinner. Even tall people said they felt at home in the front seats, where there’s ample head, leg and shoulder room for the six-foot-plus set.
But the HR-V’s trump card is its Magic Seats; pinched from the Fit. The interior can be configured numerous ways, accommodating everything from tall plants to bicycles and surfboards. By moving the gas tank forward to a location under the front seats, Honda designers created an extraordinarily deep—and useful—well between the front and rear seats.
The front seatbacks can be fully reclined to form a contiguous, nearly flat surface clear to the rear seatbacks, creating a chaise lounge-like setup. It’s not long enough for a good night’s sleep, but would do for a nice nap.
With the rear seats up on an AWD HR-V, there are 23.2 cubic feet of luggage space available. Folding the seats flat opens 57.6 cubic feet, which is excellent for this class. Two-wheel drive models offer a couple more cubes.
Magic Seats are a home run for the HR-V; however, there are some foul balls.
Maybe I’m old fashioned—perhaps just old—but the (usually) easy tasks of changing the audio’s volume or adjusting the temperature were complicated on our EX-L with Navi test driver. The on-
screen menus are small and confusing; the steering wheel controls were a better, but not liked, choice.
And really, Honda, who decided to place the HDMI, USB and 12-volt connections in the lower section of the two-tier center console? They are awkward to deal with when stopped, forget about it when driving.
In typical Honda fashion, the 2016 HR-V is offered in three trim levels: LX, EX and EX-L Navi and each is available in front- and all-wheel drive. Except for the CVT option on the LX and EX front drive models, the HR-V is a Prix Fixe menu—each model in the lineup has a set suite of features; factory options are unavailable.
Priced starting at $21,165, plus $880 destination charges, the LX AWD has full power accessories, air conditioning, cruise control, tilt/telescoping steering column, height-adjustable driver seat, Magic Seat, five-inch display screen, rearview camera, Bluetooth connectivity and an audio system with a USB port.
Stepping up to EX AWD at $23,215 snags heated front seats, automatic climate control, a sunroof, Honda’s LaneWatch passenger-side blind spot camera, a seven-inch touchscreen display and HondaLink.
Our EX-L with Navi at $25,840 added leather upholstery, a navigation system along with HD and satellite radio.
The Subcompact Crossover For You?
Subcompact crossover vehicle offerings jumped from three—Nissan Juke, Mini Countryman and Mitsubishi Outlander Sport—in 2014 to nine in 2015. The new choices, in alphabetical order, are:
- BMW X-1; a taste of small-size luxury.
- Chevrolet Trax; this year’s sales leader.
- Fiat 500X; the Italian job.
- Honda HR-V; it has Magic Seat.
- Jeep Renegade; most capable off-roader.
- Mazda CX-3; think Zoom-Zoom performance.
You’ll want to test drive at least two or three of these before you decide, but if practical, well-engineered interior versatility and fuel economy are your priorities, the 2016 Honda HR-V could be the one.
Related Stories You Might Enjoy:
Road Test: 2015 Chevrolet Trax
Road Test: 2015 Fiat 500X
First Drive: 2015 Jeep Renegade
Road Test: 2015 Nissan Juke
Clean Fleet Report is loaned free test vehicles from automakers to evaluate, typically for a week at a time. Our road tests are based on this one-week drive of a new vehicle, which does not address issues such as long-term reliability or total cost of ownership. In addition we are often invited to manufacturer events highlighting new vehicles or technology, during which we may be offered free transportation, lodging or meals. We do our best to present our unvarnished evaluations of vehicles and news irrespective of these inducements. Our focus is on vehicles that offer the best fuel economy in their class or are among the top mpg vehicles on the market. In addition, we aim to offer reviews and news on advanced technology and the alternative fuel vehicle market. We welcome any feedback from vehicle owners and are dedicated to providing a forum for alternative viewpoints. Please let us know your views at firstname.lastname@example.org.