Honda recently updated its HR-V compact family car range by adding more interior features and applying a slight nip/tuck in the looks department. Are the revisions sufficient for the Japanese firm to garner a bigger share of this fiercely-contested segment?
We like: Practicality, fuel economy, ride comfort, surprisingly competent on gravel
We don't like: Average infotainment system, frustrating powertrain
- Price: R419 900 (Dec 2018)
- Engine: 1.8-litre 4-cylinder naturally aspirated petrol
- Gearbox: 7-step CVT
- Fuel economy: 6.8 L/100 km (claimed)
- Power/Torque: 105 kW/172 Nm
SERIOUS ABOUT BUYING?
Where does it fit in?
There aren't many changes to the Honda HR-V, but it's a practical offering in a segment where style sometimes trumps function.
If you're a volume producer without a crossover or SUV in your line-up, you may as well close up shop! Almost every passenger vehicle brand listed on Cars.co.za's New Car Specs & Test Drives page offers an SUV in some or other price bracket (Abarth, Datsun, Smart and Tata are the exceptions) in South Africa. Suffice to say, then, that competition for market share is high and it's going to take something special, or the right set of circumstances, for a product to really stand out above its rivals.
Honda has been at the SUV game for some time now and has won many awards for its CR-V family car. Below that sits the HR-V, a smaller, yet almost-as-practical offering. It was recently facelifted for 2018 and we got a chance to sample the newcomer.
There are mild changes to the look of the HR-V to bring it in line with Honda's global brand identity, such as a new front bumper, reshaped bonnet and redesigned headlights. LED fog lamps feature on this top-spec derivative, as do LED daytime running lamps. Inside, there's nicer leather trim, along with some spec upgrades.
The good stuff
Honda's Magic Seat system in action.
The Honda HR-V has never skimped on space and practicality, and this latest iteration remains right up there among the best in the compact family car class in terms of seating versatility and load capacity. The HR-V makes the Mazda CX-3 and Toyota CH-R's rear occupant space feel cramped by comparison, and it's just a whisker behind the segment-leading Nissan Qashqai in terms of luggage capacity. At a claimed 393 litres, the HR-V's bay has enough space for large suitcases for a weekend away. Fold the seats down flat (by using Honda's Magic Seat system) and you can happily fit in a full-size mountain bike without taking its front wheel off.
Look at all the room for activities. Honda's Magic Seats convert the HR-V into a panel van (well, you know what we mean).
Generous standard spec
In this top-spec 1.8-litre Elegance derivative, a commendable set of interior features is availed. There are heated seats, keyless entry/start, reverse-view camera (and rear parking sensors), climate control, 17-inch alloys, leather interior, auto headlights, auto wipers and a 6.8-inch touchscreen infotainment system. The latter has USB and HDMI ports and supports screen mirroring for a connected device. Android Auto/Apple CarPlay is not supported, despite it being available on Euro-spec versions.
In terms of safety features, the HR-V offers a comprehensive suite: ABS with EBD, emergency brake assist (EBA) and emergency stop signal (ESS) activation. Stability control is standard, as are Hill Start Assist and a high-mounted, 3rd brake light. ISOfix child seat anchor points and 6 passenger airbags are fitted.
The basic infotainment system. It's not the most intuitive setup; it took us some time to access the Bluetooth connectivity for music streaming.
Pliant ride quality
Our test period coincided with a road trip along Route 62 in the Western Cape. In the sub-R500k segment, there are few cars as relaxing to drive as the HR-V. Not only does it offer a comfortable ride quality, but it's also pretty quiet, disproving the myth that many of Honda's contemporary models are poorly finished and unrefined.
The HR-V's steering has a reassuringly solid feel to it and, in terms of general road-holding, it feels sure-footed, both on and off the asphalt. During a sojourn up the astonishing Swartberg pass, which features gravel roads at best and rutted "routes" at worst, the little Honda felt completely at home despite its lack of all-wheel drive.
Overall, the test unit demonstrated its versatility as weekday people-mover and weekend gravel grinder (within reason) to our satisfaction. Admittedly some of the larger rocks on the off-road route were unavoidable and the Honda's ground clearance wasn't quite sufficient at times, but the HR-V showed no signs of wear and tear.
The HR-V in 1.8 Elegance trim rides on 17-inch alloy wheels which offer a great balance of ride quality and style.
The not so good
Poor powertrain refinement
The naturally-aspirated 1.8-litre 4-cylinder petrol motor at the heart of the HR-V isn't fundamentally a bad engine – it's a willing powerplant, but in typical Honda fashion, you need to explore the upper reaches of its rev range to get the best out of it. However, we think it's counter-intuitive to combine a middling torque output (172 Nm) with a continuously variable transmission, which is conservatively mapped to keep the engine low in its rev range to satisfy fuel economy and emissions requirements.
It's adequate around town, but you'll encounter some harsh engine noise when executing overtaking manoeuvres on the open road. Honda SA doesn't offer any engines other than the 1.5-litre and 1.8-litre units, which is a shame as a 1.6-litre turbodiesel and all-new 1.5-litre turbopetrol engine feature in the UK's HR-V lineup.
The Honda HR-V cabin is neatly laid out and dotted with many practical solutions, such as the phone/key recess under the transmission.
That said, the 1.8 Elegance returned impressive fuel economy figures during its tenure in our test fleet. After a combination of open road cruising to Prince Albert and negotiating gridlock traffic jam conditions in Cape Town, our HR-V test unit went home with 7.5 L/100 km on its trip computer, which is better than we expected.
Pricing and Warranty
The Honda HR-V range starts at R354 900 for the 1.5 Comfort, while this 1.8 Elegance derivative costs R419 900. The prices include a 5-year/200 000 km warranty, a 4-year/60 000 km service plan. Services remain at 15 000 km intervals.
The Honda HR-V is an honest and practical family SUV
If you regularly bundle the family and the proverbial kitchen sink into your vehicle, you should add the HR-V to your car shortlist. It's a well thought-out and practical SUV, which is great in and around town. The build quality isn't quite up to that of its rivals, but given its price and breadth of abilities, it's just about forgivable. Open roads and national highways are its Achilles Heel, however, and the engine's talents are neutered by the economy-at-all costs CVT. The Honda HR-V makes a good case for itself at this price, however, as its two key rivals can't match it in terms of outright practicality. We also think the Honda reliability factor should result in trouble-free ownership.
Alternatives (click on the names for specification details)
Toyota's most stylish newcomer burst onto the scene with a perky turbocharged engine and commendable driving dynamics. However, it was initially lacking in safety (since rectified with a Plus model) and its luggage space is limited.
The Mazda suffers the same malaise as the C-HR. In an effort to offer compact dimensions and fun-to-drive dynamics, the luggage bay is small and rear legroom frustratingly cramped. The Mazda does offer a more spirited naturally-aspirated engine than the Honda, however.
The winner of this lineup. Not only does it offer a variety of engines, but its the most practical model here. It's also the most refined and pleasant to drive.
Looking for a new/used Honda HR-V to buy?
Find one on Cars.co.za today by clicking here