I understand that there is a need for a certain number of off-road and sport utility vehicles in the world. A Ford Mondeo is a fine car, but I don't fancy its chances on the sand dunes of Africa or the Amazonian jungle. Back here in the UK though the need for an SUV is reduced. Admittedly we sometimes
have a snowy winter, and the jobs of some people are made easier by the use of a vehicle which can tackle a variety of terrains. My one major problem though is one I know I am not alone in having - the school run. There is no reasonable reason for using something along the lines of a Mitsubishi Shogun
to ferry a single kid two miles to school. As I see it, there are a few excuses (note I didn't say "reasons") for purchasing an SUV that is to be used for this purpose only:
- Status: In the same way as an executive car on the drive says something about the owner, an SUV seems to have attained a similar standing in society. If a buyer pays £15,000 for an off-roader, he is seen to be better off than the buyer that spends the same cash on a family saloon. This effect has probably been passed down from the likes of the Range Rover
, which came with a glovebox full of gravitas.
- Visibility: I agree that the view out of a taller vehicle is nice, but not much good when all cars are as tall as yours. Are we going to end up using ladders to climb up into the driving seat?
- Practicality: Modern saloons, estates and MPVs are much more space efficient than the average SUV. Unless you do a good deal of towing then a regular car should meet your needs. You certainly will not fit more kids into the average 4x4.
- Safety: Unfortunately, despite perceptions, large SUVs are not the safest vehicles to be in. Sure, the greater mass should mean you come off better in an accident with a smaller car, but my point about everybody else driving the same type of vehicle soon negates that theory. The truth is that most SUVs have worse passive safety thanks to their high centre of gravity and increased mass, which means that the car is more difficult to slow down and steer in an emergency situation.
Now that I've got that off my chest, how does the Honda HRV fit in? Well, this is the question I found myself asking having spent a week with the car. The HRV looks like a mini-SUV. It is chunky and purposeful in appearance. The ground clearance is also noticeably generous. Reading through the technical specification you will note the sophisticated part-time four-wheel drive system. However, you will not want to put muddy boots on the slick black interior and once you drive the car you will soon realise that the 1.6-litre engine is not really up to towing anything of any serious weight. It appears that the HRV is one of the first attempts at giving the school run drivers just what they want, but with as little compromise to the planet as possible.
The Honda HRV is good looking in a cheeky way, and certainly looks more expensive than its £15,000 price tag suggests, so the neighbours and fellow school-runners will be suitably impressed. Unfortunately, the funkier three-door version is no longer on sale in the UK, though its looks were its only advantage over the five-door tested here, which has 100 mm more in the wheelbase. This translates into ample interior space for four to five passengers, though the boot is not large enough to take the luggage of a family for a week, never mind a family doing leisure pursuits (as SUV buyers are portrayed to do), and the hatch itself is all too easy to head butt. The driving position is good, and all the major controls are slick and pleasing to use. The gearchange is light and quick, though lacking feel. The steering is well weighted, as are the pedals, which are also perfectly spaced. The quality of the trim is impressive too, with a solid tactility to most items that move. Bits and bobs have plenty of space in the cabin, with two glove boxes and many cubbyholes scattered around. Perfect for those spare pencils and hair bobbles...
Despite all this, I expected the HRV to be quite a spritely performer. After all, the 1.6-litre engine has Honda's renowned VTEC system, and the car is not all that heavy. I was quite disappointed that the HRV is a slouch, though our test car only had 1200 miles on the odometer. The HRV demands a heavy right foot to get anywhere fast, but I can't imagine the average HRV buyer wanting to drive in that fashion. At motorway speeds, the large tyres do not help matters by adding to the rolling resistance. Thankfully, the four-wheel drive system is only part-time, and automatic too. In the dry, it is quite difficult to lose grip, but if you are a hooligan, and the front wheels spin, power is transferred to the rears. It is quite a clever system, with obvious benefits over full-time four-wheel drive. However, I can't help but think that a two-wheel drive only version would be a better choice for the majority of drivers. Especially with the weight reduction and accompanying improvement in fuel economy.
I suspect that Honda were not brave enough to make an SUV which did not put its power through all its wheels. After all, the HRV was launched in 1999. Today though, the market seems to have a place for vehicles that mix the best of the car with the advantages of an SUV or MPV. For example, the Ford Fusion and the Rover Streetwise. Perhaps the next generation of HRV will follow the same route. As it is, the Honda HRV may well be a good school run car, though it could do better.