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Driven: Honda HR-V. Image by Honda.

Driven: Honda HR-V
Compact crossovers aren't exciting, yet the Honda HR-V is a real gem.

   



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Honda HR-V

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5

Good points: exterior styling, interior quality, space, refinement, composed driving manners, real-world economy.

Not so good: it can be very expensive.

Key Facts

Model tested: Honda HR-V 1.6 i-DTEC EX
Price: HR-V from £18,495; 1.6 i-DTEC EX from £26,055; car as tested £26,580
Engine: 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder diesel
Transmission: front-wheel drive, six-speed manual
Body style: five-door, five-seat crossover
CO2 emissions: 104g/km (Band B, £0 VED first 12 months, £20 annually thereafter)
Combined economy: 70.6mpg
Top speed: 120mph
0-62mph: 10.0 seconds
Power: 120hp at 4,000rpm
Torque: 300Nm at 2,000rpm

Our view:

This might just be the finest car Honda makes right now. Strange, perhaps, to begin the review with the verdict, but the new HR-V is the car that gives most succour to Honda fans who have perhaps spent the past few years wondering a) where all the excitement and quality had gone in a post-Civic Type R/S2000/NSX era; and b) why Honda continued to charge more than any other Japanese, Korean or basically non-German rival for its products, which all had interior finishing of a 2003 standard?

Let's start with the cabin of the HR-V, then. It might seem like we've been a bit hard on Honda cockpits recently. After all, they're usually spacious, intelligently laid-out and solidly built, right? Indeed so, but in this day and age, aesthetic appeal is more important than ever. Thus, dated digital displays, huge oblong buttons and mid-grey plastics no longer cut the mustard; the CR-V and the Civic are so afflicted. The HR-V, though, along with the MkIII Jazz, are products of a new Honda era and finally, the carmaker is adding a much-needed gloss of finishing quality to the basic solidity.

The HR-V's deep, 3D speedometer is a thing of genuine beauty, despite the fact it's analogue and not the more fashionable TFT of the 2010s. Honda's Connect infotainment screen is wonderfully integrated here, so that it no longer looks a bit aftermarket, while the 'soft-touch' climate control panel below is the crowning glory, looking ultra-modern and yet proving disarmingly easy to use. There's a neat 'under-dash' storage area where the HDMI and USB slots are, the steering wheel is a lovely thing to look at and hold, the seats and the seating position are superb... it's only that blue LCD trip display in the right-hand pod of the instrument binnacle that slightly lets the side down, although we will concede it's incredibly easy to read at a glance. We're happy to say that overall, this is the best Honda interior we've ever seen.

On the outside, we will admit we've possibly previously overlooked just what a good job Honda's design team have done with the HR-V's compact body. In White Orchid Pearl (£525) and on 18-inch wheels, it is striking and the light colour lets you admire the styling flourishes on the flanks in more detail. Such as, for example, that upswept swage line that forms a dynamic ovoid shape with the sweeping glasshouse mirroring it above. Or the crease that leads off the headlights and front wheel arch, to bisect the aforementioned swage line. Or the neat sculpting at the bottom of the doors, or its short overhangs, or the attractive light clusters front and rear. Only the mounting position of the front number plate jars, making the car slightly buck-toothed, although - short of having a square item mounted to one side, in the manner of a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VI - we're not sure where else Honda could have put it.

Looks will win so many fans in the showrooms, but it's out on the road where this sort of compact crossover needs to convince, and this is where the Honda HR-V proves to be an absolute gem. While still not the most exciting thing to drive, it is more vivacious than most other vehicles in this class and it's also more likeable than some of the C-segment crossovers. The steering could be livelier and understeer will appear before the chassis does anything else, but keep within its parameters and you can stoke the HR-V along your favourite road at a decent lick and have a pretty fun time behind the wheel while doing so. There's another cracking Honda manual gearbox in the mix here, topped with a fantastic, stumpy little round lever that's wider at the top than the bottom.

Of course, such back-road hooning is not the HR-V's raison d'Ítre; it's just a bonus on top of its utterly cultured demeanour for regular driving duties - characterised by one of the best rides in the business. The Honda lollops along without the body bouncing, soaking up undulations and crunchy bits of tarmac with aplomb, which makes it supremely easy to cover either ten miles to the shops or 150 miles of motorway for a business trip. It's also very quiet, the suspension free from clonks and rattles, wind noise minimal and tyre roar eliminated before it gets to the cabin. And the 1.6-litre i-DTEC engine is a smooth, quiet peach. It's an excellent machine that thoroughly endears itself to the driver in a way many rivals do not.

And we've not even touched on its practicality. With a 470-litre boot, rising to 1,533 litres with the rear seats down, this thing is big enough within to sweep class honours on cargo capacity. Further to that, we got 57.6mpg out of it across 550 miles at 53mph, an average speed that shows we were hardly driving it sedately. That's a phenomenal economy return, even if it doesn't match the quoted 70.6mpg, and as turbodiesels tend to loosen up with miles, in reality over 60mpg is possible, from a tall car that has enough power for it to never struggle to keep up with traffic flow.

The only fly in the ointment comes with the typically robust price, because the Honda starts from £18,495 - a sizeable chunk more than the entry points of the Nissan Juke or Fiat 500X ranges, as examples - while a top-ranking EX diesel like our test car starts at £26,055. Which is a lot of cash. You do get navigation, a panoramic roof and a load of toys for that money; although for some people, over £26,000 for a vehicle that shares a few mechanicals with the Jazz city car is a seriously hefty amount.

Anyway, to return to the queries at the top of the piece, Honda's excitement factor going forward is being handled by the turbocharged Civic Type R and the new NSX - here's hoping an S2000 follow-up isn't too far away. And, with the HR-V, we can at last say of a modern Honda that you get what you pay for. It might not be cheap, certainly not in range-topping EX trim as tested here, but it feels worth every penny and it's our favourite small crossover of the moment. So good is it, in fact, that we'd also recommend it ahead of pretty much anything in the Nissan Qashqai segment above - including its own brother, the CR-V. Bravo, Honda, keep making 'em like this.

Alternatives:

Jeep Renegade: square-edged where others are curvy, the Jeep also has a fine 1.6-litre diesel engine. Ride not as smooth as the HR-V's and the Renegade's bluff shape hinders economy.

Toyota RAV4: new looks outside are sharp enough, but the dated interior is mediocre at best, while the Hybrid model is saddled with an awful CVT transmission.

Vauxhall Mokka: 'Whisper' diesel is a great unit, although - like the Honda - decent Mokkas are well into 20 grand territory for price. Drab interior and dull driving manners let the Vauxhall down.


Matt Robinson - 15 Mar 2016



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