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First drive: 2023 Honda ZR-V. Image by Honda.

First drive: 2023 Honda ZR-V
Hondaís new, cleverly powered family SUV goes head to head with the Nissan Qashqai e-Power.

   



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2023 Honda ZR-V

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Honda's SUV range is in danger of becoming a bit confusing. The CR-V is a stalwart, and is now well understood, but things get a bit complex lower down. There's the HR-V, which is sold in the UK as a compact SUV, but it's offered as a completely different vehicle in the US, where it's a Qashqai-sized car.

Now, though, that Qashqai-sized vehicle is coming to Europe, and because the HR-V name is taken, it's going to be called ZR-V. No, we don't know why, either. Anyway, it's here rocking the 2.0-litre hybrid system from the Civic and Honda is promising saloon car handling with SUV practicality. The question is, can the new boy deliver?

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: Honda ZR-V Sport
Pricing: ZR-V from £39,495; Sport from £41,095
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol hybrid
Transmission: multi-mode automatic, front-wheel drive
Body style: five-door, five-seat SUV
CO2 emissions: 131g/km
Combined economy: 48.7mpg
Top speed: 107mph
0-62mph: 7.9 seconds
Power: 184hp
Torque: 315Nm
Boot space: 380 litres

Styling

A new family SUV should be quite a joyous moment for Honda Ė a brand that was once a key player but now cuts quite a peripheral figure in the UK car market Ė as itís a chance to have a crack at the big leagues. Competing with the Qashqai and T-Roc at the smaller end of the family crossover segment is generally considered a sound move for manufacturers, but the ZR-V looks a bit sad about its task.

In fact, it just looks a bit sad. The downturned grille, narrow-but-not-that-narrow headlights and drooping nose all leave it looking a tad deflated, while the rear end is in danger of being called bland. It isnít ugly Ė that would be too strong a word Ė but itís far from the prettiest or the most forward-thinking car in its class.

Interior

The ZR-V's interior borrows heavily from the latest-generation Civic, and that's no bad thing in our book. The design is a little minimalist, but it feels modern and tactile, and the wide grille that hides the air vents is a neat touch. Naturally, the build quality is impeccable, although there are one or two cheap materials lurking if you look in the right (or should that be wrong?) places.

Honda has clearly put the emphasis on technology, and to that end the ZR-V comes with a standard central touchscreen that offers satellite navigation and a reversing camera. Touchscreens are not a traditional Honda strong suit, and though the brand's technology has moved on in recent years, it's still a bit behind the best on the market. That remains true in the ZR-V, but the inclusion of Android Auto and Apple CarPlay as standard means you can at least bypass it by plugging in your phone.

And while the touchscreen software is a bit lacklustre, the digital instrument display is much more like it. It may not be as snazzy as the Volkswagen or Hyundai displays, but it's clear, configurable and easy to use.

Practicality

The ZR-Vís cabin is not just well built Ė itís also exceptionally spacious. Not only do those in the front get plenty of room to play with, but those in the back are positively flush for space. Legroom is plentiful, and headroom is ample, too, although taller passengers will prefer the mid-range Sport model tested here to the range-topping Advance because the panoramic roof impinges on space.

But it seems that boot space has been traded to ensure that rear legroom is sufficient, and this mid-range ZR-V offers 380 litres of luggage capacity. Thatís about the same as a Volkswagen Golf, but itís a long way behind the likes of the VW T-Roc and Nissan Qashqai. So while the boot isnít tiny, it is much smaller than those found in the class leaders. In a family SUV, thatís a serious omission.

Performance

Under the ZR-Vís bonnet is much the same 2.0-litre hybrid system youíll find in the front of a Civic. The system essentially uses the electric motor to drive the wheels, with the engine working as a kind of on-board power station. Only at high speeds, such as those found on motorways, will a clutch engage and the engine will drive the wheels. Overall, the system sends 184hp to the front wheels, allowing a respectable 0-62mph time of around eight seconds and a top speed of 107mph.

But more importantly, itís efficient. The official economy test suggests youíll get almost 50mpg from the system, and our tests suggested that wonít be too far from the mark. As is so often the way with hybrids, though, operating predominantly in urban and suburban environments will allow it to offer maximum efficiency.

Youíll get maximum refinement, too. The system is normally quiet and smooth across most of the rev range, but if you put your foot down itíll roar and rumble a little. But because the car effectively works like an automatic Ė it doesnít have a gearbox as such, but it has two pedals and buttons for forward, reverse, neutral and park Ė itís easy to drive in traffic and the engine wonít be called on too much.

Ride & Handling

While the ZR-Vís clever hybrid system may be best suited to suburban life, such environments fail to showcase the best of the Hondaís driving experience. Underpinning the whole car is a remarkably competent chassis that balances safety, handling and comfort with aplomb, offering enough excitement without getting scary, and without ruining the ride.

Admittedly, our first drive took place on relatively smooth European roads, so the full verdict will have to remain under review until we can drive a ZR-V in the UK. However, it showed a maturity to its suspension that allowed it to deal with most bumps almost immediately, preventing any sensations of instability for the driver. The Honda never feels unsettled by imperfections in the road, and it manages to soak up the potholes relatively well. It doesnít exactly glide over them, but it doesnít make too much fuss.

At the same time, what body roll you do encounter during corners is limited and well controlled, which makes the ZR-V feel stable and dependable in the bends. Of course, being a family car, it isnít exactly tuned for handling Ė thereís a ton of understeer if you push and the steering is quite numb Ė but itís nimble enough for the target marketís needs.

Honda has also tried to give the ZR-V a little all-weather security with a few features normally reserved for off-roaders. Thereís no all-wheel-drive option, so proper mud-plugging is out, but a bit of ground clearance and a clever Ďsnowí driving mode that limits torque to maintain traction on slippery surfaces will come in handy if paired with winter or all-season tyres. Thereís hill descent control, too, which seems a bit incongruous, but might come in handy on snowy hills.

Value

ZR-V prices start at just under £40,000, which makes this car significantly more expensive than the more practical Nissan Qashqai e-Power with which Honda aims to compete. It's a high price to pay for a car with such a compact boot, and this Sport version is even more costly, at £41,095. But you get plenty of kit as standard, including front and rear parking sensors, the digital instrument display and the Android Auto and Apple CarPlay tech. Satellite navigation and a rear-view camera are standard across the range, while the Sport gets its own grille design and the snazzy part-leather upholstery.

Verdict

There's a lot to like about the new ZR-V, and while there's no doubt customers will be attracted by the cabin space, the comfort and the hybrid system, the bland design, high price and small boot will all limit its appeal. Were the boot 50 litres larger and the price tag £5,000 lower, it would be a contender, but as it is, the ZR-V seems destined to remain a niche option alongside its rivals.



James Fossdyke - 20 Jun 2023



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2023 Honda ZR-V Sport. Image by Honda.2023 Honda ZR-V Sport. Image by Honda.2023 Honda ZR-V Sport. Image by Honda.2023 Honda ZR-V Sport. Image by Honda.2023 Honda ZR-V Sport. Image by Honda.

2023 Honda ZR-V Sport. Image by Honda.2023 Honda ZR-V Sport. Image by Honda.2023 Honda ZR-V Sport. Image by Honda.2023 Honda ZR-V Sport. Image by Honda.







 

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