- Published: Thursday, 30 April 2015 20:19
Honda's HR-V mixes a sporty coupe with a mini MPV, but does it all gel together nicely?
SINGAPORE — One of the target markets for the Honda HR-V in Singapore is obviously the young couple. I say this because the climate control system may have a fancy digital touch panel controller, but it’s still a one temperature zone affair. Which means the HR-V is for couples who haven’t been married long enough to squabble about minor things like whether the cabin temp should be 23 degrees or 25 degrees.
But then HR-Vs have always been targeted at the young, or at least the young-at-heart. The first one from the 1990s had quirky but boxy styling, and here we are in the present where the square edges have given way to a swoopy, coupe-like silhouette.
In terms of its general shape, the HR-V pretty much apes other crossover coupes like the BMW X4 or X6, but on a smaller scale.
The roofline tapers sportily to create a sort of fastback body, and the rear doors have hidden handles (a neat idea lifted from the old Alfa Romeo 156) to create the impression that the Honda is a two-door car.
Yet, it’s obviously a machine with jacked up suspension (in effect, it’s a raised version of the Jazz, whose platform it shares), and like the first HR-V it’s intended to be a lower cost and smaller companion to Honda’s main SUV (or Sport Utility Vehicle) offering, the CR-V.
The main idea, then, is a car that offers the visual slinkiness of a coupe and the practicality of a small SUV.
There’s 400 litres of boot space, along with some under-floor storage back there, but if you need more cargo room there’s always the usual hatchback trick of folding the rear seats down.
Like the Jazz, the HR-V also has flip-up, theatre style rear seats that allow you to carry stuff vertically in the passenger space — a handy feature for, say, couples who have furry creatures that they treat like their own children.
First impressions behind the wheel are that the HR-V is a breeze to drive. The controls are laid out not just neatly but logically, and there are in fact fewer buttons on the centre console than on the steering wheel.
The bulk of the entertainment system’s controls are nestled within the 7” touchscreen system’s display, while the steering wheel has clusters of buttons that operate the cruise control, the trip computer and the smartphone that you’ve paired your HR-V with.
Practicality was obviously a priority as well, because there are various nooks, crannies and bins throughout the cabin, including a sort of tucked-away compartment where USB, 12-volt and HDMI ports reside.
For all that, the HR-V’s overall ergonomics are as straightforward as they come, it’s almost as if it were designed for anyone aged three and above to drive.
On the move, it could do with more firepower, though. The engine isn’t as silent as you’d expect from a Honda, and to get properly underway you do have to rev it hard, at which point it sounds like it’s doing more to convert petrol to noise than to forward propulsion.
The transmission is probably more to blame for that. It’s a CVT (or Continuously Variable Transmission), and even though the steering wheel has gear-shifter paddles for it to mimic a seven-speed gearbox, the car’s tall ratios mean it sacrifices acceleration for fuel economy.
Indeed, the HR-V’s speedo has a ring that glows blue when it reckons you’re driving in a way that squanders fuel. Go a bit lighter on the accelerator, and it switches to green, visually nudging you towards the eco-friendliness that the engine was tuned for.
For the record, after a day with the Honda we averaged 15.5km per litre in fairly smooth traffic, according to the trip computer, so it’s at least capable of matching its fuel consumption claims, unlike some cars.
That said, the HR-V’s handling is the sort to lure you into a bit of spirited driving if you’re on a suitably twisty bit of road. The steering is fairly direct (meaning it responds rapidly to your inputs at the wheel), and there’s a built-in agility to the Honda’s personality.
Given its lofty height, it could have ended up with a tendency to lurch drunkenly through bends, but instead it’s quite well-behaved, with good body control and lots of stability.
Much of that is because the suspension’s pretty firm, so on some roads you’ll feel it if the surface isn’t smooth. But Audi’s been getting away with jittery ride quality for years by calling its cars sporty, so why can’t Honda?
Anyway, the HR-V was never meant to be a hot hatch. The main point of the crossover format is that it elevates the driver above the sea of regular traffic, which gives the driver a towering view of the conditions ahead.
Honda says the HR-V puts you roughly 10cm higher than you would be in a normal car, which ought to make it more pleasant to drive in city traffic, or in tight carparks, for that matter.
It’s tough to imagine the car being tricky to handle in even the tightest of HDB carparks, though, because the HR-V isn’t a large car. That’s not to say it’s cramped inside. Everyone at CarBuyer HQ who sat in it expressed surprise at how roomy the cabin is, particularly for rear passengers. Somehow, there’s way more real estate back there than the you’d expect of something with such a tapered roofline.
It’s not available with all that many frills (automatic wipers and headlamps aren’t available, for instance), but for $4,000 over the base model, the plusher LX version comes with a fair number of goodies, like 17 inch wheels, LED indicators on the wing mirrors, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and keyless entry and engine starting.
The base model comes with 16-inch wheels, a 5” inch screen entertainment system with two speakers fewer, and it also does without the gear-shift paddles.
Our choice is the LX (the "Premium" variant adds roof rails for $1,000), but whichever HR-V you choose comes with a five year warranty and three years’ free servicing.
That’s a fair bit of peace of mind, and it means that you won’t be spending thousands on maintenance, at least for the first few years of ownership. That’s something for young couples to think about; arguments about cabin temp are one thing, but rows about money are another matter altogether.
NEED TO KNOW Honda HR-V LX Premium 1.5-litre i-VTEC
Engine 1,497cc, 16-valve, 4-cylinder
Power 120bhp at 6600rpm
Torque 145Nm at 4600rpm
Top Speed 179km/h
0-100km/h 11.8 seconds
Fuel efficiency 6.5L/100km
Price $140,999 with COE