Ignition: 2016 Honda HR-V
Miami Beach, Florida- Remember in the early Oughties at the height of the SUV craze- everyone complained that they were too big, too ponderous and too thirsty? Fast forward to today and while SUV’s are still popular, there’s an emerging shift towards downsizing this popular vehicle type. People are starting to come around to the fact that sky high ground clearances make getting in and out a pain in the butt, and won’t do driving dynamics any favors either. They don’t want to be shelling out mega bucks in fuel costs or for off-road capable technology they’ll frankly never use. That’s why the hottest segment in the industry at the moment is the mini-subcompact CUV market- vehicles that are built for life in the urban jungle rather than the actual one.
Drawing on the success of the best-selling (and Canadian made!) CR-V, Honda plans to take the core ingredients of what made it such a runaway success and adapt them to the HR-V platform. They aren’t going to be using the CR-V’s architecture, instead opting for the Fit as the bones of the HR-V. Actually, it’s a modified version of the Fit platform- it’s wider, longer and taller than its donor, a platform that has already been garnished with high praise for its ingenious packaging and commodious interior.
The Fit’s 1.5 litre engine isn’t up to the task of providing suitable power and torque, so the familiar 1.8 litre engine borrowed from the Civic is tapped for motivational duties. Here, it makes 141 horsepower and 127 foot pounds of torque. Neck snapping acceleration will not be part of the deal, but you can bet fuel economy will be a strong suit, not to mention that it’ll have all the smoothness and general refinement we’ve come to expect from Honda. Two transmissions will be offered- AWD versions will make do with Honda’s CVT with “G design shift” control and rejoice! – Front wheel drive versions can be teamed with Honda’s perennially slick 6-speed manual gearbox. In a first for Honda, an electronic parking brake with Auto Hold for stop-and-go traffic will be available with the automatic transmission, a feature cribbed from higher-end luxury cars.
The interior is where Honda will help to establish the HR-V as a segment defining vehicle. Five distinct seating combinations- Normal, Split, Utility, Tall and Long Modes mean that you can transport stuff like large plants and surfboards with ease. Actually, the HR-V engineers have done such a good job exploiting the Fit’s underseat fuel tank packaging that the wee utelet has more cargo capacity than bigger CUV’s like the Ford Escape and Volkswagen Tiguan-amazing stuff, really.
After learning about each nut and bolt on the HR-V, it was time to take to the streets. Thankfully, we sampled two trim levels that live at opposite ends of the offering scale- A fully loaded, AWD EX-L and a basic LX with cloth seats and a manual transmission. If schlepping stuff around is your greatest priority, it won’t matter which one you go for- both offer the same basic experience, save for more bells and whistles as you climb the trim ladder. If there’s a major difference to be found, it’s in the amount of road and wind noise that enters the cabin; we detected higher levels of grittiness in the LX version.
Shoppers should be impressed by the amount of stuff you get in the HR-V, particularly the top rung EX-L. It has all the luxury goodies including leather seats and Navigation, all bundled with Honda’s new touchscreen infotainment. Typical ergonomics champion Honda has fallen short here- even though some functions (radio volume, for example) have redundant controls on the steering wheel, the level of user friendliness here isn’t great. Everything is intuitive to use, but commands are laggy in response time- touchscreens are good for many things, but we found this one lacking. All HR-V’s destined for our ports will have heated seats/mirrors/wipers, so polar vortices of future winters will be kept at bay.
The LX model with cloth seats is probably how we’d spec our HR-V, and not just because of the manual gearbox. You still get all the versatility of the top level trims, but this one feels more like a larger Fit- zippy and tossable. Even though we’ve seen some pretty nasty winters here, a good set of snow tires should be all you need to get around safely- sure, AWD is a nice bonus, but we miss it less considering the weight savings which will no doubt in turn have a positive impact on fuel mileage. A note about the HR-V’s all-wheel drive system- it can send a full 50% of its power to the rear axle when slippage is detected. That’s more than the CR-V’s rear differential can handle, and it’s meant to imbue the HR-V with a bit more flair for handling and control.
Further benefits of the lightweight platform include a driving experience that doesn’t suck. The HR-V still exhibits the playful traits we’ve come to love with the Fit- it feels light and agile and aside from terminal understeer when the going gets too quick, it has the fun-to-drive thing down pat. It’ll be interesting to see how the HR-V stacks up against the dynamic standard of the class, the Mazda CX-3. It also rides commendably well, soaking up bumps and irregularities with aplomb- only when the suspension reached its upper limits of travel do things become a bit out of sorts. We kept reminding ourselves that the billiard smooth roads in and around Miami aren’t going to do much to challenge the suspensions’ impact absorption, meaning we’re looking forward to seeing how it will fare on our Jack Frost ravaged streets.
As you read this, the HR-V will be getting ready for summer when we expect it to start hitting dealership lots. Pricing will start in the low 20’s for the LX model, and will climb as you jump from trim to trim. Honda has to be careful here of overlap- the bigger CR-V starts at a smidge below $28,000.
Honda is predicting sales of 10,000 units per year, a lofty goal but one they should easily attain. About half of all HR-V buyers are expected to come from other brands and Honda’s research shows that the primary buyers will be mature Gen-Y’ers, followed by empty nesters. These two demographics alone should make good sense for the HR-V’s existence. With the addition of the HR-V to the Honda portfolio, buyers can now choose between three distinct sizes to find the right CUV- Small, (HR-V) Medium (CR-V) and Large (Pilot). Stay tuned for a full Road Test as soon as we can bring you one.
2015 Honda HR-V — Specifications
- Body Type: 5-door, 5-passenger CUV
- Pricing: $20,690 (FWD LX with 6MT) -$29,990 (AWD EX-L Navi with CVT)
- Powertrain Layout: Front engine/front or all-wheel drive
- Engine: 1.8-litre inline-4, DOHC, 16 valves
- Horsepower: 138 @ 6,500 rpm
- Torque (lb-ft): 127 @ 4,300 rpm
- Transmission: CVT automatic/6-speed manual
- Estimated fuel economy: 7.6L/100km to 8.4L/100 (combined City/Highway)