DRIVING IMPRESSION: Honda HR-V 1.8 Elegance CVT
It would be fair to say that when it was launched locally 13 years ago, the original Honda HR-V was never really going to set the sports-utility-vehicle (SUV) market on fire. After all, it came at a time when the majority of SUV’s were still bulky and about as efficient as a sinking oil tanker.
Despite featuring a permanent four-wheel drive system, its somewhat cutesy styling and small 1.6-litre petrol engine didn’t really capture the attentions of buyers the way Honda wanted. While sales proved to be fair, global HR-V production came to an end after 2006.
Nine years down the line however, the segment for compact crossover SUV’s has become the most competitive and fastest growing in South Africa, as many consumers continue to shy away from buff and rough offerings, in favour of something stylish and capable of conquering the urban environment instead of the African plains.
Having gone on sale in Japan two years ago as the Vezel, the ever increasing pressure of being present in the segment has seen Honda opting to introduce a slightly revised version of this model to South Africa as the second generation HR-V.
While its predecessor was often viewed as being aimed towards woman, there is no doubt that the new HR-V, tested here in range topping Elegance spec, takes a more bolder approach in the styling department.
With its distinctive V-shaped front clip, protruding black and chrome grille, projector type LED daytime running lights, rising shoulder line and the same coupe-like profile seemingly inspired by the North American Acura ZDX, the HR-V defiantly rates as the most striking yet elegant offering in the segment today.
Similarly, the layout and feel of the interior hides no secrets as to the HR-V’s premium aspirations. In addition to the soft touch plastics and tickly padded stitched leather on the dashboard, door handles and gear lever, the high gloss black finish around the seven-inch touchscreen infotainment system and on the floating centre console, not only looks smart but adds an element of luxury to an already impressive package.
In another first, the HR-V does away with the traditional myriad of buttons and knobs used for the ventilation controls, in favour of a touch sensitive display at the base of the facia. Not only is this easy to use, but the setup looks clean and futuristic, with the latter especially true of the three side-by-side air vents on the passenger’s side.
Geared towards user-friendliness, the aforementioned media interface proved a doddle to use and effortlessly connected with the Bluetooth on my smartphone without so much as a few seconds wait.
Where the HR-V really ups its stride is in the utilisation of space. Riding on the same platform as the Honda Jazz, rear passenger head and leg room is impressive despite the sloping roofline, while the boot is capable of swallowing up to 393-litres of cargo which increases to 1 003-litres with the rear back folded down.
Like with the Jazz, the HR-V comes fitted with Honda’s flip-up Magic Rear Seat system that allows for the lugging of bigger items without having to lower the rear seats.
Cementing its range topping status, standard spec includes dual USB ports and HDMI connectivity, in-car Wi-Fi, keyless entry/go, push button engine stop/start, heated front seats, rear parking sensors with reverse camera, rain sensing wipers, auto lock/unlock doors, Hill Start Assist, six airbags, ABS with EBD, EBA and VSA.
In a segment mostly dominated by small-displacement turbocharged petrol engines, the HR-V’s foregoes this trend in favour of a 1.8-litre normally aspirated petrol engine found in the Civic. More controversially however, drive goes to the front-wheels via a Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) that is often regarded as not ideal given is tendency to wine and send revs too high compared with a normal torque convertor automatic.
As dividing as CVT’s might be, progress has moved along swiftly as evident when slotting the HR-V’s gear lever into Drive. While the characteristic wine is noticeable, the box makes the most of the engine’s 105 kW and 172 N.m of torque to provide a seamless drop in momentum as you accelerate.
Click the lever into the Sport mode, the box allows for the manual shifting of seven simulated gears via the steering wheel mounted paddles - which itself proved to a treat as this was a first for me - and would hang on to each ratio longer than in normal Drive mode.
For optimal fuel saving, a special ECON setting makes throttle response less sharp and gear changes slower in the name of consumption, which can be monitored on the trip computer programmed into the infotainment system.
On the move, the HR-V proved to be an effortless cruiser thanks to its incredibly comfortable seats and a soft yet informative ride setup that took the various imperfections in its stride.
While its entry to the segment has been long overdue, the return of the Honda HR-V is sure to leave many rivals worried. With its striking looks, premium levels of fit and finish as well a commendable drivetrain combo, the HR-V can no longer be dismissed as a serious compact crossover contender.
|ENGINE LAYOUT||DOHC 16v Inline 4|
|MAX POWER||105 kW @6500 rpm|
|MAX TORQUE||172 N.m @4300 rpm|
|DRIVE LAYOUT||Front engine; Front-wheel drive|
|ACCELERATION [0-100 KM/H]||10.1 sec|
|TOP SPEED||188 km/h|
|FUEL CONSUMPTION||6.8 L/100 km|
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