We get a bit of seat time in the first subcompact CUV from Honda
Upscale interior trim
Configurable and versatile interior
Low fun-to-drive factor
2016 Honda HR-V
First introduced at the 2014 Los Angeles Auto Show, the subcompact Honda HR-V seems poised to begin its own inexorable march to B-segment CUV domination, much like its bigger brother, the CR-V currently rules the compact segment.
Last week, we got our first chance for some seat time at the Midwest Automotive Media Association's Spring Rally that took place at Road America – although the 2016 HR-V never spent any time on the track and driving was limited to the rolling hills that surround scenic Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin.
Outside, the smallest Honda CUV shares the same general shape as well as a number of styling cues with the larger CR-V. This is especially true up front, where the narrow headlamp enclosures bracket a large gloss black grille comprised of horizontal bars and a single horizontal chrome trim strip.
The vertical side surfaces are broken up by a rising upper character line as well as a horizontal lower character line, with only the front door handles visible (the rear handles are hidden in the C-pillar).
In back, the two models are less similar where the HR-V features a pair of horizontal taillights in place of the CR-V's vertical units, although the HR-V does share the CR-V's license plate placement near the midpoint of the rear hatch.
The HR-V's hatch is also more swept back, while the upper spoiler is larger and more pronounced than the one found on the CR-V.
Inside, the surfaces are all soft touch. Standard technology includes Bluetooth connectivity and a multi-angle rearview camera while the standard list of features on our EX-L tester included a proximity key with pushbutton start, heated front seats, a 180-watt sound system, satellite-linked navigation with voice recognition, a leather-trimmed interior and a power moonroof.
The operation of the switchgear was flawless and the gauges are straightforward, easy to read and intuitive. Like the Fit on which it's based, only misstep we could find was the infotainment system which is entirely touchscreen-based. The only buttons are the on/off radio button just above the touchscreen and the volume and channel selector buttons located on the steering wheel.
Once again, station presets require consulting the owner’s manual. It’s not at all intuitive and although most owners will probably have to do it only once, it's annoying and shouldn’t be this difficult.
Ingress and egress for both front and rear seat passengers is excellent and the new interior is even more cavernous than that of the outgoing model with 96.1 cubic feet of passenger volume (100.1 on the LX model without a sunroof) and 23.2 cubic feet of storage space behind the back seat (24.3 on FWD models). With the seats folded, that turns into a cavernous 57.6 cubic feet of storage (58.8 on FWD models).
The front seats are very supportive, the steering wheel both tilts and telescopes, and there’s a soft-covered center console with a covered storage bin replete with an electronic parking brake switch and an exposed lower storage level that contains a power outlet as well as USB and HDMI ports. There’s also plenty of room in the back seat for two adults and even a third without too much trouble. The HR-V's versatility is also readily apparent, as it shares the Fit's "magic seats", allowing large containers to be loaded vertically when the back seat cushions are raised and locked in place.
Like the Fit, large windows and a low beltline combine to give the HR-V an airy feeling and contribute to excellent driver visibility, while a multi-angle rearview camera with guidelines – dynamic on the EX and EX-L – is standard.
Under the hood
Under the hood is an all-new Earth Dreams direct-injected 1.8-liter DOHC inline-4 producing 141 horsepower at 6500 rpm and 127 lb.-ft. of torque at 4600 rpm.
This engine is paired to two new transmissions - a 6-speed manual on LX and EX front-wheel-drive models, or a continuously variable transmission (CVT) with paddle shifters standard with all AWD models plus the FWD EX-L.
So how does it all work?
On the road
On the road, the HR-V soaked up minor road irregularities and even some larger bumps and potholes with ease. The electrically-assisted power steering did a reasonable job of telegraphing the road back to the driver and the brakes were also easy to modulate. Unlike the Fit, the muting of road, tire, wind and engine noise is fairly aggressive, making longer trips much less tiring.
On the other hand, the HR-V isn't nearly as tossable as the Fit. Keeping the CVT in manumatic mode and using the paddle shifters to up- and downshift through the 7 presets helps, but keeping things lively is tough with just 141 horses under the hood.
Honda new car prices on the HR-V, which went on sale May 15th, start at $19,995 for a FWD LX example equipped with a 5-speed manual and top out with a model like our Deep Ocean Pearl EX-L Navi AWD tester that, including an $880 destination and handling charge, has an MSRP (without accessories) of $26,720.
The Bottom Line
There’s a lot to like about the newest Honda CR-V. It’s bigger than the Fit on the outside, but it's also way bigger on the inside. It also has a smoother ride and its way quieter than its little brother.
But all is not perfect. Its CVT emits a groan on heavy acceleration, the upscale infotainment system is frustrating and much of the Fit's fun-to-drive quotient has also been lost in translation.
But who are we kidding?
Most small CUV buyers are looking for utility over handling and the HR-V has that department covered in spades. When you consider a fit, finish and utility that, at least so far, are the benchmarks of the class, HR-V owners end up with what is, in our opinion, the best overall subcompact CUV now available in the U.S.