Fun-sized SUV | Honda HR-V 1.5

BY Joel Tam

This new sport utility vehicle (SUV) from Honda might be compact, but it leaves a big impression on anyone who’s willing to get behind the wheel.

First launched in Japan in 2014, the HR-V is finally here on our shores. Yes, I know what you’re thinking - the Japan Domestic Market (JDM)-badged Vezel was here a few months earlier via parallel importers. But for those of us who value peace-of-mind over price, the official car from Kah Motor is the way to go. Besides, 'HR-V' sounds way cooler.

Available in three versions, the HR-V offers a variety of specifications for potential owners. The standard HR-V, the HR-V LX that comes with a 7-inch Honda Link touchscreen infotainment unit, cruise control, paddle-shifters and keyless start, and the HR-V LX Premium that adds leather upholstery on top of the LX.

The car we have here today is the highest specced HR-V LX Premium. The car looks great from afar. Even up close, the rakish lines and abundance of curves do the HR-V lots of favours in the image department. Trendy and modern-looking, the HR-V is a really striking SUV, much like the first generation HR-V that was launched here some 15 years ago. Unlike the first HR-V though, the new one doesn’t come in a 3-door variant. However, it has combined the look by having a concealed rear door handle like the Alfa Romeo 156, 147 and more recently, the Giulietta (the new Civic hatchback will have them too).

The HR-V blends it’s handsome exterior with practical SUV usability. Step inside and you’ll find ample space for five adults, lots of storage compartment and a two-stage cupholder that allows you to flip a lid to either hold a can drink or a larger sized water bottle. The boot is pretty large as well and will easily fit three large luggage bags with space for a bit more. The seats are configured with a 60/40 fold down function to allow even more space when lugging bigger and/or longer items.

Get behind the driver’s seat and you’re greeted by a rather dark but modern-looking panel with a 7-inch Honda Link touchscreen unit in the centre. Controls for the audio system and other vehicle information like the fuel economy statistics are found here on this touchscreen. The unit also integrates a rear view camera and Bluetooth hand-free pairing function for your phone.

The triple instrument cluster has some gimmicky illumination rings that changes colour from depending on the current fuel efficiency. Foot-brakes are commonly found in Japanese cars, but the HR-V has replaced this with a push-button electronic parking brake and if located on the gearshift panel. I did long for a sunroof though. Partly because I found the interior very dark and grim. That would have given the HR-V’s interior better marks.

Time to drive it. The single cam 1.5-litre engine is paired with a continuously variable transmission (CVT), the motor produces 118 bhp and 145 Nm of torque. Drive it leisurely and the performance is fairly adequate, but demand from it anything more and you'll be very disappointed. The noise and whine that comes from the CVT is rather loud when pushed. It would still be acceptable if the car was accelerating quickly with all that din, but unfortunately, it wasn't.

Which is a shame, because the HR-V benefits from the the Honda Jazz platform on which it is based. Its handling characteristics, for a compact SUV, are pretty darn good. Both agile and nimble around the corners, you can turn hard into a corner and the SUV remains flat and stable with little body roll. Perhaps the 17-inch wheels wrapped in Dunlop rubber helped a bit, but there's no denying that the car has been engineered with an element of fun. But an additional 20 bhp would have made it much better.

The electric power steering is rather communicative too. While it's no Civic Type-R, the car responses adequately well to steering inputs and there's enough feedback to tell the driver what's going on. Most importantly though (for most drivers at least), the HR-V doesn't feel heavy to steer and is easy to manoeuvre and park.

Perhaps the biggest selling point is the way it looks. Honda will no doubt sell many HR-Vs based on that alone. That it is well equipped and drives well is a big bonus. However if you're the type who's always in a hurry and likes to get from point A to point B fast, the HR-V is not for you. It maybe a Honda and it may sport an i-VTEC engine, but this compact SUV is no pavement burner.

Did you know? That Honda in China has it's own domestic version of the HR-V. Dubbed the XR-V, the China-only model may look the same from afar, but is actually styled differently (and rather nicely if I might add).