The Honda HR-V, the original, the progenitor sub-compact SUV began life in 1999. And that’s the automotive history lesson over with. Let’s just say one of the most interesting aspects of the Honda HR-V is the name. The initials stand for “Hi-rider Revolutionary Vehicle”. Now in its third generation the HR-V, compared even to the second-gen, is finally leading the revolution Honda’s marketing team so badly desired. Good design is such an important selling point in any industry. For many years, Honda gave the impression that its design values traded the route of a safe conservative approach over a here today gone out fashion tomorrow vehicle design strategy.
Not anymore, for the 2022 HR-V it is clear Honda has spent extra time validating their new design language both for the exterior and interior. It’s proportionally (almost) perfect and a great way to introduce a new more modern image. It’s as though the new HR-V is mobilizing Honda into finally saying, enough is enough, we are now prepared to fight it out. The HR-V is a subcompact-class SUV, on the opposite corner, the competition consists of the Skoda Karoq, Nissan Qashqai, and Ford Puma. So no pressure then.
The entire range is powered by a single engine, a turbocharged 1.5-liter, 4-cylinder hybrid petrol engine and two electric motors that combine to output 129bhp.
Three engine modes allow for three states of driving, Eco, Normal, and Sport which is equivalent to ponderous, interesting, and peppy enough for most. It’s up to you what mode to select, I always preferred Standard mode, because I am not too fussed about speed in a compact SUV. Standard drive mode is the best of both worlds, you let the on-board computer sort out the hybrid stuff and just allow yourself the freedom to drive.
And it’s fair to say that the Honda HR-V is no sports car, while the standard mechanical suspension does a good job of parlaying a comfortable and cosseting enough drive over most road surfaces, the HR-V does tend to lean and pitch into corners by an amount that is insignificant. That being said the ride is very well-planted and feels secure, but if you want a sports car get a Porsche 911, high-riding SUVs will never have the center of gravity or the allure of a true sportscar.
And if you hear or read of a motoring journalist validating an SUV’s so-called sporty characteristics as “it rides like it’s on rails” deport them on a one-way ticket to Rwanda. Mini-rant over… anyway.
Acceleration in either Eco or Standard mode is akin to a sailing boat being propelled by a gentle breeze. Sports mode does inject a sense of momentum and sense of purpose into proceedings. It’s largely down to the fact that HR-V uses a CVT gearbox which in its simplest terms is a single-speed gearbox. The classic characteristic of a CVT is the endless drone of the engine when under hard acceleration.
But for the most part, a considerable majority of prospective owners will not be seeking to accumulate speeding penalties or attend speed awareness courses because, for everyday real-world driving, the HR-V does the job well enough for all except the minority.
The hybrid is what it is, no explanation needed, a 1.5-litre petrol engine combined with an electric 96kW powertrain. They call hybrids self-charging these days, or at least the Omni-clever marketing folks do. The electric range in hybrid is short and brief, at a guestimate, it’s around 1.5 miles. Recharging the battery pack occurs through either regenerative braking, the brake pedal, or coasting.
The interesting thing I noticed was how quickly the latest generation of hybrids recharge, about two miles of driving in town will charge the batteries to either near or full capacity. You will never be out of the electric drive, a small amount of reserve energy is always present if the battery runs extremely low.
The HR-V can travel up to speeds of 30mph on electric drive alone, 50mph depending on the topography of the road. Regenerative braking is mostly controlled through the flappy paddles behind the steering wheel and this mode of braking collects all the braking energy and converts it into electricity which keeps the hungry battery pack happy.
The HR-V will seamlessly switch from electric drive to the petrol engine without breaking into a sweat. The petrol engine under normal acceleration feels a little underpowered. The hybrid system does provide a small and noticeable boost to the combined acceleration, in a way acting as a temporary turbo-boost assist.
You don’t need to be an expert to drive a hybrid because the automation between the petrol engine and electric motor is so seamless it really is like driving any other car. As for fuel consumption, the HR-V regularly achieved 50mpg for about-town use and 66mpg for combined journeys, which is incredible. Clearly, the efficiency of current-gen hybrids has surpassed that of diesel engines, and honestly why would you go back to diesel?
The interior is a complete departure for Honda, it is simplicity, almost minimalism by philosophy. Less is more. The overall build quality is very good and the interior strategically uses soft-touch materials, but it is predominantly a hard plastic affair. Not the thin flexible plastics you get from, for example Dacia, the HRV mostly uses thick-walled plastics and because the build quality is excellent you don’t even notice. It is a very tricky material bait-and-switch to pull off, Volkswagen is the master at doing it. However many fail in doing so, Dacia being the prime, most extreme, and miserable example.
The heating control switch gear/dials are Germanic in their quality and feel and relay a Teutonic click when rotated. The seats are comfortable enough even over longer journeys and the rear has enough more than enough legroom even for those slightly over six-foot. The rear headroom isn’t so great if you are about 180cm tall and above.
The unexpectedly generous rear legroom comes at the expense of the rear boot space which is a little bigger than, for example, the VW Golf hatch. For geek stats, it’s 450-litres with the seats up and 1,450-litres with the seats folded down flat. The so-called Honda magic bench seats offer additional storage access to the footwell by simply lifting the seats up. The HR-V looks like a small vehicle from the outside, but the inside is more spacious than expected considering it is a compact SUV.
Even the infotainment system is a step up from Honda, the graphics are simple yet sophisticated, and gone is the cartoon-style menu system of the previous generation. As with many modern cars the HR-V is offered with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay as standard. Indeed equipment levels are good throughout the range which currently totals three. Prices start at £29K for the entry-level Elegance, £31K for the top Advance and £34K for the top-spec Advance Style.
Standard equipment includes Honda Sensing 9-inch infotainment display with Bluetooth, DAB, and Wifi, smart entry, fabric seats, heated front seats, auto windows with heated mirrors, and 18-inch alloy wheels. Going up the range will of course get you access to more equipment.
Honda has really raised their game with the all-new HR-V, but is it enough to tempt people away from the Qashqai or VW staple compact SUV diet? I would say absolutely yes.
In the past, Honda’s biggest selling point was reliability and dependability. Oddly people found that image a bit boring, but now Honda is starting to do interesting and dare I say it, trendy desirable.