The HR-V, Honda’s entry level SUV and the smaller brother to the CR-V, might not be the most exciting car in its class but it might just be one of the most satisfying to own.
For a start, the interior, which is the bit you’ll be seeing the most of, feels far more upmarket than the modest purchase price might lead you to expect; the quality of the plastics is better than most with soft-feel touches throughout and plenty of hidden delights and thoughtful touches.
It is also completely free of shakes and rattles, even over the harshest road surface, helping lend the HR-V an ambience that is rarely found in a car that costs so little.
Prefect for carrying passengers
It’s reasonably roomy too with a big boot and better rear legroom than many of its competitors, making it a good choice for anyone who regularly carries passengers in the back.
It also features the nicest sat-nav I’ve used in a long time. I have to resort to the car’s instruction manual far too frequently, but the little Honda’s was simplicity itself to set up and use. Top marks there.
Changing gears is no grind
While we’re being positive, the gear change on the six-speed manual gearbox draws special praise. While I’m a big fan of automatic gearboxes in my everyday car, the gearchange on the HR-V is exemplary, which compensates (to a certain extent) for the lack of an auto option on the diesel-engined model.
The gearchange itself isn’t quite as nice as either the one on my Honda NSX or the new Mazda MX-5, but it isn’t far off, which is a remarkable achievement in a marketplace in which cost cutting and good-enough features abound.
Incidentally, you can have an automatic if you chose the petrol engine but as it’s a CVT (constantly variable transmission) I’d stick with the manual; no matter how appealing they are in theory, CVT gearboxes are rarely a good idea in practice…
Manual vs automatic
Rapid, effortless progress
Returning to the subject of the 1.6-litre diesel engine, I have to point out that it is a gruff old thing, especially at higher revs. However, it’s willing and delivers a fat wad of torque across a broad rev band; the power output might be slightly lower than the equivalent petrol engine but the oil-burner delivers almost twice as much torque. It’s torque, not outright power, that is the key to rapid, effortless progress, something the HR-V is particularly adept at.
A contributing factor to the Honda’s loping gait is the handling, which is taut and accurate and balances the needs of the keen driver with that of the passenger very well; the ride is very good and body roll is well contained. Even a very quick cross-country run in the rain failed to induce anything in my wife other than a sense of surprise at how quickly we’d arrived at our overnight stop.
The small details thought about
The little stuff is just as comprehensively engineered as the big. As an example the automatic headlights switched between high and low beam seamlessly, never once blinding other drivers.
However, it has to be said that while the operation is flawless, the execution is more of a mixed bag. While the dipped beam was a cool, piercing white, the high beam was a much warmer yellow in colour; this might seem like a small grumble (and I do accept that it is very much a First World Problem) it was a constant irritation and smacked of penny pinching rather than engineering incompetence.
A few little niggles
While I’m moaning, the gruff engine note can be overly intrusive at times, the sat-nav threw the occasional hissy fit by directing me through narrow village streets, only to have me rejoin the main road I’d left just a few hundred yards previously and I hated the electronic handbrake that wouldn’t release unless you were wearing your seatbelt.
I understand the need for safety but when you are hopping in and out of the car to open and then close a series of farm gates along a farm track it very quickly becomes a pain in the … neck (Speaking of which, the HR-V is only available as a front-wheel-drive, no matter what its chunky, ready-for-anything appearance may infer.)
On the whole, though, I enjoyed my week with the Honda; its time with us coincided with a few childfree days that we spent walking in the mountains of mid-Wales. The HR-V served as a very competent support vehicle, swallowing muddy rucksacks and boots and wet clothing (this was Wales in August, obviously…) and a quick wipe with a damp cloth saw the leather seats looking as good as new again.
We also appreciated the innumerable places to store your road-trip detritus including a pair of large cup-holders for your morning coffee and a handy USB port under the centre console to charge your phone after a day in the mountains has depleted its charge.
Oh, and the automatic wipers worked just as brilliantly as the headlights, which was handy given the torrential rain that marked a significant portion of the week. Just another example of how the HR-V is an easy companion, despite its (relatively few) faults.
Power – 118bhp
Torque – 221 lb ft
0-62mph – 10.5 seconds
Top speed – 119mph
Kerb weight – 1,399kgs
Official average fuel consumption – 68.9mpg
Honest John real world fuel consumption – 58.5mpg
CO2 emissions – 108g/km
VED class – Band B
Towing capacity (braked) – 1,400kgs
Towing capacity (unbraked) – 750kgs
Warranty – 3 yrs/60,000 miles
Price – £26,055
Price as tested - £26,580
The Suzuki Vitara S doesn’t feel anything like as nice as the HR-V inside but it is much nicer to drive and usefully cheaper to buy. If your priority is driving pleasure – or you need the reassurance of four-wheel-drive - then you need look no further.
The best of the rest
The Hyundai Tucson is a fine example of a thoroughly modern SUV that would be very easy to live with.
The Renault Kadjar is the best small SUV/crossover you probably haven’t ever heard of.