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First Drive

First published: 7th July 2015

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First Drive

Honda HR-V 1.6 i-DTEC EX first drive review

Honda says the original HR-V started the mini-SUV boom back in 1999, but how does this new model compare to modern rivals such as the Skoda Yeti and Mazda CX-3?

First published: 7th July 2015
Auto Trader Verdict:
The pressure is on for the HR-V to perform and help Honda grow its market share, but it may struggle to gain traction in a segment awash with excellent alternatives. It looks, feels and drives a lot like a shrink-wrapped CR-V, with the same impressive practicality, a versatile, robust cabin and relaxed driving dynamics. However, it’s not a class-leader, and issues with the refinement, ride quality and the frustrating infotainment system may leave buyers cold.

Author: Paul Bond
Location: Lisbon, Portugal
2015 Honda HR-V 1.6 i-DTEC
2015 Honda HR-V 1.6 i-DTEC
Need to know:
  • New compact SUV to rival Nissan Juke, Mazda CX-3
  • Decent practicality, CO2 emissions from 104g/km
  • On sale in July, priced from £17,995 OTR
What is it?
Honda’s answer to the burgeoning wave of crossovers – and a return to a segment it claims to have started back in 1999 with the original HR-V. This new car might not have the same wow factor as the recently launched Civic Type R hot hatch and new hybrid NSX supercar – but this car is arguably more important than both.

That’s because the company needs to reclaim lost ground to rivals like Nissan, Skoda and Kia, who have been cashing in on the shrunken-SUV boom for years. Honda does know a thing or two about building decent family cars, though, and if the HR-V can transplant the space, practicality and real-world efficiency of the Civic and the Jazz, it could be onto a winner.

From launch, there’ll be two engines to choose from, the punchy 118bhp 1.6-litre diesel from the Civic range paired with a six-speed manual gearbox, and a new 1.5-litre petrol with 128bhp, which has the option of a CVT automatic. In the UK, the HR-V will be front-wheel drive only, although in other parts of the world you will be able to get one that’s better equipped for proper off-roading.
2015 Honda HR-V 1.6 i-DTEC
2015 Honda HR-V 1.6 i-DTEC
What's it like?
Some crossovers of this size and price trade on their off-road credentials first and foremost: not so with the HR-V. While the Skoda Yeti and Jeep Renegade cast themselves as rugged, go-anywhere transport, Honda knows that for most people, space and on-road comfort are key.

The new HR-V feels smaller inside than those cars. It's slightly narrower up front and easier to park and manoeuvre in town than most of its competitors, and that small size should make it more appealing to any buyers who feel intimidated by the idea of a getting around in a full-sized SUV.

The driving experience backs this sensation up, with light controls, accurate but feel-free steering with a tendency to self-centre, and a precise but long-throw six-speed manual gearbox. The HR-V loosely shares its underpinnings with the forthcoming Jazz, which might partly explain why it doesn’t feel much like an SUV to drive. The suspension is softly sprung, so it rolls over if you enter corners too quickly, before the front wheels gently start to push wide.
2015 Honda HR-V 1.6 i-DTEC
2015 Honda HR-V 1.6 i-DTEC
However, the ride quality is fairly surface-dependent. On smoother Tarmac, it feels pillowy and nicely settled thanks to the comfort-oriented set-up, but at low speed on lumpier town roads it stumbles and thumps over surface imperfections, jostling you about, even on 16-inch wheels.

The 1.6-litre diesel engine is undoubtedly a strong performer – and a 0-62mph time of around 10 seconds is competitive with all its major rivals. It picks up smoothly from low revs, and hauls the HR-V along well enough, but refinement is patchy at best. Work the engine up a hill, or hold it in gear, and your ears are accosted by a loud, monotone grumble, and there’s plenty of vibration through the pedals and bulkhead, too, making the HR-V wearing to drive in town.

On the plus side, the relatively compact dimensions disguise an impressively spacious and well thought-out interior. The HR-V has the same cinema-style flip-up seat bases as the Civic and the Jazz, a fold-flat front passenger seat, flat load bay and a wide 470-litre boot.
2015 Honda HR-V 1.6 i-DTEC
2015 Honda HR-V 1.6 i-DTEC
Passengers in the front get supportive, comfortable seats, and the upright driving position means all-round visibility is good, but those in the back will find things more snug. Legroom is far more than what you get in cheaper crossovers like the Nissan Juke, but the sloped roof means headroom is quite tight – especially on cars fitted with the optional glass sunroof.

The rest of the interior shows that Honda has learned lessons from the Civic, with fewer screens to distract you, plenty of chrome and gloss black trim, and (on SE models and above) a touch-sensitive, button-free panel for the dual-zone climate control. There’s loads of neat storage cubbies dotted about, too – but some of the dash materials are hard and scratchy.

Another disappointment is the new Honda Connect infotainment system. Along with a 7.0-inch touch-screen display it promises ‘smartphone-style’ interaction, with pinch, swipe and press actions, and seamless integration of Bluetooth, apps and internet browsing.

In reality, though, at best it’s slow and unwieldy, with small icons and confusing menus; but at worst it can be downright infuriating. The systems on most rivals, such as the Renault Kadjar, Nissan Qashqai and Mazda CX-3 are all easier to use on the move, and quicker to respond.
2015 Honda HR-V 1.6 i-DTEC
2015 Honda HR-V 1.6 i-DTEC
Should I get one?
If space and equipment are a priority, the Honda should be on your shortlist. Pricing for the HR-V is competitive – especially when you consider how generously equipped it comes in mid-range spec. SE models get dual-zone climate control, the Honda Connect touch-screen, DAB radio, front and rear parking sensors, and automatic lights and wipers.

With the diesel engine, it costs £21,495 – undercutting the Qashqai by a few hundred pounds – and it comes with a full suite of safety kit, including active city braking, lane keep assist, cross traffic monitor and traffic sign recognition all as standard. It emits 108g/km, and returns 68.9mpg on the official cycle, and in our experience comes close to matching that in the real world.

The HR-V is relatively comfy, well made and easy to drive, but unless boot space is a top priority, we think there are better cars in this class, cars less compromised by weaknesses in refinement and ride, and with better infotainment systems.
Key facts:
  • Model: Honda HR-V 1.6 i-DTEC SE Navi manual
  • Price: £22,105
  • Engine: 1.6-litre 4cyl diesel, six-speed manual
  • Power/Torque: 118bhp/221lb ft
  • 0-62mph: 10.2 secs
  • Top speed: 119mph
  • Economy: 68.9mpg
  • CO2/BIK tax liability: 108g/km/19%
  • Boot space: 470 – 1,533 litres
Also consider:
Mazda CX-3
Sleeker, and less practical, but better to drive and nearly as clean on CO2

Nissan Qashqai
The class-leader, with a high-tech cabin, as well as a 99g/km version, but it’s pricey

Skoda Yeti
Great to drive, very versatile inside, and 4x4 versions have decent off-road ability

Interested in buying a Honda HR-V?

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