Text: Vince Pornelos / Photos: Vince Pornelos | posted January 05, 2016 20:00
The Urban Specialist
2015 was an interesting year for Honda Cars Philippines. Their line up was mostly all new from the year before, but still they launched two more models, the first of which was the Mobilio, an affordable seven-seat MPV that was designed to meet the needs of Asian families.
The other is this: the HR-V. Now we'll see what this new crossover can do.
Technically speaking, this new HR-V is actually the second generation of the name; the first one was launched in 1998 as a smaller, more affordable alternative to the CR-V. Back then the HR-V wasn't very well received, but perhaps now the time is right after most of the traditional compact crossovers have grown, paving the way for even smaller crossovers.
At 4294mm x 1772mm x 1605mm, the Honda HR-V is one of the larger models in its category, and it's also significantly wider and longer than its predecessor. To put in in perspective, the HR-V goes up against the Mitsubishi ASX, the Subaru XV and the Nissan Juke. Most people thought the new Honda will go toe-to-toe with the EcoSport, but overall the HR-V is a class above. Whats unusual is the ground clearance; at 185mm, it's a bit of a stretch for the definition of crossover
Design-wise, the HR-V (also known as the Vezel in Japan) has its own interpretation of Honda's new family look especially the way the headlamps seamlessly flow into the grille. The crossover is related to the Jazz in terms of platform, though Honda stretched it a bit, as evidenced by the longer body when viewed from the side. One interesting thing to note is the design of the doors; the rear doorhandles are blended into the greenhouse creating a 3-door hatchback kind of look similar to the Juke.
Open the driver's door and it's clear to see why the HR-V is different. The dashboard, the materials, and the overall design feels more premium that what is expected in its category. There's also a floating console that seems to have been taken from Volvo's design playbook. The interior is quite spacious, something that was the result of Honda's clever use of the limited real estate. This was done by stretching the wheelbase and moving the A-pillars far forward, so much so that part of the engine is under the cowl beneath the wipers. Thanks to that, you can comfortably cross your legs while sitting in the back. There's also 363 liters of space in the back, one that grows to 1665 liters if the rear seats are folded down.
Being the E variant of the HR-V, this example gets some pretty nice features. The climate control panel is touch sensitive. There are long vents on the passenger side dashboard for the AC system, helping cool down the cabin quickly. The central audio unit is also a touchscreen and can be controlled via the buttons on the wheel. There are ports for an auxiliary jack for analog audio, a USB socket for your iPod or iPhone, as well as an HDMI port so you can mirror your smartphone's display, though you do need a special adaptor for it.
Powering the new HR-V is a 1.8-liter Honda R engine, a derivative of the motor found in the mid-grade variants of the Civic. The SOHC 16-valve i-VTEC R18A1 makes 141 PS at 6500 rpm and 172 Nm at 4300, decent numbers for the larger and heavier HR-V. The HR-V also comes with a continuously variable transmission with Earth Dreams technology for better efficiency, and this one comes with paddle shifters too.
On the daily commute, the HR-V performs very, very well. The refinement that went into this crossover is quite commendable, especially when it comes to suppression of external noise. The ride is very well balanced, and acceleration is also decent and linear. What was really useful was the electronic parking brake and the automatic brake hold; with the system active, you can take rest your right foot in stop/go traffic, something that we all know too well.
Fuel economy is quite good with ECON mode activated. In moderate to heavy traffic (15 km/h average) the HR-V still did 8.1 km/l; not bad for a 1.8-liter motor. On the highway, it's much better; at a brisk 95 km/h average the fuel economy was still at the 12.5 km/l mark.
On a twisty road, the HR-V is surprisingly nimble and planted. Not being so tall makes it essentially a bigger hatchback, but with some good driving characteristics dialled in. The electric steering may not have much for feel, but its accurate and easy to figure out. A CVT would not be at the top of my list for transmission choices, but it does the job and I can always opt to flick the paddles to shift on my own.
Honda made some clever decisions in making the HR-V. Some see it as just a smaller CR-V or a larger Jazz, but it seems that the HR-V defines itself by prioritizing space, overall refinement and, best of all, ease of use in urban driving situations. At PhP 1,230,000, this 2016 Honda HR-V 1.8 E CVT may be on the high side of the pricing spectrum, but it seems like its very much worth the price of admission especially if you're going to drive it everyday to work and back, amidst all kinds of traffic.