It could be said that first generation HR-V was ahead of its time. Positioned lower than the CR-V, it was perhaps the first subcompact crossover in the Philippines. Unfortunately for Honda, it was met with lukewarm reception and was pulled out of the market after a brief run.
Fast forward two decades and the HR-V nameplate has returned and this time, it's playing catch up. Being an established player in the segment, Honda had to offer something different with the second-generation HR-V. The question is, is the HR-V just a shrunken CR-V?
Judging by its looks, it's more “bigger Jazz” than “small CR-V” thanks to its hatchback-like profile. The lack of a third side window further accents this initial impression. It hides its rather large dimensions well too, thanks to its rounded-off styling. Of course, it gets Honda's Solid Wing Face front fascia but its unique treatment well and truly defines it from the car it's based on: the Jazz. One odd thing about the HR-V, however, is the rather low ride height. While not B-segment car low, it is slightly raised, but only just. Still, it might be enough for those who drive over dirt trails.
All in all, I think the HR-V is a good-looking crossover and I particularly like viewing it from the rear 3/4ths view with its rather quirky tail lights. As you see in the photos, what we have here is the HR-V EL Mugen which adds a deep chin spoiler, unique side sills, sportier rear cladding, and a set 18-inch Mugen light allo wheels shod in low profile rubber. The Mugen pack may divide opinion and, for me at least, makes it look even lower than it already is. Personally, I would have preferred a more subtle grill and kit treatment as I find the regular HR-V EL's lines on the handsome side. I do like the stubby rear spoiler though but I wish it were finished in black.
As far as cliches go, the HR-V is, well, small yet spacious. Being based on the Jazz, the space efficiency from its hatchback sibling was inherited for this application, offering a good amount of space for everyone in the car. It has a lot of cubby holes too and I particularly liked the pass through storage area underneath the dashboard.
Rather than simply applying the Jazz's dash in their baby crossover, Honda took time to give it its own design. The driver oriented dash was a nice touch and made everything easier to reach from the driver's side. Front passengers can also enjoy the three aircon vents aimed squarely at them. Another thing worth noting is the use of soft-touch materials in the cabin, giving the HR-V EL a more upmarket feel. The cargo area is generous for its segment, easily taking in a weekend's worth of luggage for two as well as camera equipment.
If there is one thing in the cabin that needs improvement, it would be the infotainment system. While processing speeds are decent, the sub-menus may be a little confusing for the technophobe. The small buttons are not exactly ideal for those with big fingers either. I do hope that Honda adds Car Play in the HR-V soon, just like in the Civic and recently redesigned Accord. Car Play would make its infotainment system a lot friendlier to use for those averse to technology.
Under the hood of the HR-V is the familiar 1.8 liter inline-4 but with Earth Dreams technology, just like in the new Civic 1.8 E. As with many Honda products these days, it is mated to a continuously variable transmission.
In the city, the HR-V makes a good urban warrior with light steering and good maneuverability. Ride is on the firm side, especially with the 18-inch Mugen wheels. However, I did note that the HR-V's damping and rebound was good and I reckon that if the standard wheels were fitted, it would be a far smoother ride. Honda also did a good job with its seats, no longer lacking in lumbar support. All HR-V's are equipped with Honda's automatic brake hold which I found rather convenient in traffic lights. When the car stops, the brakes are engaged even in drive and a simple tap of the accelerater disengages them. You no longer have to step on the brakes for a long time in time-wasting gridlocks.
With the Mugen pack, extra caution is needed when driving up ramps and unpaved roads. Its chin extends further up front and I admittedly had a few scary moments when I had to drive up makeshift ramps. Fortunately, it was still high enough not to scrape.
Also standard with the Mugen pack are Bridgestone Potenza RE002 tires that provided extra grip on winding roads. While a little lacking in steering feel, it was easy to drive this car with confidence on twisty roads. In a spirited drive, the HR-V EL Mugen may fall short in terms of fun for enthusiasts but it is rewarding enough for most.
Despite its dimensions, the HR-V is a capable highway cruiser as well, with good crosswind and highway speed stability. Wind noise is well suppressed and was refined all throughout. Tire noise aside, the HR-V EL is a good car for long road trips. As for fuel economy, the worst figure I got was 7.8 kilometers per liter but lighter traffic bumps it up to 8.3 kilometers per liter. I also managed to get a high of 16.9 kilometers per liter on the highway.
To answer the question I first posed above, the HR-V is indeed more than just a smaller CR-V. It is a small crossover that is well packed with features (both in tech and safety) and offers big car refinement. So what's the price of admission for Honda's subcompact crossover? Admittedly, it is on the steep side at Php 1,508,000 with the Mugen kit.
A standard HR-V EL meanwhile starts at Php 1,348,000 — still on the expensive side in the subcompact crossover segment. Personally, I'd skip the Mugen package as the EL is already a good deal to begin with. At that price point, one expects a high quality and high content product and after a week with it, I could say it is worth its asking price.