If there's one thing we've noticed about Honda in the last two years, it's the company's aggression in offering more and more new models into the market. All-new models like the Accord, Jazz, City, Brio, Brio Amaze and even the Mobilio were all launched in the last 18 months, a pace that is rather unprecedented for a single automotive company in the Philippines.
Now Honda is at it again, this time breaking into the compact crossover market with the new generation HR-V. To those familiar with the Honda brand, this new HR-V is actually the second generation of the name, one that was introduced initially in 1998 to slot in as a smaller, more efficient and more affordable alternative to the CR-V.
The idea of the HR-V didn't really gain as much traction as its more popular big brother back then, but can this new one change all that?
In the metal
The first thing we noticed about the HR-V when Honda Cars Philippines launched it was its size. Many had expected the HR-V to be a direct competitor to the subcompact EcoSport, but in reality the size and positioning of the new Honda makes it significantly larger than the Ford.
The new generation HR-V (known as the Vezel in Japan) is based on a stretched Honda Jazz platform and is thus significantly smaller than the CR-V, measuring in at 4294mm long, 1772mm wide and 1605mm tall. The HR-V's size pits it squarely against the Subaru XV, the Mitsubishi ASX and the Kia Soul. Ground clearance is also decent at 185mm, tall enough to clear most urban obstacles and rocks.
In terms of looks, the HR-V is definitely one of the freshest in its category as Honda designers developed it around a Dynamic Cross Solid design concept. The front end is unmistakably honda with the headlights, grille and radiator intake all forming one continuous shape, and gets accented by numerous creases and elements to give a futuristic appearance.
The profile of the HR-V is rather coupe-like, given the sloping roof that tapers down at the back, not to mention the fact that the rear door handles are blended with the C-pillars. The small crossover is finished with a shapely tailgate with modern taillights.
The inside job
Pop the door and a rather premium interior is revealed. The first noticeable aspect of the cabin is its width; unlike the EcoSport or even the XV, the HR-V is rather spacious, laterally. The ceiling isn't that tall, but adequate enough given the tall driving position in crossovers. The rear seats are relatively low and not as upright as other crossovers, but it's very comfortable; Honda really went to work in generating a better experience for people in the back seat.
Rear legroom is plenty, so much so that I can easily cross my legs in the back with plenty of room to spare. Like the Jazz, the Honda HR-V has the ULT seat configuration to accommodate maximum cargo with the rear seats folded down (Ultra mode), long items with the front passenger and rear passenger seats folded down (Long mode), as well as tall items like potted plants with the rear cushions folded up.
The dashboard on the HR-V is a great example of clean and modern design. The surfaces, the overall look, and the details all contribute to the clean look of the cabin. The steering wheel adheres to Honda's signature wheel with the leather wrap, the round directional switches and other buttons. There's a massive center console that rises up from the floor with the shifter bar for the transmission, the cupholders with small foldable trays, and an armrest with another small compartment inside. Under that console are the electrical ports such as the 12-volt socket, the USB input and even the HDMI input.
In my opinion, the center console is nice and makes for a rather cozy driving experience, but it does consume a significant amount of space between the driver and the passenger.
Under the hood
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. We found this odd because, given that the HR-V was based on an expanded Jazz platform, we expected the crossover to come with a 1.5 liter motor.
Being a slightly larger engine, 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, with top spec versions getting paddle shifters.
Unlike its contemporary in the AWD Subaru XV, the HR-V being offered locally is purely front-wheel drive, so don't expect to do any off-roading in this one.
Driving the new contender
To test the new generation HR-V, Honda plotted a route that gave a good mix of driving roads and conditions to demonstrate the characteristics of the new crossover. Urban roads will pay a premium on refinement and ride comfort, expressway driving will shine a light on aerodynamics, acceleration and efficiency, while provincial highway driving will demand agility, handling and overtaking latency.
In urban areas, the HR-V drives with surprising confidence and refinement, something uncommon when it comes to small vehicles. Noise in the cabin is kept very well in check, even when side by side with the loud motorcycles and PUVs common in the metro. One feature we were able to truly appreciate in traffic was the electric parking brake, a function that allowed Honda to install an automatic brake hold, enabling the driver to lift off the brake pedal in stop-and-go driving. It sounds trivial, but it allows the driver to rest his or her right foot in heavy traffic.
In terms of urban efficiency, the new Honda crossover delivers. At an average speed of 22 km/h (light traffic) and with ECON mode activated, the HR-V was doing 9.4 km/l; exceptional figures. At a slower 18 km/h average the HR-V was doing 8.6 km/l.
On highways, the HR-V exhibits its long distance manners. The CVT is smooth and quiet, with that signature whirr of similar transmissions being effectively suppressed. Wind noise is kept out of the cabin too. For this kind of cruising, the CVT is best kept in D for efficient driving which, at an average of 89 km/h, is at 13.8 km/l with three persons aboard.
When taken on provincial roads, the handling that Honda has always been known for came through. Overtaking slower vehicles is a cinch with the body control afforded by the suspension system. The steering may be electric and not as communicative as hydraulic units, but it's accurate and easy to drive around at speed. Should you make a mistake and enter a corner too hot, take comfort in the fact that the HR-V has ABS, EBD, and stability control.
Ready to get going
The 2015 HR-V will be an extremely important model for Honda Cars Philippines, a crossover full of potential in a market where crossovers are very viable given a persistent problem with debris and quick urban floods that would leave many cars stranded.
The pricing will be key. Again, the HR-V is no EcoSport competitor with prices at PhP 1,190,000 for the base 2015 HR-V 1.8 S CVT, PhP 1,230,000 for the mid-range 2015 HR-V 1.8 E CVT and PhP 1,340,000 for the top spec 2015 HR-V 1.8 EL CVT, pitting it against the Subaru XV, Mitsubishi ASX and Kia Soul. There are also two higher variants with cosmetic upgrades such as the good looking 2015 HR-V 1.8 E Modulo at PhP 1,290,000 and the 2015 HR-V 1.8 EL Mugen at PhP 1,500,000.
I actually came into this drive seeing the HR-V as a smaller version of the CR-V; heavy, soft, and a bit too safe of a choice. But I'll walk away from it thinking that it's a larger Jazz with its sprightly handling and versatility... the HR-V just happens to have more space and ground clearance.