Ever since the Honda BR-V and the CR-V came into the market, I've always wondered where that left HR-V. It's more expensive than the BR-V, it's smaller than the CR-V, and seats less than both.

What, if any, is going to be the HR-V's purpose?

That, perhaps, is what Honda Cars Philippines wants to answer with the facelifted model, and it's a perfect time for us to try it out. They say they made quite a number of small adjustments that go beyond cosmetics, but we'll be the judge of that. We'll take it around the city, on the highway, and along the scenic twisties of Batangas to find out where Honda's middle child in the crossover market stands. 

I do have to say that it still looks good as it did back when it was released in 2015 and the exterior tweaks help keep it bang up to date. This year also marks the arrival of the RS variant, replacing the EL as the top-spec model.

First Drive: Honda's 2019 HR-V is playfully practical

The RS gets slick gloss black finishes, instead of the usual unpainted gray claddings and a pretty neat set of alloy wheels. There's a pretty tasteful application of dark chrome on the grill, which was refreshing to see. With the new touches, it actually looks more like a Civic now, especially with the new LED headlights. Fans of the SIR might fancy the new color too. It's called Phoenix Orange Pearl although the classic Passion Orange shade comes to mind. The color is reserved for the RS only.

Now, back to the car and even the 'base' E variant looks pretty good too. It gets the same sharp nose of the RS but sans the gloss black trims. One look at both and you wouldn't actually mind having the entry-level model. Again, the HR-V is one of the good-looking cars in its class.

First Drive: Honda's 2019 HR-V is playfully practical

It's got strong showroom appeal and the cabin will impress you too. Granted, it's largely carried over the pre-facelift model but it still feels solid and robust. It's one of the more daring dashboard layouts Honda has on offer with its three air-conditioning vents blowing straight to the front passenger's face. There's also the high center console which gives you the impression you're driving something pretty low to the ground.

A new infotainment system is also part of the upgrades the new HR-V got. Technophiles will appreciate the addition of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. I do miss the multiple charging ports in the center cubby, though. On the flipside, I am glad to report that the cabin is still as spacious as it is and they kept the very useful ULT seats for carrying unusual cargo.

First Drive: Honda's 2019 HR-V is playfully practical

After poking in and around the car it was time to hit the road. I was a passenger at first and to see how it rides, I sat in the back. The first part of the trip saw us going from Bonifcio Global City, right up until Nasugbu. Within a few minutes, I observed that it rode better than the pre-facelift HR-V.

Traveling along SLEX, it felt smoother and less choppy than the 2015 model; not that it rode harsh but it's more relaxing now. If you had this car, you probably wouldn't even mind sitting at the back. And even when we left the highway, the ride maintained its composure over rougher roads. Sure, the HR-V was never meant to be an executive's chariot but this, perhaps, is one of the more comfortable small crossovers out in the country today.

First Drive: Honda's 2019 HR-V is playfully practical

The miles rolled by and, the next thing we knew, we were up for a driver change. From the back seat, I went for the front, not as a driver, but still as a passenger. It felt pretty good at the back but the front was just as good. Soft, supportive seats, combined with the supple ride means it's actually a pretty good long-distance vehicle; nevermind the fact that it's small. What was even more surprising was its handling. Normally, a soft riding car would wallow in the bends but it wasn't the case in the HR-V. It still felt planted and secure on winding roads, at least from a passenger's perspective.

But its biggest challenge was coming up: Talisay. The HR-V would face the uphill twists and hairpins of the tough road and, just my luck, it was my turn to drive it. The first thing I noticed was the much improved steering, no longer feeling light and overboosted when I turn it. That returns a great deal of confidence, especially now that it began to rain and we were about to take on a lot of corners.

Maybe because it's based on the Jazz but the HR-V was a pretty fun crossover to steer. With better feel through the wheel, we were taking on corners with a lot of confidence and you can rely on the chassis to pull you out of bends. Put it on quick left-right turns and the HR-V responds well. It's no Type R but it can be playful and secure at the same time. Also, the stability control system didn't feel too obtrusive, letting us enjoy the road while keeping us on track on the muddy ribbon of asphalt. The rain may have damped the road but it didn't dampen, nor hamper, the capabilities of its chassis. It felt smaller than it really was; light on its feet and agile.

First Drive: Honda's 2019 HR-V is playfully practical

However, the drive up Talisay exposed the HR-V's engine. It's still the same 1.8-liter engine as before (and the same one used in the Civic) but it's starting to feel its age. It's good around the city drive and quick pulls on the highway but with three people on board, luggage and steep slopes, the HR-V is begging for a more potent engine. It's a good chassis crying out for the Civic RS' 1.5-liter turbo. Mind you, the 1.8 is not underpowered but it's adequate for what most owners will use it for. If you don't mind the engine revving to get up steep hills, then it's alright. On the flipside though, it returned great fuel economy at 12 kilometers per liter in mixed driving with a full load.

After the spirited drive on Talisay, it was a smooth drive going to Escala. When we got there, I pondered about the HR-V. The HR-V isn't for those trying to cram as much people in a small space, nor is it for the one who hauls people and cargo on a regular basis. The HR-V is for those who came from a Jazz, or any small hatchback, for instance, but don't want the added baggage of a third row or sacrifice style for the sake of a little more practicality.

First Drive: Honda's 2019 HR-V is playfully practical

That brings us back to our question: what's the purpose of the HR-V?

You could say it's aimed at bachelors, bachelorettes, empty-nesters or those with small, young families. It's practical enough thanks to a lot of cargo space, stylish enough for those who want to jump into the crossover craze, and still surprisingly fun to drive. There's enough ground clearance too so small floods shouldn't be an issue, and it can take on rough roads with relative ease.

As a starter crossover then, you won't go wrong with the HR-V and, with the tweaks and enhancements, it's a small crossover worthy to be on anyone's shortlist.