Road Test: Honda HR-V shines, but not brightly

New crossover maxes out on space but looks and drives a little too subtly for its own good

Make: Honda

Model: HR-V

Year: 2016

Fuel: Diesel

Date Reviewed: February 8, 2016

Wed, Feb 17, 2016, 01:00

   

In an era when it takes a combination of ego, stupidity and startlingly orange hair and skin to hit the global headlines, you do start to think that the whole world has gone mad for attention. Think of it as the Kardashian-isation of our culture. Twitter, Facebook and YouTube and their like are astonishing technological marvels, things most of us would never have dreamed of as children, yet mostly they’re used by the desperate, the maddening and the clinically insane as they attempt to draw upon themselves the eyes of the world. It’s the age of the look-at-me culture.

So it’s rather surprising to suddenly find something (sadly, not someone in this case) that does a pretty good job of hiding its light under a bushel. Honda has, in recent years, been apparently riffing on the classic futuristic designs of Gerry Anderson’s Thunderbirds for its styling. Well, that’s the only way I can explain the look of the 2006 Civic and its successor at any rate. But, having notably failed to dent Toyota Auris sales with this tactic, and with its European fortunes more or less on life support, Honda has decided that softly-softly is the best way forward.

Hence we have this, the new HR-V. No, there. Over there. The blue car. Yes, that really is it. Taking some styling cues from the current North American version of the Civic, the HR-V represents the near future of Honda’s design language.

Only it’s a language we can’t quite hear as it’s speaking too softly. This is very quiet, considered design. Not ugly, oh no – that would never do. But just very unremarkable. It’s a shame – I always liked the Space 1999 looks of the Civic.

Inside, you’ll find more of the same. On our highly-specced EX test car, there was a big, bright touchscreen with software developed to mimic Google’s Android operating system (it’s standard on all but the most basic HR-V). It slips and slides between menus in an entirely pleasant way, and is pretty intuitive to use.

And its bright colours do helpfully distract from the fact that the HR-V’s cabin is as quiet and unassuming as its exterior. Again, there’s little or nothing to fault here. The dials are big, bright and clear, the buttons laid out with at least passable logic and, really, only the somewhat flat and unsupportive seats let the side down.

Palpable heft

Quality is – perhaps not surprisingly given that this is a Honda – exceptionally good, and the sheer, palpable heft of the way everything is bolted together makes up for the fact that some of the plastics are a little bit cheap to look at.

There are some nice touches, though. The double-decker cupholders in the armrest are neat and the touch-sensitive climate controls look and feel expensive and well thought-out. But for a car built in Mexico (yes, really) there’s not much of the fiesta about it.

Perhaps I’m being too harsh. There are things that the HR-V does exceptionally well. Being big inside is possibly its best achievement. On the outside, the HR-V looks and is deceptively compact, shorter by about two finger widths than a rival Qashqai, yet with a boot that’s 40 litres bigger. Flip the back seats flat and you’ve got 1,533 litres to play with and that’s as much as you get in some large, luxury estates.

The cabin doesn’t look all that big, but it’s when you realise that someone’s left the front seats all the way back on their adjustment rails, yet those in the rear seats still have just about adequate legroom, that you really start to get impressed. That, and the fact that the HR-V retains Honda’s flip-up “Magic” seats (which are, sad to say, set to be expunged from the next-generation Civic) make it a truly practical family car.

Quietly-quietly routine

When we get to the driving experience, we’re rather back to the quietly-quietly routine, though. The engine, Honda’s generally excellent 1.6 iDTEC diesel, has a hefty 120hp and 300Nm of torque (significantly more than most rivals can manage) and feels suitably thrust-full as a result.

It is a touch noisier here than in the Civic, though, but at least you can have some fun with the gearshift, which has an action familiar to anyone who handled a .303 Lee Enfield in their FCA days.

The steering is a bit of a letdown, though – it’s just too light and twirly, and leaves you hanging, on the entrance to a corner, waiting for messages about what the front end of the car is up to.

Speed limiter

Fine around town and on the motorway, the HR-V is a bit lurchy on back roads, which is a shame coming from a car maker famed for its appreciation of true driving enthusiasm. Indeed, the car maker which so recently brought us the hilariously entertaining Civic Type-R.

The HR-V has much to admire: space, pace, economy and a long list of standard equipment (not to mention some useful safety items, such as standard City Brake Active on all models, and a speed limiter, auto high beams, forward collision warning and lane departure warning standard from the second-level ES trim upwards).

But I just wish that this sensible, safe, somnolent family crossover had been given a bit more of the Civic’s brio.

The lowdown: Honda HR-V 1.6 iDTEC EX
Power:
120hp
Torque: 300Nm
0-100kmh: 10.0sec
Top speed: 192kmh
Claimed economy: 4.1l/100km (68.9mpg)
CO2 emissions: 108g/km
Motor tax: €190
Price: €32,895 as tested; range starts at €23,995