The car buying landscape is undergoing a seismic upheaval at the moment. Traditional safe house segments for manufacturers are falling out of favour as the car buying public look for new experiences and new designs that allow them to express their sense of individuality. Or at least that’s what the marketing spin-doctors would want us to believe.
The truth is, almost all the crossovers making sales headlines are based on more mundane family cars. This is no bad thing as it showcases the ingenuity of car engineers to create multiple models from a single platform but there are inherent compromises that must be made in return. So, before you go and sign on the dotted line to join the six-month waiting list for one, here are a few things you need to know about the Honda HR-V.
1. The HR-V is based on the Honda Jazz platform
The Jazz is Honda’s segment busting hatchback that literally made the car industry realise it could pack so much more utility into a small B-segment hatch. Ultra Seats, a flat interior floor, low mounted fuel tank and more cubbies and cup holders than a minivan meant it rendered every rival obsolete.
The HR-V uses the same platform as the current third generation Jazz and City, but the wheelbase has been stretched to 2,610mm (2,530mm for the Jazz and 2,600mm for the City) to free up a bit more space. With a 1,605mm height it’s much taller than both cars and with a 1,249kg kerb weight its also much heavier. In fact, the C-segment Honda Civic 1.8S is 24kg lighter.
Individually, those numbers don’t really mean anything but put them all together and you get…
2. Don’t expect it to handle like a car because it won’t
Because the HR-V has a higher centre of gravity than a normal family car, it’s more difficult to control the mass in corners. Try running with a cup of water filled to the brim and one that is half full and you’ll see what I mean. Add the heavy kerb weight and forces like roll and weight transfer that occurs when you corner and brake are more pronounced.
Even without a full load, you can feel the marked differences compared to the Jazz and City, which only get amplified if you load the big boot to the brim. Sure, you can counteract these effects by driving more sedately but it seems like the driver has to adapt to the HR-V rather than the other way around.
Speaking of adapting, you’ll need to recalibrate your expectations of ride comfort too, especially if you’re sitting in the back because…
3. Ride comfort in the back isn’t very comfortable at all
Here’s where things get a bit tough for Honda. The HR-V is marketed as a do-anything sort of vehicle meant to fit in with all the demands of a modern active lifestyle (whatever that is). Great if you’re single or don’t have any kids. Unfortunately most buyers will want to use those rear seats to ferry around passengers on a regular basis and they better prepare some barf-bags.
The exterior styling features a rising belt line and small rear windows, so it feels a bit claustrophobic when you’re in the back. The torsion beam rear suspension is also located close to where the passengers sit while the Ultra Seats lack cushioning support and have low seat backs. Now imagine you’re being driven at a fast pace on a winding bumpy road. I won’t bore you with the details but the HR-V is the only car that made me sick enough to throw up after I got out of the rear.
So, if you’re going to be carrying passengers frequently make sure you take them along for the test drive or keep a bottle of Novomin close by. Unfortunately there are other rear seat issues such as…
4. Cool air circulation is poor so bring a hand fan if you’re in the back
You already know the HR-V is the biggest vehicle to use the Jazz platform offered in Malaysia so you would think that keeping passengers in the back nice and cool wouldn’t be an issue. Wrong! For some odd reason the air conditioning vents consist of two small triangular vents on either side of the steering wheel and three slim vents directly opposite the front passenger.
It looks funky but when it comes to cooling passengers in the rear on a scorching day (and you’ll get at least 300 of those a year in Malaysia) they fail miserably. Running the fan at full blast and setting the temperature to LO eventually keeps the cabin cool but it leads to frost bitten nipples for those seated at the front. Rear air conditioning vents would have solved the problem but rather oddly, there are none while the City gets them as standard.
The HR-V does however trump its brethren by using the same 1.8-litre engine as the Civic but it’s not a match made in heaven due to…
5. Nice choice of engine but did it need to get the CVT too?
The ace in the hole for the Honda HR-V is it’s 1.8-litre motor. With 140hp and 172Nm it easily out muscles the 1.5 and 1.6-litre units used by its most direct rivals, the Ford Ecosport and Peugeot 2008. It’s also frugal and sweet revving and works very well…in the Honda Civic.
Instead of using a five-speed auto like it does with the Civic, Honda chose to pair the engine to the same CVT ‘box as found in the Jazz and City. Yes, it’s cheaper than a conventional auto and aids fuel consumption while reducing emissions, but it’s a poor dynamic match.
With more torque and power available underfoot, most drivers will naturally drive a little harder but doing so just causes the CVT to keep the revs high and creates a lot of noise. It would have been better with the option of paddle shifters or a sequential shift to allow you to select virtual gears, but Honda doesn’t seem to think such features matter anymore these days.
You can’t hypnotise 15,000 people into buying your car though so there are some merits to the HR-V like…
6. It’ll carry you, your wife, your bed, your bike, your groceries and a handkerchief at the same time
Honda makes a lot of noise about the boot space available in the HR-V and they’re right to do so. There’s a minimum of 437-litres of storage volume available but that’s before you use the Ultra Seats. Configure them anyway you like and you can carry a surfboard, or a bicycle or your favourite stand lamp with ease.
Like the best cargo carrying systems, manipulation of the seats is intuitive and before long, you’ll be looking for excuses to visit IKEA to bring back yet more flat packed overpriced furniture. I’ll admit that holds some appeal but not enough for me to buy a HR-V because I’d rather use something called home delivery service.
Aside from the space, there’s also a lot of kit that comes standard such as…
7. If you can afford it, go for the high-spec Grade V model
It’s amazing what sort of kit comes as standard in cars these days. In the bad old days when a penny-pinching distributor represented Honda in Malaysia, air bags were not available and even ABS was substituted for a cheap knock-off. These days, you get everything and more.
The Grade V HR-V gets six airbags, ABS/EBD brakes, ISOFIX points and ESS brake lights; and that’s just the safety kit. Luxury kit includes part leather seats, LED DRLs and headlights, a 7-inch touch screen audio system, a push-button starter, reverse camera and even the ability to understand voice commands. Hell, there’s even a HDMI port so you can watch a blue-ray movie on the screen and piss-off your neighbours by turning the volume up on the 6-speaker system.
You’ll be paying a pretty penny though. The all-in price inclusive of GST and insurance for the Honda HR-V Grade V is RM118,228.50 and for that money you can get…
8. Would sir prefer a Honda Civic instead?
The greatest trick the HR-V pulled is getting buyers to stump up C-segment family sedan money for a B-segment crossover. The recently refreshed Honda Civic 1.8S, which uses the same motor as the HR-V but has a five-speed auto is slightly over RM5,000 cheaper. Granted, it has far less kit, only two airbags and doesn’t get paddle shifters but it’s a superior car to drive, has better ride comfort, more width in the back and won’t roast rear seat occupants.
Or you could go the other way, stump up an additional RM5,500 and opt for the Honda Civic 2.0S instead. This one has all the same kit as the top-spec HR-V and gets a more powerful engine too. The driving experience is from another planet in comparison and unlike its crossover cousin you’re unlikely to see dozens of other examples on your daily commute to work. Makes you think doesn’t it?
Look, I’m not saying the Honda HR-V is a poorly conceived product because it’s not. Quite the opposite really because while clever marketing can get you some results, it takes even cleverer product development to create something people really want. Just ask Apple. Honda has hit a home run and they deserve all the plaudits they’re getting these days.
However, I’m not ready to bury the C-segment family sedan under six feet of dirt. The HR-V is good but it has a number of faults that so many seem to have glossed over. Make sure you don’t do the same if you’re planning to buy one.