Honda HR-V: Do you still need to test drive?

Runaway successes are hard to come by. We find out what makes the HR-V tick


Last month we ran a story based on the sampling of the Honda HR-V during its local media test drive. Faisal Shah’s account was forthright but much less complimentary than most other local reviews that couldn’t stop heaping praises on Honda’s new compact SUV a.k.a. crossover. So we thought it wouldn’t hurt to give Honda Malaysia’s PR department a call to see if the HR-V could be made available to us over a weekend. Within a few days, we picked up an immaculately prepared HR-V from their office, no questions asked. Not only are the marketing folks at Honda Malaysia a class act, they seem pretty darn sure of their product too.

Everyone seems to like the HR-V, why?hrv5       

From the Porsche Macan to the Subaru XV, compact SUVs are “trending”, but not all of them are flying out of showrooms, just ask Ford about their EcoSport. There are a couple of key elements that Honda has gotten quite right in the HR-V. Firstly, by going the swoopy route like the Nissan Juke or the BMW X6, the HR-V’s coupe-like silhouette and window line are immediately eye-catching. Combine that with a low (for an SUV), almost aggressive stance and you have something most people would term as “cool and sporty”. And then they find out that prices start below RM100,000.


While sloping rooflines and short body overhangs may look very interesting, they also tend to constrict cabin space. The clever bit then that binds the HR-V altogether lies in its packaging. And since the HR-V is based on the Jazz – the little car that sets the gold standard in space optimisation – the HR-V was always going to be practical as it is stylish. For good measure, Honda reworked just about everything on the Jazz including lengthening and widening its footprint so you’d never mistake one for the other. So, before a wheel is turned, the HR-V already has showroom appeal pretty much sewn up. It is indeed a good time to be a Honda sales person.


hrv12Do you still need a test drive?

I hasten a guess that many of the thousands who have placed a booking probably didn’t. Can’t blame them because the HR-V builds an even more compelling case when you get into the cabin. It’s evident that Honda has finally decided to put some heart into interior design, above and beyond slotting functional parts together (yeah, we are talking about you, Civic). As a result, the architecture of the HR-V is properly differentiated from the Jazz, but in a tasteful and minimalist bent.

hrv16For one, there are hardly any buttons to clutter the dashboard in our V-grade test unit. The touch controls (for the radio and air-con) plays to the smartphone generation, but aren’t that difficult for people who grew up using Nokia 8210 or Motorola Razr to adapt to either, just make sure a piece of micro-fibre cloth is around to wipe away dust and smudges.

The design of the “floating” centre console is made possible by the fact that the HR-V doesn’t have a conventional hand brake lever, an electronic park brake system with “hold” function takes its place, which by the way works handily in stop start traffic, so you never ever need to stand on the brake pedal anymore when idling in gear. Under it resides a semi-concealed storage space not unlike that of Volvos, useful to stow valuable items from prying eyes, and the USB and power sockets are tucked away here as well, all very well thought out.

The masters of space

hrv15As expected, space isn’t an issue in the HR-V, its almost flat floor yields ample rear legroom even for grown-ups while the 437-litre trunk behind them is easily the equal of booted sedans by virtue of being infinitely more usable thanks to its spine-friendly loading height, this is before we get to those Ultra seats, which unleashes more space when required.

While headroom isn’t a problem, the HR-V’s swoopy roof line does exact a penalty in that it pinches the space that’s available for the rear seat backs, which end up being short on support around the shoulder area. One feels a bit like sitting on a flat bench wrapped in cushion. You can recline the seat back angle rearwards by a notch, but the HR-V’s small rear window aperture and high-ish belt line then limit the view out.

Let’s drive it anyway

hrv3In the name of efficiency, Japanese brands have increasingly turned to the CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission) for better returns. Not going to argue with fuel savings, but the way belts and pulleys go about their business remain some distance off from being as involving as a conventional automatic with planetary gears.

Not that there’s anything so wrong in how the HR-V builds speeds, the initial surge is punchy but then the acceleration tapers off rather quickly, with a one-note mechanical drone permeating the cabin till the throttle is backed off. In all fairness, most CVTs work this way, but a pair of shift paddles on the steering wheel might help make things less pedantic.

Despite having a bigger engine and superior power-to-weight ratio (on paper), the HR-V curiously feels (and sounds) more laboured compared to the Jazz or the City, which also run CVTs. And since the Jazz/City’s 1.5L four-cylinder actually produces maximum torque at higher engine speeds, one would have to point the finger at the HR-V’s 1,249kg kerb weight (143kg and 161kg more than the City and Jazz) and much wider tyres (215mm vs. 185mm) as the main culprits. I know the days of VTEC “kickin’ in” are long gone, but as proud makers of powertrains, Honda should do better here.


It is a bit of a shame that the powertrain isn’t more responsive or freer-revving because Honda actually engineered a car that handles and rides like one of those from the continent of Europe. The suspension damping is firm, but the ride is pliant enough not to be unduly troubled by the whacky surfaces of KL roads. And for what is a tallish car with raised ground clearance (just about an inch more than most sedans), the HR-V is surprisingly well planted in mid to high speed corners. It is at the slow corners that the steering effort needed get the HR-V’s nose turned in seemed unnecessarily heavy, as if understeer is setting in at 30km/h, which of course isn’t actually the case.

Go ahead, make that callhrv10_edited

We believe that you should test drive any car that you have the intention of purchasing, even in a slam dunk case like the HR-V. Reservations aside, the HR-V fully deserves its early success and your attention simply because it does things that matter so well – stylish and has the flexibility to do-it-all – so much so that many regard it as being the first of its kind. Well, Honda didn’t really invent the compact crossover, but it has most definitely laid down the marker that everyone will now have to measure up against.

hrv9Honda HR-V 1.8L V

Price RM114,744.77 (incl. GST, w/o insurance)
Engine 1.8-litre, 4-cylinder petrol, FWD
Output 142ps, 172Nm
Transmission Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT)
Performance 0-100km/h in 10.0 sec (est.), top speed 195km/h (est.)
Wheels/tyres 16in alloys, 215/60 R16
Safety 6 airbags, Vehicle Stability Control

(Test vehicle fitted with Modula Sport Aero package priced at RM3,928.20)