Tiny Crossover, Big Expectations: Honda HR-V Provides Complete Package
The first thing I learned when driving the 2016 Honda HR-V in Miami is that Miami has the worst drivers in the world. Random horn blasting, lack of familiarity with turn signal operation, and the keen ability to cut off anyone, anywhere, and at any time are highly honed skills for Miami drivers. I was equally horrified and impressed.
Meanwhile, the HR-V, an all-new tiny crossover, helped thwart every attempt to push me into a canal. It’s quick, it’s nimble, and it’s surprisingly comfortable, with a thoughtful interior package. The HR-V is the next star in Honda‘s lineup.
Built on the same platform as the Honda Fit, the HR-V provides solid performance and lots of space. It takes some of the best attributes of the Fit but packages them in much more appealing sheetmetal. From the soft-touch materials and Magic Seat second row to its peppy engine and well-tuned suspension, the HR-V is a great vehicle for a starter family, a single person with pets, or anyone else looking for reliable, stylish, efficient, and fun transportation.
That’s the thing about Honda. It remains one of the safest bets in the automotive world. Its well-earned reputation for reliability has often come with the caveat that the vehicles are boring. The Accord, Civic, and Fit only perpetuate that notion. But in the crossover category, Honda bucks that trend. The CR-V, Motor Trend‘s SUV of the Year, combines style with efficiency, and the HR-V furthers it.
The HR-V, which comes in three trim levels — LX, EX, EX-L Navi — runs on Honda’s 1.8-liter SOHC four-cylinder engine. It produces 141 horsepower and 127 lb-ft of torque. A rather low number, but it’s still able to give this tiny crossover plenty of power. On Interstate 95, the HR-V had solid acceleration and kept up with speeders on the way to Key West, Florida. On State Road A1A, the HR-V maneuvered quickly to block interlopers attempting to cut me off.
The electric power steering felt well-weighted with a nice snap back to center. The HR-V’s stunted stature also made it very easy to turn whether in an overcrowded parking lot or thick traffic. My one complaint with driving the HR-V was that it’s loud, letting lots of road noise into the cabin.
Although a six-speed manual is available on FWD LX and EX models, the majority of HR-Vs sold will use Honda’s continuously variable transmission. These vehicles include paddle shifters, which most people will never use. (They work just fine, however, and downshifting to grab some extra torque does work, even if it is a somewhat imaginary feat.) Additionally, this is the first Honda to incorporate an electronic brake, which allows for new features such as hill start assist and automatic brake hold.
The HR-V uses a fully independent front and torsion beam rear suspension on 17-inch wheels to provide a compliant and smooth ride. You might hear the concrete seams as you cruise down the road, but you won’t feel them.
The bigger story for this vehicle is inside the cabin. The HR-V is comfortable, can easily fit five adults, and still offers plenty of cargo space — 23.2 cubic feet behind the second row. The interior configurability is magical. You can fold down the second row for 58.8 cubic feet of space. If you have longer items, you can also fold the front passenger’s seat down for additional space. And, of course, the second row not only folds down but also folds up to allow objects to stand up. Honda also points out that folding the second row seats up would create a good space for a pet because the floor is lower than if you were attempting to put Fido in the back. That might also keep some fur from adhering to the second-row seats, but I was not allowed to bring my dog to the program, and he doesn’t know how to type.
That versatility creates a lot of options for the HR-V that other crossovers just don’t allow. It will certainly act like a much bigger vehicle than its 169.1-inch body suggests. (A Honda Civic is 10 inches longer.)
Overall, the HR-V interior looks sharp. The asymmetrical dash looks modern, and most of the touchpoints are soft. I would prefer a volume knob instead of the digital screen volume swipe, but it still works fine on the 7-inch color screen atop the center stack. (The base model HR-V has a smaller 5-inch color screen).
Throughout the cabin, the design is crisp and functionality is precise. It has all of the modern features a customer would expect, including Bluetooth connectivity for hands-free phone operation, two USB ports (on EX and EX-L models), and lots of storage cubbies in the door. Honda even included a storage tray at the base of the center stack below the shifter level that will likely become the parking spot for phones.
There are enough luxury features to make owners feel like they got a high-end crossover at a low-end price. Little things such as push-button start, Siri Eyes Free Integration, and an upgraded six-speaker, 180-watt stereo system will reward drivers every time they get behind the wheel. It can come as loaded as a customer wants. The HR-V lineup starts with a front-drive, manual-transmission LX at $19,995 including the destination charge, and tops out at $26,720 for an all-wheel-drive EX-L with navigation.
Unlike the Fit, the HR-V offers the driver a slightly higher riding position and great lines of sight. Honda’s Lane Watch, which uses a camera on the passenger side exterior mirror and displays the view on center stack’s mounted video screen, does a nice job seeing what you can’t. Miami driving requires you always keep a watchful eye out for cars lurking in your blind spots. It’s the ones you don’t see that are really dangerous.
The conservative exterior is sporty and should age well. It’s nicely proportioned, with the wheels pushed out to the edges. Some simple character lines help define the vehicle. It doesn’t have to look too powerful or too sporty because it isn’t either.
The one concern I have with the HR-V is not on the consumer side but rather on Honda’s. As Americans continue to move out of sedans and into crossovers, will the HR-V become the default purchase for Honda customers instead of the Civic? Its interior efficiency makes the HR-V a viable alternative and certainly more utilitarian. Its good fuel economy and solid performance also bode well for this tiny crossover.
In either case, I don’t think Honda will complain too loudly. This new addition to the lineup will be treated like family over the holidays. Welcome home.