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Review Honda’s HR-V 1.5 CVT

HR-V is the crossover with a legacy that’s underappreciated.

When most European and Korean car brands had no concept of a crossover, Honda’s trended ahead, debuting the HR-V in the late 1990s. At the time, MPVs and hatchbacks were still the default compact to -mid-sized family vehicles of choice, but Honda’s vision for a sub-compact crossover was clear – and surprisingly well executed.

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The original HR-V had dramatic design and styling, projecting confidence endemic to Japanese car brands during the late 1990s. Two decades later, what does the latest HR-V offer in a market that has matured and welcomed the crossover?

We spent some time in the HR-V 1.5 CVT to evaluate the latest version of Honda’s original crossover.

A ‘true’ Honda

The third-generation HR-V isn’t radically styled, but its body-coloured grille and slim headlamps create a futuristic feel. You can imagine one of these, at night, cruising around Tokyo, with the neon glow reflecting off its smooth surfaces.

It might lack the geometry of surface creases which have become a feature of many crossovers, but this Honda is all the better for it. Cars with overly styled surface creases age rapidly, and those body panels are more expensive to repair for even the slightest dent.

Inside the HR-V, you sense this is a car with true Soichiro Honda legacy. Unlike much of Honda’s current South African model line-up, the HR-V is assembled in Japan, not India.

HR-V has a smart cabin

The cabin surface materials and fit integrity are premium. Like the Civic we tested earlier this year, HR-V is a reminder of the build quality that once made Honda the alternative for many South Africans. A reputation built in the late 1980s and 1990s.

Infotainment and device integration are logical and ergonomically sensible without being the most advanced in class. There’s an 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system with logical menu navigation, although the graphic interface isn’t wildly artistic regarding its digital iconography.

Crossovers are supposed to be practical and versatile regarding their load-carrying capacity. At 304-litres of luggage space, the HR-V is good without being class-leading. What is clever is how effortlessly its rear seats fold flat, expanding that 304-litre luggage capacity.

The crossover with very clever seats

Honda’s HR-V has some of the easiest cabin configurability of any crossover. It is a legacy cabin architecture feature, which Honda fans will remember, from the Jazz hatchback, which introduced South Africans to Honda’s brilliant ‘Magic Seats’.

Annoyingly stubborn latches and silly fabric loops are common frustrations if you drive a crossover and regularly need to fold the seats flat. I surf and mountain bike, creating weekend expectations where any test car’s folding seat convenience is tested. And the HR-V’s rear seat adjustability is unquestionably brilliant.

It deserves a turbo

The HR-V is powered by the naturally-aspirated version of Honda’s 1.5-litre engine. We tested the turbocharged version of this Honda four-cylinder in the Civic RS, and its balance between performance and smoothness impressed.

Without a turbo, the Honda 1.5-litre engine makes 89kW and 145Nm. Paired with a CVT transmission, the HR-V power- and drivetrain are configured for relaxed cruising and fuel economy, not performance.

Without the benefit of turbocharging, HR-V isn’t quick. And its overtaking performance is leisurely. You need to plan and time your highway speed overtaking. In contrast, Honda’s Civic RS, powered by the turbocharged version of the same engine, is wonderfully confident the moment you need to overtake.

Compelling crossover

What the HR-V lacks in performance and overtaking swiftness, it does compensate for with low levels of road, wind and mechanical noise.

At cruising speeds, this is a crossover with valid luxury car refinement – a credit to Honda’s aerodynamicists, acoustic engineers and suspension technicians. The HR-V rolls 18-inch wheels, an inch larger than we’d recommend for local road conditions, but the 255/50 profile tyres deliver

Honda validly created the sub-compact crossover market before many of the current segment favourites even existed. With its restrained design, terrific cabin build quality, settled ride, agile handling and reasonable economy, HR-V is a very competent crossover.

It’s just a pity Honda hasn’t added the brand’s excellent 1.5-litre engine as an option for South African customers. Yet.

The Honda HR-V 1.5 CVT Executive prices at R599 900. 

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