Honda HR-V — Family friendly

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

We've always preferred smaller vehicles because we like the maneuverability and tossable fun-to-drive nature of them, so we take some measure of pleasure in the exploding small crossover segment and there are some dandy models out there whether it be in the luxury or mainstream ranks. This summer Honda joins the growing list of sub-compact crossovers with its HR-V, which rides on the same platform as the sub-compact Fit hatchback.

Honda has done a commendable job endowing the HR-V — which stretches out just 169 inches and rides on a 102.8-inch wheelbase — with a spacious and useable interior able to carry four adults and more than 24 cubic feet of cargo behind the seats.

The Honda stylists have created a handsome crossover that should wear well over time.  The sides curve up to meet the roof and Honda uses the trick of camouflaging the rear door handles high up inside the door frame. This gives the HR-V the look of a two-door, which works quite well.

Many will like the small HR-V for family chores and daily commutes because of its almost mindless ease of driving. The electric power steering is fairly communicative, and it handles the twisting rural blacktops in commendable fashion due in part to its rather stiffly tuned suspension. That's our cup of tea, but note our ride was a bit “rough.” The HR-V also proved nosier inside, especially at freeway speeds than we would like in a vehicle in this category.

The turning circle is a tidy 37.4 feet making for parking lot maneuverability and its 28 mpg city and 35 highway gas mileage (in front-wheel drive – 27/32 for all-wheel) is thrifty. But there is a downside, and it's the cars rather leisurely performance, especially with five adult passengers and a couple hundred pounds of cargo. Reaching highway speeds from an off ramp was an exercise in the liberal use of the right foot on the gas pedal. Passing on a two-lane road needed to be handled with care. Likewise, negotiating a steep incline was difficult and noisy as we called on the engine for enough enthusiasm to reach the crest.

The problem here is the rather smallish 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine making 141 horsepower and a rather meager 127 foot-pounds of torque at 4,300 rpm — the only engine available — mated to a continuously variable transmission (CVT). It's basically the same set up as the Civic, but it doesn't feel as lively as the Civic, partly because the HR-V is about 200 to 300 pounds heavier, at nearly 3,100 pounds in all-wheel drive guise.

The HR-V can be ordered with a manual shifter, which we figure few people will take advantage of, although it might give the car a bit more punch. And there are rumors that a turbocharged version may be in the works. That would be a game changer in our view.

The small Honda shines in the interior space department with 56 cubic feet of space for cargo with the second-row seats folded. The front passenger seatback can also be folded to accommodate longer objects. Rear passenger space is in abundance with decent legroom and scads of headroom. And what Honda calls "magic" seats are configurable for a combination of cargo and passengers.

The dashboard layout is attractive, the gauges easy to read. Storage space is in abundance including a tray at the base of the center stack and a storage bin under the center armrest. But we abhor the touch controls for radio turning and volume, and the climate control system. This setup creates built-in driver distraction. Fortunately, steering wheel cont
rols for audio settings came with our test vehicle.

The HR-V comes in three trim levels, LX, EX
and EX-L with a manual transmission available in the LX and all-wheel drive available in all trims for $1,250. Standard equipment includes alloy wheels, full power accessories, a rearview camera, Bluetooth phone connectivity, and an audio system with Pandora internet radio. Move to the upper trims and keyless entry and ignition, sunroof, heated front seats, leather upholstery, satellite radio, navigation and a seven-inch touchscreen are available.

Prices start at $19,995 for the LX manual and rise through the trims to the EX-L with Navigation and all-wheel drive for $26,720. Our test car was the top-of-the-line HR-V.

Honda refers to the HR-V as an “urban” crossover that works well on busy, congested city streets. Going uphill is a different story. And while we wish for elevated performance, we figure most potential buyers will find it adequate.

Base price: $19,995; as driven, $26,720
Engine: 1.8-liter 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 141 @ 6,500 rpm
Torque: 127 foot-pounds @ 4,300 rpm
Transmission: continuously variable
Drive: all-wheel
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 102.8 inches
Length: 169.1 inches
Curb weight: 3,093 pounds
Turning circle: 37.4 feet
Luggage capacity: 24.3 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 55.9 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 13.2 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 32 highway, 27 city, 29 combined
0-60: 9.5 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: Chevrolet Trax, Mazda CX-3, Subaru XV Crosstrek

The Good
• Excellent passenger, cargo space
• Several rear seat configurations
• Stylish exterior that should wear well over time

The Bad
• Noisy at highway speeds

The Ugly
• Disappointing performance