Honda is turning itself around after more than a decade of virtually treading water, and the evidence of the turnaround is obvious in the new Civic range and the compact SUV HR-V models.
Finally the iconic Japanese company’s models are reflecting its strong motorsport heritage, rather than the more beige image of a company concentrating on less exciting attributes such as practicality and reliability.
Word in the local industry suggests Honda is enjoying particular success with its new Civic RS model, tested by Driven a month ago. The turnaround will become even more obvious when Honda launches the right-hand-drive NSX supercar and the seriously high-performance Type R-Civic here next year.
The new Civics follow Honda’s success with the HR-V, in one of the fastest-growing and most competitive sectors of the marketplace, for small crossover SUVs.
Honda NZ began selling front-wheel-drive HR-Vs a year ago and sold all 700 vehicles allocated at launch. That means the current model has buried the mixed reputation of the original HR-V models introduced during the 1980s.
That three-door “lifestyle” model helped introduce New Zealanders to the concept of a lifestyle hatchback, but arrived somewhat before its time, selling fewer than 300 new here.
But the contemporary models have been so successful here that Honda NZ has persuaded its parent company to add an all-wheel-drive model to its range. New Zealand is apparently the only country outside Japan where both ranges are available.
You will have to be sharp to distinguish the AWD variants on the road — the only visible signs are a discreet AWD tailgate badge and, for true train-spotters, several colours unique to the AWD model.
Our test car was cinnamon bronze, labelled less imaginatively on the NZTA road tolls website as brown. It would not be my choice — the vehicle stands out in crystal (deep and bold) red, misty green pearl and even in the ubiquitous silver.
The AWD HR-V is powered by Honda’s EarthDreams direct injected DOHC i-VTEC 1.5-litre petrol engine, which produces 96kW at 6600rpm, and torque of 155Nm at 4600rpm.
Inside, the AWD models are almost the same as the 2-WD, with minor differences such as a Pioneer audio system. The key interior advantages of all HR-Vs is the huge amount of practical carrying capacity in such a compact vehicle. The magic seat system from the Honda Jazz is fitted for quick, easy conversion from four or five-seater configuration to practical high-capacity load carrying mode by folding the rear seats down.
This simple procedure provides an 1845mm-long flat rear compartment, with enough space to lay longish objects such as a ladder in the back compartment.
The high roofline also means there is plenty of room for more bulky items, even with the rear seats in place. There is 437 litres of space in the rear with the seats up, and a massive 1462 litres folded down.
Loading is a breeze, thanks to the large rear door, which when opened allows you to simply slide boxes or whatever into the rear.
The AWD models are coming from Japan, whereas the two-wheelers are built in Thailand. All maintain the high-quality build standards Honda customers expect from the brand.
Honda NZ backs the quality with a five-year unlimited-kilometre body and mechanical warranty, along with 24-hour roadside assist and 24-hour collision assistance.
The AWD model is powered by Honda’s 1.5 litre 16-valve iVTEC engine, which delivers power smoothly up through the revs. It does not like impatient drivers who plant their foot to the floor and expect instant speed. When pressed too hard, the engine sends the message loud and clear with almost a scream, telling the driver to back off.
This is an engine and automatic gearbox that delivers performance smoothly in default comfort mode. The model delivers a much more satisfying all-round driver experience in sport mode.
The ride is firmer than in the 2-WD models, as you would expect, and the steering is direct with more than adequate feel.
The AWD models come standard with daytime running lights, roof rails, excellent reversing camera, leather steering wheel, alloy wheels, and hill-start assist.
The AWD models are priced from $35,600 plus orc, which compares with the 2WD models, starting at $32,900 plus orc.
HONDA HR-V AWD
Pros: Good value and practical carrying capacity.
Cons: Blind spot caused by large rear-view mirrors.