Honda helped pioneer the now-burgeoning small SUV category when it introduced the high-riding but boxy HR-V almost two decades ago. That model failed to fire in this market, and fewer than 300 were sold new.
The company has finally returned to the segment with an altogether more stylish HR-V, which manages to turn heads in a more positive way than its ungainly predecessor.
Though the old model secured a following among young and active “lifestylers” it was sold new with only three doors, and was too expensive for most young people to consider buying.
Later used imported five-door models appealed to some who liked the practicality of the wagon-like HR-V, and there are estimated to be more than 150 still on the road today.
But the six new HR-V models will have a much broader appeal than the original, which went on sale here in 1999. Instead of looking like a box on wheels, the new models are stylishly designed to suit contemporary tastes.
They combine the robust nature of an SUV with a sleek coupe-like appearance, although they are available only in front-wheel-drive mode.
In terms of technology, drivability, comfort and appearance, the new models are streets ahead of their predecessors, even though in their baseline form, they are cheaper to buy than the 1999 models. The new HR-V starts at $32,900 plus on-road costs, while a new 1999 HR-V cost around $38,000.
Instead of the boxy shape of the original HR-V, the current models have a sportier, sleeker and more stylish appearance. Honda has borrowed Alfa Romeo’s design trick of hiding the rear door handles in the C-pillar to help create a coupe-like appearance.
The new design looks particularly stylish in Morpho Blue, a colour available only on the HR-V. Driven’s test car, a top-of-the-line Sport Plus, was a more mainstream SUV colour, Alabaster Silver.
Fitted with 18-inch black and silver alloy wheels, and silver running boards beneath the two rear doors, the Sport Plus still attracted comments from fans unaccustomed to seeing the new model on the road.
As tested the HR-V Sport Plus sells for $43,900 plus on road costs, and includes keyless entry with push button start/stop function, leather seats, front and rear parking sensors and city brake assist function. It also includes an exceptionally large sunroof, helping to provide a light and airy atmosphere in the cabin.
This is in addition to the basic model kit which includes cruise control, a 7-inch display audio touch screen, touch screen climate control, a multi-angle reversing camera and parking aid, Bluetooth, daytime running lights, electric parking brake, brake hold function, emergency stop signal and hill-start assist function.
One of the most functional additions on the Sport Plus is the lane watch camera, fitted to the left-hand rear vision mirror. When the driver indicates a left turn, the camera turns on and eliminates a left-hand blind spot for the driver. Effectively the function extends the driver’s view to 80 degrees, making turning left or changing lanes much safer.During the test drive it was surprising how reassuring and effective this driving aid became.
The leather seats in the Sport Plus are comfortable, and can be easily adjusted to find the most suitable driving position. They are heated, another useful function used during the current less-than-springlike weather.
Honda describes the HR-V has “navigation capable,” meaning there is no in-built GPS on board. Instead owners can download a Sygic navigation app to provide up to date maps and guidance on their iPhones, as long as they have an iPhone5 and above.
The app is just over $100 and for that the user has regular free map updates, instead of having to pay for updates on an in-built GPS system. It also means a portable GPS system on the phone. Given the advantages it is likely many other brands will adopt similar systems.
Like many of its small SUV competitors, the HR-V has plenty of head, shoulder and elbow room for driver and passengers, and of course the higher driving position provides good visibility.
However the Honda also has the advantage of a centre-mounted fuel tank layout. The low-profile tank is under the front seats, which frees up underfloor space beneath the rear seats.
As a result of this additional space and flat floor, Honda has been able to fit its “Magic Seat” system, familiar to owners of the smaller Honda Jazz. In the HR-V the seats can be configured to provide an 1845mm-long flat rear compartment. If you want to transport a tall plant or other object the seats can be arranged to provide a 1240mm deep space behind the front seats, while the seats can also be configured to provide enough space for long items such as a surfboard or a ladder.
There is also plenty of space in the rear of the HR-V, with 437 litres of space in the rear of the vehicle with the seats up, and 1462 litres with the rear seats folded down. The relative height of the vehicle and large rear door on the HR-V makes for easy loading.
The HR-V is a sprightly performer on the road, powered by a 1.8-litre i-VTEC engine. However even in sport mode it is no rocket, and the engine rewards smooth rather than aggressive driving.
The ride is also smooth and comfortable, although the handling is typically less assured than many sedan models.
This is a stylish, practical and comfortable option for the increasing number of buyers looking for a small SUV, and it comes loaded with an impressive array of technology and driving aids.