Honda HR-V road test: can age and experience trump the upstarts?
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2019 Honda HR-V Limited
• Roomy and practical
• Stress-free drive
• Solid value
• Interior ageing
• Engine noise
• Fiddly infotainment
The Honda HR-V simply isn’t the kind of car that people get excited about. Mild mannered, practical crossovers are rarely titillating, and the HR-V is up there with the most mild and most practical of them all.
But it’s in these kinds of circumstances where context is particularly important, and you’d be surprised how attractive a humble little HR-V can look when parked up next to certain rivals. In our case, that equivalent was Driven’s former long-termer Jeep Compass.
Boasting a larger footprint and more distinct road presence, you’d think the HR-V would struggle to compete with the zesty American. But all it took were a couple of back-to-back drives to relegate the Jeep to the shaded back corner of the driveway for the week as the HR-V racked up some miles.
On the surface, there isn’t much on paper to indicate the favourable outlook. The HR-V’s powertrain remains unchanged for 2019; a naturally aspirated 1.8 i-VTEC four-cylinder making 105kW/172Nm, paired to a CVT. Most of the interior and exterior is unchanged too, which isn’t surprising given that Honda’s smallest SUV was given a tame refresh last year.
There is one new addition, however. For 2019 Honda has unwrapped a new trim-level for the line-up — the front-wheel drive Limited. It’s priced at $35,500, sits in the middle of the range between the $32,990 Active and the $35,990 AWD, and is the model that we were handed for this test.
The Limited leaps out as one of the best value propositions of the line-up. Mechanically it’s identical to the $29,990 base model HR-V S, but many of its features are lifted from the $37,500 HR-V RS. These spec-sheet gains include leather upholstery throughout, heated front seats, and additional dressings of gloss black and chrome. Automatic LED headlights, LED taillights, fog lights, and rear parking sensors are among the few exterior additions.
As well as looking solid within its own line-up, the HR-V Limited also stacks up strong when compared to its compact SUV competition. It undercuts the Mazda CX-3 GSX and the upcoming Kia Seltos Limited, while the Toyota C-HR Limited nips it by a measly $10. It’s also cheaper at retail than the similarly well-equipped Holden Trax LTZ … although the whole Trax range is currently being run-out on the cheap. But I digress.
Being good value is one thing, but the critical issue for the HR-V when faced with that bevy of names is its relative age. It’s nearly five-years-old now, and there’s a couple of areas where that age deficit is as clear as day.
The most obvious of those is within the cabin. The nonplussed dashboard layout is a flat sea of black surfaces, buttons, and knobs. The Limited’s splashing of piano black and chrome is welcomed, although the trough of reflective black surrounding the gear lever will look like a loaded petri dish dust bowl if not cleaned regularly.
What exacerbates things inside is the 7in infotainment system. It’s older software than that in the CR-V and Civic (and even those systems have their issues). Here, the physical hard buttons are difficult to read and locate while driving, the menu design and structure is quite dated, and there’s no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto offered.
The other element that lags behind some of the newer competition is the HR-V’s engine. The 1.8 produces punchy enough power for the segment, but does so with plenty of noise. At cruising speeds it’s reasonably silent, but in urban driving and on-ramp accelerating it’s a talkative unit. The presence of a continuously variable box doesn’t help this, but is somewhat cancelled out by the competent power figures. In our time with it, we averaged an economy of 7.5L/100km.
But, while it’s admittedly quite an old dog, the HR-V still pulls some impressive tricks that the others struggle to match in the real world.
For one, it drives quite well. Under the skin it shares architecture with the Jazz hatchback, which explains somewhat why it’s so handy to drive. Corners are gobbled up without much trouble, the driver seating position is pleasantly low, and its ride is well damped — particularly for such a small vehicle.
The HR-V’s biggest strength though is, simply, how easy it is to live with.
The interior might not look anything too flash, but the quality of the materials is exceptionally high for a sub-$40k car. The seats offer plenty of support and are much comfier than the flat, hard pews in the Jeep Compass. Get over the infotainment, and you have a proven offering that’s hard to beat for livability.
And, of course, you cannot talk about the HR-V without mentioning storage space. Its rear boot hosts 437L of capacity with the seats up and 1032L with the seats down. Those rear-mounted ‘magic seats’ offer solid head and leg-room, and can be flipped upwards to allow for carrying tall objects behind the front seats.
Not only is it a space that compares incredibly well with everything else in the segment, but it's also big enough to shame plenty of larger SUVs.
It cannot be denied that the HR-V faces an uphill battle. It’s long in the tooth and has to fend off countless young upstart rivals. But, those who covet for the tried and the true need not look any further.