Honda HR-V RS: Room to move
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According to my hazy memory, the “RS” nameplate refers to the German word “Rennsport”, which was first used to describe a special edition of the Mercedes SS raced by Captain Malcolm Campbell back in 1930.
Other famous Rennsports include the special BMW boxer twin motorcycle engines that dominated the World Sidecar Championship from the 1950s to the 1970s, and Porsche effectively enshrined the RS badge when it attached it to a hotted-up, stripped-down 911 Carrera — still one of the most desirable cars the brand created.
Against this background of hardcore machinery driven by some of the hardest men and women in motorsport, we now have Honda using the “RS” designation to identify its latest addition to the HR-V range. Historically, “RS” means “Racing Sport”.
However, despite Honda’s attempts to sport up the new HR-V model with a new variable-ratio steering rack, stiffer stabiliser bars, and lower-profile tyres fitted to 18-inch alloy wheels, the most likely track use for this once-over-lightly variant will be school and supermarket runs.
So let’s find a more accurate meaning for that pretentious RS badge, okay? Roomy-Sport would better describe the new $37,500 HR-V. Like the Jazz RS that provides the basis for the HR-V crossover spinoff, practicality is a core value, and neither of these smaller RS-badged Hondas possess the same potential for performance as the two hot Civic hatchbacks that have successfully established a sportier image for Honda over recent years – the Civic RS and Type-R.
The sticking point is the powertrain of the HR-V RS, which is the same as the rest of the range and features an ordinary 1.8-litre four, developing an adequate-if-uninspiring 105kW and 172Nm, and driving the front wheels via a CVT gearbox.
Whereas the Jazz RS offers a six-speed manual option to lift its appeal to driving enthusiasts, the HR-V is totally a hands-off drive when it comes to gear choice. Still, at least it is a good CVT when it comes to efficiency, giving the potential to achieve quoted fuel-use figures of 6.7 litres/100km.
Although the responsive 1.5 petrol-turbo engine of the Civic RS represents a missed opportunity for the HR-V RS, the revised chassis does provide a sportier driving persona than the rest of Honda’s sub-compact SUV range.
The body is more immunised from weight transfer, helping sustain the grip of the tyres tracking the inside line through corners, and the new steering does what it says on the box by being light and agile at urban speeds and direct and neutral on the open road.
The RS is a firmer-riding vehicle than the rest of the range, but the suspension never offends by jarring or jostling occupants of the spacious cabin that is arguably the best reason to buy any HR-V.
Naturally, the RS has the same versatility as the rest of the HR-V range when it comes to seating/luggage options, offering no less than 18 different cabin configurations.
You can even have a completely flat floor if you’re keen to mimic the Mayor of Whanganui and go freedom camping in a high-riding Honda. The packaging is some of the best in the A0-size SUV class, and Doctor Who would feel right at home with the way an HR-V feels big on the inside, and looks small from the outside.
The luggage bay offers 437 litres of stowage with the rear seats erect, and expands to 1462 litres with them folded away. That’s 288 litres more than the rival Mazda CX-3.
The furnishing is admirable too, up to a point. The leather-clad seats of the RS have comfort and support nailed, and the glossy piano-black dash panels and the 3D-effect digital instruments are nice touches.
There’s a simplicity inside the HR-V that’s initially endearing until you realise that some is the result of a lack of equipment.
Infotainment and connectivity have increasing importance for car buyers these days, and Honda, like Toyota, is lagging behind in these areas by staunchly refusing to adopt cellphone projection interfaces like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
Add a sat-nav system that seems to be mysteriously embedded within the HR-V’s multimedia interface to the opportunities for improvement.
Although all new HR-V models now have autonomous emergency braking, the system is active up to 30km/h instead of the usual 50km/h. Desirable driving aids like blind spot monitors (there is a camera on the left side mirror that operates when you indicate in that direction) and rear cross traffic alert warnings are also Awol in the new RS. Thankfully, there is no lane keeping assistance to wrestle with, but a lane departure warning system would help prevent drivers from nodding off.
If a full safety equipment locker is desired for your sub-compact SUV, you’ll find it elsewhere at this price point. If you seek a genuine “Rennsport” for similar money, look no further than the $38,450 147kW Volkswagen Polo GTI.