The 2016 HR-V is Honda’s entry into the growing subcompact crossover segment. Can it rule the class like the company’s larger CR-V, which dominates the compact segment?
The HR-V’s exterior is a study in understated elegance. Although more conservatively styled than some of its competitors, namely the quirky Nissan Juke and the cutesy Jeep Renegade, the HR-V is a handsome vehicle with a tastefully aggressive front end and strong character lines flowing to the pinched back side windows with hidden door handles. It feels mature and upscale for its class.
The upscale feel continues in the HR-V’s interior, especially when equipped with leather surfaces like the test vehicle. The dash is all black with either black or cream leather and chrome accents and is a model of simplicity, especially when compared to the busy interior of Honda’s own Civic.
Two touch screens dominate the center of the dash of this EX-L Navi model – a 7-inch infotainment screen and a smaller interface for the HVAC controls. Lower models get a 5-inch display and traditional buttons and knobs for the radio and HVAC. The center console sits high and has a cutout for the USB, HDMI and power inputs. While stylish, the cutout area is hard to reach, and some of the inputs are blocked from view from the driver’s perspective.
The all-touch infotainment system is a mixed bag. While it’s easy to operate, the touch volume control is difficult to manipulate and some of the menus and overlays look like they came from an old video game. Fortunately, the steering wheel has redundant controls, although a quick look through the owner’s manual is required to master all the features.
The HR-V comes with a lot of technology, including Bluetooth audio streaming, XM radio, USB connectivity and HondaLink smartphone integration.
The test car also has Honda’s LaneWatch system. A small camera on the right mirror activates when the right turn signal is engaged and displays the car’s blind spot on the 7-inch display. It’s useful when passing on the highway, as the image has an overlay that shows the car’s safe zone for merging. It’s less useful when sitting at a traffic light in the city, as it takes over the display and makes all functionality inaccessible. It can be cancelled with a button on the end of the turn signal stalk or turned off altogether.
The climate control interface is simple and intuitive. A row of buttons run along the bottom of the display to change the modes and up and down arrows control the temperature and fan speed.
Although the HR-V’s interior is loaded with new technology, under the hood it’s all old school. The single-overhead-cam, 1.8-liter, four-cylinder engine that’s seen duty in the Civic since 2006 motivates the HR-V to the tune of 141 horsepower and 127 lb-ft of torque. Those numbers are significantly below competitors like the Nissan Juke and the Kia Soul, and when mated to a continuously variable transmission like the test vehicle, it means that performance lags behind as well.
CVTs never win the hearts of enthusiasts, but the HR-V’s CVT is a pretty good example of the breed. There is little to no hint of transmission lag – the little SUV feels peppy off the line – and the transmission kicks down quickly for hills and passing. It still keeps the engine revving at a consistent RPM during acceleration, but the 1.8-liter four has a pleasing growl that doesn’t get too tiring. For most driving situations, the transmission gets out of the way, with just a little bit of rev hunting when given less-than-smooth throttle inputs.
The CVT has a sport mode that, according to the owner’s manual, give brisker acceleration and is useful for hilly terrain. In this mode, the transmission holds lower gear ratios longer and keeps the rev point higher for more immediate throttle response.
The test car also has paddle shifters. In normal “D” mode, the left-side paddle can be used for a quick downshift, but then the transmission will return to automatic mode. In sport mode, the shifters convert the car to full-on manual mode, moving the CVT between seven pre-defined ratios. The setup works well and will hold the car in gear up to redline. It may not actually increase performance – acceleration in manual or automatic mode felt identical – but it adds a sporting feel.
The powertrain may be low on power, but it delivers at the fuel pump. Even with all wheel drive, the test car is rated at 27 mpg in the city, 32 mpg on the highway and 29 mpg overall. The test car averaged 29 mpg over the week-long test period.
One area where HR-V shines is chassis and suspension setup. The Fit, upon which the HR-V is based, always had surprising competence and the HR-V keeps that virtue, with accurate, linear steering, compliant suspension damping and a near perfect ride/handling balance.
It’s still a small car with a relatively short wheelbase, so large potholes and expansion joints can upset the chassis, but the ride is comfortable, especially in a car with such good roll control.
The HR-V always feels planted and never feels like it’s going to topple over. It may not be able to keep up with the Juke in a straight line, but when the road gets curvy, there’s not much between the two, despite the Juke being a more overtly sporting car.
Another trait the HR-V shares with the Fit is that car’s utility. Like the Fit, the HR-V’s fuel tank sits under the front seats, opening up the cargo area to 23.2 cubic feet of space with the seats up and 55.9 cubic feet with the seats down. That’s more room than any other car in the class available with all wheel drive, with only the Kia Soul sporting a larger cargo hold.
The rear seats have Honda’s Magic Seat system, just like the Fit. The seats can be folded flat – with a 60/40 split – or the lower cushions can be folded up for tall, narrow items.
The HR-V is a late comer to the subcompact crossover party and already faces stiff competition. The Nissan Juke is the sports car of the class, but it has a small cargo area and polarizing styling. GM’s twins, the Buick Encore and Chevrolet Trax, offer solid utility and a comfortable ride at the expense of sporting pretensions. The Jeep Renegade is the off-road champ of the class, and its cousin, the Fiat 500X, offers Italian flair and a sporting demeanor. Subaru’s XV Crosstrek has a rugged feel and solid reliability, and the Kia Soul, while an older design, still gives impressive cargo capacity, but lacks available all wheel drive.
The Mexico-built HR-V gives buyers a lot of car for the money. The EX-L Navi model tested here lists for $26,720, and includes all of the technology listed above, built-in navigation, leather interior and all wheel drive. Base LX front-wheel-drive manual models start at $19,995.
On the TFLcar scale of Buy It, Lease It, Rent It or Forget It, the 2016 Honda HR-V gets an enthusiastic Buy It. Despite being down on power compared with some of the competition, the HR-V deserves a spot at or near the top of the burgeoning subcompact SUV class. It’s a better Fit than the Fit, keeping that car’s strengths – a competent chassis, a cavernous interior and strong fuel efficiency – and adding a larger, more stylish exterior, a more upscale interior, a better driving position and available all wheel drive. Based on the HR-V’s strong May sales numbers – Honda sold more than 6,000 HR-Vs despite only being available for two weeks, selling more than the Fit for the entire month – Honda has another winner in its lineup.
|Vehicle||Base price||Price as-tested||HP/Torque||EPA fuel economy||As-tested fuel economy||TFL rating|
|2016 Honda HR-V EX-L Navi||$19,995||$26,720||141 hp @ 6,500 rpm / 127 lb-ft @ 4,300 rpm||27/32/29||29 mpg||Buy It!|
Watch as Nathan Adlen takes the new HR-V for a spin in this TFLcar video: