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Honda HR-V Sport X

 

Baby crossovers are very much the in-thing right now. How does Honda’s new HR-V Sport measure up?

Base price: $41,200.

Powertrain and performance: 1.8-litre petrol four, 105kW/172Nm, continuously variable transmission with seven-step mode, front-drive, Combined economy 6.9 litres per 100km.

Vital statistics: 4294mm long, 1605mm high, 2610mm wheelbase, luggage capacity 437-1462 litres, fuel tank 50 litres, 17-inch alloy wheels.

We like: Quirky styling, good chassis, Sport-model equipment, Magic-Seat interior.

We don’t like: Coarse engine, drone of continuously variable transmission, too much touch-screen.

How it rates: 8/10

WHAT DO I NEED TO KNOW? Small crossovers are the hottest segment in New Zealand at the moment. Mainstream carmakers (not to mention a few premium brands) are rushing to get high-riding versions of their most popular small cars into showrooms, to capitalise on the public’s seemingly inexhaustible interest in all things sport utility vehicle (SUV).

The HR-V is Honda’s new entrant and a rival for the likes of the Mazda CX-3, Holden Trax and Ford Ecosport. It’s based on the Jazz supermini, although it’s a little larger than its hatchback sibling: nearly 300mm longer and (of course) slightly taller.

The name is a blast from the past. Honda was ahead of its time with a similar model from 1998-2006, which also wore the HR-V badge.

The new version is available in a bewildering array of six different models, although it’s only the exterior styling and cabin equipment that differs: all are powered by the same 1.8-litre engine, driving the front wheels through a continuously variable transmission (CVT) with seven-step mode.

Our test car sits near the top of the range: it’s the HR-V Sport X.

WHAT’S IT LIKE TO DRIVE? The HR-V is surprisingly engaging for what is essentially a city car, despite a few refinement-related foibles.

The 1.8-litre engine is of larger capacity than the powerplant in the Jazz, although it’s not overly endowed with power. More to the point, the delivery is pretty peaky and the engine sounds coarse as the revolutions rise, so pursuing brisk performance can seem like a futile activity.

That’s a shame, because the steering and chassis are quite impressive. That’s no surprise really, as the closely related Jazz is very competent in corners, too.

You could criticise the HR-V’s ride as being brittle in urban driving – perhaps exacerbated by the Sport model’s larger 17-inch alloys and low-profile tyres – but the chassis is responsive and the car is stable in corners. Perhaps not quite up the standards of the very well-sorted Mazda CX-3, but noticeable more engaging than the Holden Trax and Ford Ecosport.

The HR-V is front-drive only for our market, although four-wheel drive is available in other markets.

The CVT is a new-tech unit but still an acquired taste. This gearless transmission avoids the excessive flaring of earlier incarnations, but it’s far from a driver’s delight – especially in combination with the vocal engine. Sport mode simply increases revs for more immediate acceleration and engine-braking, while the seven-step mode mimics the ratios of a conventional gearbox. It’s handy but not entirely convincing, as there’s still a lot of slurring during hard acceleration.

Safety-focused driver aids may prove a selling point for this model. The HR-V Sport features autonomous braking at city speeds up to 32km/h, front and rear parking sensors and a reversing camera with dynamic visual graphic that shows you exactly where you’ll end up as you’re turning the steering wheel.

The Sport also gets Honda’s novel LaneWatch camera, which shows you traffic to the left of the car when you turn on the indicator, to assist in lane-changing (a fisheye camera is mounted in the passenger-side mirror).

IS IT EASY TO LIVE WITH? The HR-V is nothing like a Jazz to sit in. The cabin architecture is unique and boasts a number of novel touches, including a retro-look row of ventilation outlets along the offside of the dashboard.

The main dash structure is hard plastic, but the console is overlaid with a softer material that’s pleasantly tactile.

Honda’s seven-inch touch-screen information and entertainment system is simple to use, even if the graphics are a bit murky. The HR-V is satellite navigation-capable, but you’ll need to bring your own iPhone and run a special application called Sygic. You’ll also need a proprietary connector: total set-up cost about $200.

The touch technology extends to the climate control panel, which may be a step too far as you have to focus carefully on the display when you’re changing settings. Sometimes, you can’t beat a proper button.

There’s lots of storage space, including a clever cupholder system that has a collapsible base and folding partition to accommodate different sized vessels.

A panoramic glass roof and leather upholstery are standard on Sport. All HR-V models have Honda’s fantastic Magic Seat, which allows you to fold the rear chairs in a variety of configurations: utility (1845mm-long flat load floor), tall (1240mm height) or long (a narrow 2445mm cargo space with the front passenger seat folded forward).

There are actually three different HR-V Sport models. The X (as tested) adds front and rear skid plates and running boards, while the Sport+ has more aggressive bumpers, side skirts and 18-inch wheels.

SHOULD I BUY ONE? It’s baby steps for the burgeoning baby-crossover class at this stage, but the HR-V is one of the stronger entrants in the segment at this time. It has distinctive (if not universally admired) style, good chassis dynamics, strong equipment levels and that supremely practical Magic Seat cabin.

It certainly makes its big brother, the CR-V, look very old-fashioned.

EQUIPMENT CHECKLIST

  • Blind spot warning: No
  • Lane guidance: No
  • Cruise control: Yes
  • Automatic lights/wipers: Yes/yes
  • Parking radar: Front and rear with camera
  • Self-parking technology: No
  • Head-up display: No
  • Satellite navigation: Optional via iPhone application
  • Keyless entry/start: Yes/Yes
  • Stop-start: Yes
  • Air conditioning: Dual climate
  • Heated/ventilated seats: Yes/No
  • Power seat adjustment/memory: Yes/no
  • Leather upholstery: Yes
  • Power boot or tailgate: No
  • Split/folding rear seats: 60/40 with multi-configurations


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