Obviously, the SUV body style has pretty much conquered the new car world… and it's based on a belief that a sports utility vehicle has to be more practical, has to be more roomy and, let's face it, has to be a little more exciting than the run-of-the-mill passenger cars we've all been used to for the last couple of decades.
But does this theory - that all SUVs create excitement - actually ring true? After all, quite a few are derived from the very sedans and small passenger cars we are all now studiously ignoring on the showroom floor.
The Honda HR-V is a great case in point. A spin-off of the small Honda Jazz, the HR-V sits underneath its sister CR-V in terms of size, and is regarded as a compact SUV – which is, after all, a small hatch on stilts at the end of the day.
Can a compact SUV, and in particular the Honda HR-V, let its relatively short hair down for a little bit of a good time? Let's find out.
It's hard to call the HR-V's design exciting. In fact, it's much easier to call it derivative, or indeed, a little bland. It really doesn't present much more than being a small hatch on stilts, although the hidden rear-door handles do go a little way to adding some of that SUV mystique that you may be looking for.
There's a lot of visual weight that sits high and back on the car, which does give it a bit of a frumpy air. And while it's not exactly offensive, neither will it draw your eye in the car park.
Our base model has very elementary 16-inch alloy rims fitted as standard, while bumper brightwork is kept a minimum, which does lend it a clean look.
Our base model has very elementary 16-inch alloy rims fitted as standard. (image credit: Tim Robson)
Inside, there's a bit of curvature going on, especially around the centre console divider and up through the dashboard. It does present quite well in the interior, although given its relatively low price point, there is obviously some evidence of hard plastics within view, but thankfully not within touch.
How practical is the space inside?
This is where the HR-V really lifts its game. It's a cliché to suggest that the interior is TARDIS-like … but in the small Honda's case, it is absolutely the truth.
Our teenager and tweenie are tall for their respective ages, (particularly our 185cm-plus lad), and I am astonished to see that both kids fit in the back with an absolute minimum of fuss, and, in fact, with room to spare.
Headroom in the back is ample. (image credit: Tim Robson)
Headroom in the back is ample, and there are bottle holders to both kids in the rear door cards. There are no ventilation controls or charging points, though, which doesn't really help in the adventure stakes if your device runs out of charge halfway through the weekend, and dad is hogging the front charger for his Neil Diamond bootleg-streaming requirements.
Front occupants are similarly gifted with plenty of room head-wise and knee-wise and, while cup holders are contained within an interestingly designed centre bin with flip-out dividers.
Front occupants are similarly gifted with plenty of room head-wise and knee-wise. (image credit: Tim Robson)
It isn’t necessarily the best solution for holding all sizes of cups, but it certainly looks a little bit different and works quite well once you figure it out.
A sculpted centre bin with a curved lid also helps here, while storage beneath the centre console consists of a sizeable pocket that's almost sitting directly on the floor. It does make it hard to reach if you're looking to pop a wallet or phone in there, but at least there is actually somewhere to place – and hide – these items.
There's a USB and a 12-volt socket, USB port and a 12-volt socket for recharging items, while the simple dash with its central digital readout is easy to use.
Not so the Honda's much-maligned multimedia system, though. While this particular unit was better than in the Honda City we originally tested, it's still really behind the times in the competitive space. The graphics are old, the interfaces are clumsy, and it's just not on par with items that are found in other cars.
There is a price to pay for all of that interior passenger room, and that is in the boot. With a high floor that hides a space-saver spare wheel and an unnecessarily thick foam-insulation piece that also hides the jack and tools, the aperture is quite narrow and the capacity shrinks to 437 litres VDA (to the window line) and 1462 litres when the seats are lowered.
With the rear seats up, there is 437 litres VDA of boot space. (image credit: Tim Robson)
When the seats are lowered, there is 1462 litres on offer. (image credit: Tim Robson)
It's easy to tumble the seats forward to get a bit more room, and there's certainly plenty of height to be had; it's just the length that's the issue.
Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?
Lower-grade Hondas do tend to miss out on a lot of features that we now take for granted, like automatic headlights and wipers, and the HR-V is no different.
The multimedia touchscreen has a a rear-view camera. (image credit: Tim Robson)
The headlights, for example, are merely halogen, as opposed to LED versions for all other spec levels (although the taillights are LED), while even the interior lighting is downgraded to halogen instead of LED. It also misses out on automatic emergency braking, which is pretty average given it’s offered on the other two models in the range.
What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?
A 1.8-litre four-cylinder naturally aspirated engine offers a modest yet workable 105kW and 172Nm, and it’s backed by a single transmission option; a CVT driving the front wheels through an open diff.
The 1.8-litre four-cylinder naturally aspirated engine offers a modest yet workable 105kW/172Nm. (image credit: Tim Robson)
Its CVT seems to be better matched to the one we recently tried in the Honda City, with a lot less slurring and more precision through the rev range as the engine was worked harder. The HR-V certainly didn't drone up the hills as badly as the City did.
The HR-V is strictly a front-wheel drive proposition, and there's no such niceties as limited-slip diffs or any additional features to give it more of an adventure edge.
How much fuel does it consume?
Against Honda’s claimed combined fuel economy figure of 6.6L/100km, we recorded a dash-indicated figure of 8.2 and a real-world number of 8.4L/100km over our 320km of testing and a 27-litre top-up of the 50-litre tank.
What's it like as a daily driver?
During our time with the HR-V, it was the car we actually reached for the most from a pretty wide selection of available machinery.
It's an ultra simple, very easy-to-use device that anyone can get familiar with in a heartbeat. The windscreen wiper stalk is on the ‘correct’ side. The pedals are well placed. Visibility is great, and it's simply a matter of plunking it in ‘D’ and heading out.
Its SUV status gives it a slight ground clearance advantage over, say, a Honda Civic, but we were still able to bottom out the front bumper on our steepest driveway.
The overarching feeling from the HR-V is one of a well-resolved little SUV that rides on a competent, comfortable, and reasonably stiff platform. The chassis is the heart of every car, and if this is right, then the rest of the car will naturally fall in place, and that's exactly how the HR-V feels.
Its suspension feels long-limbed, and at regular urban speeds it rides bumps with aplomb. It can quickly become overwhelmed once the speeds creep up and the bumps get bigger, though, and the little HR-V struggled badly with a lack of rebound damping, during our shock rebound test (a set of speed bumps taken at 60km/h).
In other words, the car extends very quickly back from a quick compression, which gives the feeling of a pogo stick inside the car.
The HR-V is comfortable with four occupants, but it's not advisable to load this little jigger up with too much gear; it simply doesn't like it. Steering feel is middling-to-good for an electrically assisted system, while throttle response and brake modulation are both very good for a small city car. It's impressively quiet, as well, when the engine is isn't being flayed.
What's it like for touring?
The HR-V works reasonably well as an intra-city tourer, with the CVT just managing to fade sufficiently into the background on the highway. It also gives the car a chance to stretch its legs, and fuel consumption tumbles as a result.
Should you take the HR-V into gravel, sand and other off-road situations? Only if you knew you had sufficient traction to get back out. The tyre set is completely oriented toward road use, and there is no all-wheel-drive system to give you extra traction should you get in a little bit of trouble.
There's also no underbody protection to prevent stones and sticks from damaging vital items like radiators and sumps. It offers 170mm of ground clearance, or 40mm more than a Honda Civic, while its short overhangs are spoiled somewhat by a low-mounted front splitter.
As an easy-to-use device that is incredibly comfortable to drive as a daily, though, the HR-V scores well.
What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?
The base-model HR-V misses out on all driver aid safety systems like AEB and lane-departure warning, which is a bit poor in our eyes. It has full-length curtain airbags as part of its set of six, along with a rear-view camera, but its top five-star ANCAP ranking from 2015 would suffer if it were to be retested in 2018.
What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?
As a regular about-town device, the HR-V VTi is competent and practical for people-carrying, though its complete lack of modern driver aids is a concern. The mid-grade model at least gets AEB, while the top spec VTi-L has the option of forward collision and lane-departure warning systems.
Its size, limited range from its 50-litre fuel tank and its relatively small payload capacity do mark it down from an adventure standpoint – though if your adventure is getting three tall kids to basketball practice on time, then you’ll absolutely love it.
Can a compact SUV like the Honda HR-V make a good getaway vehicle? Tell us what you think in the comments.