Remember when Apple computers were uncool, difficult to use and only bought by nerds?
Honda is banking on a reinvention of similar magnitude with the second generation of its HR-V baby SUV.
The original HR-V was the answer to a question few asked, selling about 5000 units over its short lifespan between 1999-2001, and is as easily forgotten as other oddball contemporaries like the Daihatsu Terios and Mitsubishi Pajero iO.
Fast forward to 2015 and SUVs sales are booming, with the established medium and large SUVs of most major brands now being supplemented by a new wave of smaller models like the Honda HR-V – to the point where the small SUV segment is the fastest growing on the Australian market.
New models like the Mazda CX-3, Renault Captur and Jeep Renegade are building on 2014 arrivals like the Nissan Qashqai, Holden Trax and the Ford EcoSport to make life difficult for the Nissan Juke and ageing Mitsubishi ASX.
The intrinsic appeal of such models lies in their blend of the fashionable and practical SUV shape, compact dimensions and achievable pricing that’s comparable with your everyday Toyota Corolla or Mazda3.
Honda targeted the Audi Q3 as a dynamic benchmark for the HR-V, and they haven’t done a bad job.
Honda expects to sell about 800 HR-Vs per month, which means it could topple the larger CR-V SUV as the brand’s Australian top-seller.
Pre-family couples in their 30s are expected to be the HR-V’s key demographic, but it is prepared for small-scale parenthood, with two ISOFIX child seat mounts and tall rear door openings despite its curved roofline.
Unlike the first HR-V, the new Thai-built model is a five-door from the start, and also ditches its predecessor’s all-wheel drive for the sake of fuel consumption and cost.
The new Honda’s $24,990 entry price may be higher than most of its immediate rivals, but the Honda comes paired with an automatic transmission as standard, unlike the manuals of competing entry models.
Like most Hondas, the HR-V kicks off with the VTi grade, before stepping to the $27,990 VTi-S and $32,990 VTi-L, with a safety feature-optimised $33,990 VTi-L with ADAS pack at the top of the range.
Honda expects the VTi-S to be the most popular model, accounting for 40 per cent of sales, with the VTi-L accounting for 28 per cent, the VTi 25 per cent, and VTi-L with ADAS making up the remaining seven per cent. Honda also expects that 60 per cent of HR-V buyers will be new to the brand.
Like the Odyssey, City, Jazz and now CR-V, the new HR-V comes standard with Honda’s 7-inch Display Audio touchscreen interface, which has the ability to mirror the functions of iPhone 5 and beyond when connected via an HDMI cable.
Honda has confirmed that this functionality is also available for MirrorLink 1.1 compatible Android phones, but such options are currently limited.
When paired with an iPhone, satnav is also available with the $49.99 HondaLink iTunes downloaded. Out on the road, this nav setup uses mobile data to load on the run, but routes can be pre-planned using your WiFi at home.
Display Audio also means a multi-angle reversing camera is standard across the range, but only the VTi-L models get front and rear parking sensors. Rear sensors are optional on the VTi and VTi-S for around $550 fitted.
Honda has developed the HR-V to achieve a five star ANCAP rating, but is yet to be tested.
Standard safety features include front, side and full-length curtain airbags and tyre pressure monitoring, with the VTi-S adding AEB and blind-spot monitoring, and the top VTi-L with ADAS scoring forward collision alert, lane departure alert and auto high beams.
Based on a stretched and widened version of the acclaimed Jazz hatch platform, the new HR-V manages to blend the small hatch's clever packaging with a coupe-like profile.
Just 6mm shorter than the Civic hatch and 2mm wider, the HR-V is also a significant 298mm longer and 78mm wider than the Jazz.
The HR-V’s interior design is a significant improvement over Honda’s recent models like the City and Jazz, with cloth door tops on the base VTi and softer materials across the range.
The move to a more space-efficient electronic handbrake has left room for a clever cupholder setup in the centre console, which can adjust to accommodate both cups and bottles, or even a small handbag.
Like the multimedia touchscreen, the climate control functions are also touchpad controlled. This makes for a high-tech look and feel, but ultimately not as simple as traditional buttons or dials.
The front seats could offer more thigh support, but the rear seats offer plenty of room for two adults, and more than enough headroom for this 172cm tester.
The HR-V also comes with the Jazz’s brilliant 18-way Magic Seat system to enable an incredible variety of storage and seating configurations for such a compact model.
Seats-up cargo capacity of 437-litres is significantly larger than any of its immediate rivals, and Honda boasts that its seats-down 1032-litre figure is enough for two mountain bikes to sit upright with their front wheels removed.
Engine / Transmission
All HR-V variants come with the 105kW/172Nm 1.8-litre petrol four found in the Civic, paired with a CVT automatic transmission.
The VTi carries a reasonable 6.6L/100km combined fuel consumption rating, while the heavier VTi-S and VTi-L step up to 6.9L/100km. Impressively both figures are achieved using Regular 91RON petrol.
A turbodiesel model is also on the way, which will likely bring the availability of a manual transmission, but Honda is unsure when it will arrive. There are no plans to introduce the hybrid model already available in some markets, however.
The HR-V is also Honda’s first model to extend its scheduled service periods by six months to new 12month/10,000km intervals, benefitting owners who drive less than 10,000km a year.
Honda targeted the Audi Q3 as a dynamic benchmark for the HR-V, and considering the Honda is nearly $20,000 cheaper, they haven’t done a bad job.
Over the Tasmanian roads chosen for the HR-V’s Australian launch, the new model showed impressive suspension composure through the endless and often bumpy turns – even with the torsion beam rear end - and the steering was consistently weighted with good feel.
The engine isn’t the newest design on the block, but the CVT does a great job of making the most of the 1.8’s relatively high 4300rpm torque peak. Overall, it offers comfortable performance up hills and can overtake with confidence at highway speeds.
Cabin noise seems more premium Accord than cut-price Jazz, but CVT noise still rears its ugly head under constant hill climbs or heavy throttle. This is not an issue during general light throttle driving, though.
Rearward visibility isn’t the best due to the thick C-pillars and shallow rear window, but this is largely balanced during parking manoeuvres by the standard reversing camera.