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Honda HR-V 2021 review: VTi-LX

Honda reckons classic sports coupes like the 1990s Prelude helped inspire the HR-V's sleek lines.

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Spot quiz: What’s the world’s best-selling small SUV?

If the answer – Honda’s HR-V – wasn’t what you were thinking, then please consider this.

Smart design, peerless packaging, a strong engineering ethos and keen pricing have helped the Thai-built, Jazz supermini-based crossover stay popular, even as it approaches birthday number six in Australia (and eight in Japan as the Vezel), against newer big-name rivals like the Toyota C-HR and Kia Seltos.

In other words, folk have remained fond of the Honda.

A near-invisible facelift in 2018 brought minor engineering improvements, standardised autonomous emergency braking (AEB), a quieter cabin, comfier front seats and a rejuvenated continuous variable transmission (CVT) with stepped ratios, while Apple CarPlay/Android Auto connectivity – as part of this year’s long-overdue multimedia update – have also helped keep the HR-V relevant.

With all this in mind, how does the pretty VTi-LX range-topper stand up for 2021?

Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?

Great news if simplicity is your thing.

For Australians, the HR-V offers a one-size-fits-all powertrain proposition – namely a 105kW/172Nm 1.8-litre single overhead cam four-cylinder petrol engine dating back from the early 2000s, driving the front wheels via a CVT auto. No manual gearbox, no turbos and no all-wheel drive (AWD). Variety be damned.

Here’s the thing though. That may work fine for the likeable base VTi at a keen $25,990 before on-road costs, but the VTi-LX as tested kicks off from a heftier $36,240. Which is fine on the dealer forecourt when you’re taking in the leather and sunroof most of its direct rivals either charge extra for or don’t offer at all, but digging deeper unearths some anomalies.

For starters, the Honda costs some $1250 more than the Mazda CX-30 G20 Touring powered by a bigger 114kW/200Nm 2.0-litre engine and just $200 shy of the even gutsier 139kW/252Nm 2.5-litre G25 version. Similarly, it’s $1100 or so ahead of the $35,165 C-HR Koba with an 85kW/185Nm 1.2-litre turbo, $3500 over the most expensive Seltos with front-wheel drive, the 110kW/180Nm 2.0-litre-equipped Sport+, and only $50 under the latter’s 130kW/265Nm 1.6-litre turbo all-wheel drive combo… which of course – along with independent rear suspension – the HR-V cannot match. So, it’s outgunned in the trouser department.

The Honda also shows its age in not offering several technologies others such the $36,660 Hyundai Kona Highlander 2WD include at this price point, like automatic parking, adaptive cruise control, a head-up display, wireless charging pad, cooled front seats, a digital speedo and digital radio. All are AWOL in the Honda.

On the other hand, while the HR-V and Kona both boast a sunroof, you’ll need to spend northwards of $40K for one in the CX-30 (G25 Astina), Seltos (GT-Line) and others.

The VTi-LX also features a reverse camera, front and rear parking sensors, electric mirrors with kerbside dipping (handy for not scratching those attractive wheels), keyless entry/start, one-touch power windows, tyre deflation alert, powered driver’s seat, heated front seats, paddle shifters, dual-zone climate control, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, a pair of USB-A ports, 17-inch alloys and a space-saver spare.

There's a space-saver spare under the boot floor. There's a space-saver spare under the boot floor.

Additionally, on top of AEB, forward collision warning, high-beam support and lane-departure warning, the HR-V is alone in bringing a left-lane camera (great for spotting cyclists racing up on the inside) as well as the Jazz’s multi-configurable rear-seat arrangement known as Magic Seats.

The HR-V features multi-configurable rear-seat arrangement known as "Magic Seats". The HR-V features multi-configurable rear-seat arrangement known as "Magic Seats".

Nothing else this size offers such astonishing rear-of-cabin space flexibility, though it’s worth noting that – as with all higher-grade small SUVs – larger, more powerful and – leather and sunroof aside – better equipped alternatives in the next segment up can also be had for less – including the Toyota RAV4 GX, Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport, Subaru Forester 2.5i, Ford Escape FWD and even Honda’s own CR-V VTi X. Along with being roomier, the latter two also bring rousing turbo performance to the table.

Like we said, the HR-V makes a clear case as an entry-level VTi but the waters muddy by the time you’re taking a long hard look at the VTi-LX.

Is there anything interesting about its design?

Is there ever!

Back at the HR-V’s 2015 local launch, Honda brought out the project leader, who namechecked the 1990s Prelude sports car as the design inspiration, pointing to the coupe-like strakes along the side, bulging front wheel arches, plunging roofline and hidden rear door handles.

While obviously a small SUV in proportion offering 170mm of ground clearance and a loftier hip point than the Jazz it’s based upon, the fact that Honda stretched out the supermini’s wheelbase and tracks means the wheel arches are filled, helping the HR-V’s overall stance.

The HR-V’s design hasn't changed much since it was launched back in 2015. The HR-V’s design hasn't changed much since it was launched back in 2015.

Blending the personal feel of a coupe with the expanse of a mini people mover was the motive inside, as the wide bi-level centre console offers the cosiness of the former while the placement of the fuel tank beneath the front rather than rear seats liberates second-row room and cargo capacity as per the latter.  

It’s also worth remembering that before this HR-V, there was another with similarly post-modern styling cues.

The HR-V offers 170mm of ground clearance. The HR-V offers 170mm of ground clearance.

Launched in late 1998 locally, it wore the same badge, but came in an oddball high-riding three (and later five) door wagon body with boxy lines reminiscent of the 1980s Civic “bread-van” hatches. Derived from the Logo supermini not sold locally, it failed to fire, chiefly because Aussies weren’t quite ready for small SUVs at that time.

How things have changed.

How practical is the space inside?

If you want to discover exactly how the HR-V lures so many buyers in, just step inside. Large doors that ease entry/egress, lofty seating and a huge sense of wide-open space for a small SUV make instant and lasting strong impressions.

Sculptured and supple, the front seats are of the premium variety compared to the entry-level version, and thus offer lasting comfort and support, with the driver’s side adding electrical adjustment. But there is no lumbar support, surprisingly, or height adjustability for the passenger.    

Yet there is also an intimacy up front, as you’re sat ensconced alongside the wide console bisecting the cabin. It feels solid, secure and expensive, making the VTi-LX seem even more luxurious inside.

The instruments cluster is beautifully clear. The instruments cluster is beautifully clear.

Aiding this is the attractive leather-stitched steering wheel, gloss-black climate control fascia, twin-pane sunroof and lashings of soft-feel vinyl material over the doors and upper-areas of the lower centre console (with handy sliding lid). A pair of USB-A ports, a 12V outlet, a decently sized glovebox and a two-level console storage shelf below the gear lever make up for the small door bins and tiny console storage.

A first-class driving position (helped out by tilt/telescopic steering), adequate all-round vision, beautifully clear instruments (but with no digital speedo) and more than sufficient ventilation are further plus points, while nothing rattled, zizzed or squeaked during our week with the HR-V. There’s obvious and appealing quality going on in there.

That said, the recently updated multimedia system looks cheap and tacked-on, and though there is Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, voice control and fripperies like personalisation wallpaper, having no digital radio is an oversight for a range-topping anything these days.

Inside is a 7.0-inch touchscreen, which features Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Inside is a 7.0-inch touchscreen, which features Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

The lack of an audio volume knob (for an admittedly effective toggle switch) won’t be to everybody’s taste, along with the haptic sensor-operated climate system’s fingertip-slide functionality, which actually does work better than expected though does ultimately prove distracting when you need to focus on the various functions like altering temperature. Whatever happened to big, simple slide controls you can adjust blindfolded?

The back doors open pretty widely and though the roofline slopes down markedly, it’s unobstructed access all the way. The seatbacks recline two positions, and of course – being Jazz based – fold down and flat into the floor cavity where in most other cars a fuel tank resides, allowing for a massive floor-to-ceiling space. In Honda’s advertising there’s always a large pot plant, sat there like some prop from Little Shop of Horrors.

As far as the human cargo is concerned, it’s about as spacious and inviting as these sorts of smaller SUVs and crossovers get, with ample talking leg, head or shoulder room. The long and deep side windows and VTi-LX’s twin glass roof result in a light and airy cabin ambience, forward vision rates highly, there are medium-bottle sized door pockets, a centre armrest, overhead grab handles and twin reading lights fitted.

The cabin offers ample leg, head or shoulder room. The cabin offers ample leg, head or shoulder room.

But, for some, cushion comfort is compromised by its relative shallowness, thus lacking the sumptuousness of their front-seat counterparts. There are no face-level air vents, only a single cupholder where you expect them to be behind the front console. Rear passengers have no USB-A or USB-C ports to plug into. Quite a bit of road and tyre noise filters through. And smaller folk may struggle to reach the pillar-sited handle to get back there in the first place.

Finally, the cavernous cargo area is bolstered by the huge tailgate, low floor, and flat load-through area, with a light and 12V outlet to boot. Too bad the luggage cover is a flimsy cloth item rather than the sturdier shelves fitted to most competing small SUVs. Volume is rated from 437 litres to 1462L (VDA) with the backrests and cushions folded down into the deep floor cavity, making this Honda a clear class leader in the load-lugging stakes.

  • With the rear seats in place, cargo capacity is rated at 437 litres. With the rear seats in place, cargo capacity is rated at 437 litres.
  • Fold the seats flat and boot space grows to 1462L (VDA). Fold the seats flat and boot space grows to 1462L (VDA).

As mentioned, a space-saver spare resides under the load area.

Overall, then, the HR-V’s interior remains a solid piece of engineering and design.

What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?

Honda’s decades-old 1799cc 1.8-litre single-overhead cam four-cylinder petrol engine does at least feature variable valve timing and lift, which helps plump out the power (105kW at 6500rpm) and torque (172Nm at 4300rpm) outputs across a wide rev band. It’s an gutsy and eager unit.

A CVT sends drive to the front wheels, and since 2018 it has featured fake ‘stepped’ ratios for a more natural torque-converter-style automatic feel and response, especially under harder acceleration. That said, it isn’t hard for the CVT to hold on to a certain rev point to maximise power and efficiency, which can result in a long and dreary engine exhaust drone.

The 1.8-litre four-cylinder petrol engine produces 105kW/172Nm. The 1.8-litre four-cylinder petrol engine produces 105kW/172Nm.

Some markets offer a 1.5-litre four-pot turbo as per the larger Civic and CR-V, as well as a six-speed manual gearbox, but this is our lot in the HR-V.

How much fuel does it consume?

Over our 725km test drive – that took in everything from inner-city laneways to country freeways – we managed an outstanding 6.1 litres per 100km. That’s an exceptional result given that the trip computer read 8.4L/100km, with two people on board for some of that time and the air-con blasting away.

The official figure, by the way, is 6.9L/100km on the combined cycle, for a carbon dioxide emissions rating of 160 grams per kilometre. Coincidentally – and based on Honda’s number – the average distance per tankful also happens to be 725km. We must have run it close to empty.

The 50-litre tank can hold 91 RON standard unleaded petrol.

What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?

The HR-V is fitted with fairly basic driver-assist safety technology for 2021, namely AEB, forward collision warning, lane departure alert (but with no steering assist), auto high beam, stability control, traction control, anti-lock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution, four-wheel disc brakes, brake-assist, emergency stop signal, hill-launch assist and tyre-deflation warning.

Honda’s AEB system is city-rated only, at speeds of up to 30 km/h. There is no mention of it offering pedestrian and/or cyclist detection.

There are six airbags fitted – dual front, side and curtain items – as well as LaneWatch, showing the view along the left-hand side of the vehicle. However, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and adaptive cruise control are absent, betraying the Honda’s advancing years.

Speaking of which, the HR-V was crash-tested by ANCAP all the way back in 2015, where it scored a maximum five stars.

Two rear-seat ISOFIX points as well as three top tethers for straps are fitted.

What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?

Honda offers an industry-average five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty.

Service intervals are every 12 months or 10,000km, while published basic capped-price servicing is available. Prices start at $299 for the first one, then rise to $315 up to 100,000km. There are also additional servicing costs published on Honda’s website, outlining extras such as fluids, filters, plugs and air cleaners.

What's it like to drive around town?

Let’s start off by saying that the indicator-activated side-view camera is a boon for urban driving. It opens up a field of vision that may save a cyclist’s, pedestrian’s or other road user’s life. Good on you, Honda.

Even though the 1.8-litre single-cam VTEC is getting on, it isn’t slow or unrefined – quite the opposite, in fact. Throttle response is strong, with strident off-the-line acceleration, making the HR-V zippy around town and willing on the open road. 

Coming in at a featherweight 1319kg, the old girl doesn’t hang around, and has flexibility and muscle for easy and effortless overtaking.

Honda makes smooth and sweet-revving engines, and this one’s no exception.

Mashing the go pedal down to the metal will elicit a dull mechanical droning sound, as the CVT selects a pre-determined ratio that is the most efficient, but as there is a decent wad of torque at lower engine speeds, that can be easily avoided. Which makes the paddle shifters fitted to our VTi-LX pointless, as the powertrain is best left to do all the work.

The steering, meanwhile, is pleasingly light and precise, so parking in tight spaces isn’t a chore. The turning circle isn’t great at 10.6 metres, but the HR-V is pretty manoeuvrable nonetheless. The deep windows help boost confidence, as does the snappy throttle response, meaning snatching gaps in traffic feels second nature.

Away from the big city, the Honda continues to be agreeably easy and pleasurable to drive, going exactly where it’s pointed to, with a relaxing flow to the steering through tight corners, as well as a decent level of roadholding grip… as long as there aren’t many bumps along the way.

Keener drivers might wish for a bit more engagement and feedback from the helm, and the ride on the 215/55R17 wheel and tyre package can feel jittery over anything other than smooth roads – both around town and away from it. If you’re bowling along at some speed, mid-corner bumps can result in some rack rattle from the steering column as well. An extra sheen of dynamic polish would be appreciated here.

The VTi-LX scores 17-inch alloy wheels. The VTi-LX scores 17-inch alloy wheels.

There’s also a fair degree of tyre and surface noise coming through inside. A quieter and suppler chassis set-up would be appreciated. Our tests have found that the base 16-inch wheel arrangement offers a better compromise.

Finally, while the are very effective in pulling the VTi-LX up swiftly, the Honda’s stability and traction control systems are tuned for safety first and foremost, meaning they cut power and brake often and at times brutally where necessary, which may annoy drivers who like to barrel along on gravel roads. As such, the HR-V really isn’t that well suited to such environments.

Remember, too, it’s front-wheel drive only, with no AWD option.

The HR-V looks and feels good inside and out, with remarkable cabin packaging, healthy performance, impressive efficiency and effortless drivability. Little wonder sales remain strong after all these years.

However, the VTi-LX is outclassed on a number of fronts, lacking some key driver-assist safety and convenience features, making it over-promise and under-deliver for the considerable amount of money Honda charges.

That said, we rate the HR-V highly, and still recommend one to buyers seeking a quality, reliable and durable small SUV. Just ensure you choose the base VTi or mid-range VTi-S, because above these, age-related cracks show, with the Honda really getting out of its league.


Based on new car retail price


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