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Honda HR-V 2020 review: RS long term

Is the Honda HR-V the ultimate urban SUV?

Matt Campbell is spending six months with the Honda HR-V, to see how it suits his needs as an urban runabout.

Part 1: January 28, 2020

I had hoped that the first Honda I 'owned' as an UrbanGuide long-termer would be the amazing little Honda e electric hatchback. Alas, that car has been ruled out for Australia.

So instead, I got something that is sold in Australia, and is indeed Honda’s second-most popular car - the HR-V small SUV. It’s perfectly suited to my family’s requirements (which consists of my partner, Gemma, and our two small dogs, Joey and Ziggy) and our urban lifestyle (we live in Erskineville in Sydney’s inner-west).

This isn’t just a regular HR-V, though - it’s the RS, which clearly stands for Really Sporty. Although it’s really not that sporty at all. 

The RS model is second from the top of the line-up, with a list price of $31,990 plus on-road costs. There are plenty of deals to be done, though, with Honda (and Honda dealers) regularly absorbing the on-road costs and adding additional items like longer warranty cover and roadside assist.

So if you’re interested in the HR-V RS, make sure you shop around. But you might want to know what this spec gets as standard before you sign on the line.

The RS has a unique steering feel thanks to a variable gear ratio steering rack, designed to add a bit more enjoyment and involvement for the driver. It also has model-specific 18-inch wheels - the biggest of any HR-V - and you can further differentiate the RS by its RS badges, dark chrome grille finish and its black lower body kit including wheel-arch surrounds. I like the look of it, and so did almost everyone I showed it to in the first month of my ‘ownership’.

  • This isn’t just a regular HR-V, though - it’s the RS, which clearly stands for Really Sporty. This isn’t just a regular HR-V, though - it’s the RS, which clearly stands for Really Sporty.
  • The RS wears unique 18-inch alloy wheels. The RS wears unique 18-inch alloy wheels.
  • Visually, the RS scores a black lower body kit including wheel-arch surrounds. Visually, the RS scores a black lower body kit including wheel-arch surrounds.

Inside there are leather seats with heating and electric adjustment for the driver, plus single-zone climate control air-con. No rear air-vents for the dogs (or kids if you have them), and that proved an issue given that it was in the 40s during some of our drive time, meaning we had to pump the A/C up front and hope it was reaching the pups, one of which is prone to car sickness. 

The media screen is a 7.0-inch unit with sat nav, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming and USB/HDMI inputs. And while the six-speaker stereo is stronger than you might think in terms of sound quality, the lack of smartphone mirroring (Apple CarPlay/Android Auto) made for some tense times in our introductory period, as the Bluetooth can drop out at times and the USB connectivity failed multiple times, too.

The 7.0-inch touchscreen lacks Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The 7.0-inch touchscreen lacks Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

While it has the RS badge and the pretence of sportiness, it still uses the same 1.8-litre four-cylinder petrol engine with a continuously variable transmission (CVT) automatic - with paddle-shifters, oooooooh - and front-wheel drive. The power outputs are modest, with 105kW and 172Nm available, and fuel use is claimed at 6.7 litres per 100 kilometres on the combined cycle. I look forward to seeing how close I get to that number over my time with the car - and most of its time will be spent around town, because this is an UrbanGuide review, after all. 

My first month encompassed some not-so-urban driving, as the HR-V transported our family down south, then out west, for Christmas. Every year this round-trip pilgrimage sees us go from our place to Cooma (to my parents’ place) or Cowra (to my partner’s parents’ place), then to the other parents’ place, then back. 

All told, it’s about 1000km of driving in a week or so, and it requires a boot with enough space to handle our stuff, the dogs’ stuff and all the Christmas gifts for the family, too. 

Thankfully the Honda’s Magic Seats came in very handy. If you don’t know what they are - you’ll be amazed how much flexibility these rear seats offer. They don’t just fold down like most of the competitors in the segment, they fold completely flat for a big boot, or the base can be lifted up (in a 60:40 fashion) to allow a cavernous space in the second row - great for big boxes or taller items. 

The dogs got the broader portion of the back seat, while the shallower side behind the driver was reserved for a box of pressies. The 437-litre boot also fit two dog beds, a large suitcase, a clothes basket full of presents (yes, we’re very generous), and the two of us. Plus some snacks, because it’s a long drive.

  • The dogs got the broader portion of the back seat, while the shallower side behind the driver was reserved for a box of pressies. The dogs got the broader portion of the back seat, while the shallower side behind the driver was reserved for a box of pressies.
  • These fellas are great at unwrapping presents! These fellas are great at unwrapping presents!

After spending about 12 hours in the driver’s seat over that Christmas period (returning with a lighter and more spacious car, might I add!), the HR-V was pretty much as expected - profoundly adequate. 

The ride was mostly comfortable apart from some large-wheel-jostling over rougher country roads, while the steering was enjoyable enough. Its engine got along okay at highway pace, and the cruise control - which got a serious work out in our first month - operated reasonably well, which isn’t always the case when you’re driving a car with a CVT. Yes, the transmission can whine up hills, but it never lost momentum when it shouldn’t have, and I never felt as though my licence was under threat during the double demerit duration of the break. 

And over that break period, which consisted of mostly higher speed driving, I saw an average of 7.2 litres per 100 kilometres at the pump, while the display was reading 6.8L/100km - so, it's a little optimistic.

The RS model is second from the top of the HR-V line-up. The RS model is second from the top of the HR-V line-up.

After just a few weeks with the HR-V I have already found myself wishing for more safety equipment. There’s a low-speed auto emergency braking (AEB) system, and Honda’s LaneWatch side camera for the passenger side, but no lane-keeping assistance or lane departure warning, no blind spot monitoring or rear cross-traffic alert (which proves oh so handy in the urban environment), plus there’s not even a digital speedometer. It feels old as a result, as so many rivals have so much more tech. 

I’m going to add a little bit of tech of my own in the coming weeks - stay tuned as the HR-V will become a HR-VCR with a dash cam to record some of the oddities I see, as well as offer me some warnings that the Honda can’t.

Acquired: December 2019

Distance travelled this month: 1116km

Odometer: 2466km

Average fuel consumption for December: 7.2L/100km

Part 2: March 3, 2020

Installing a dash cam is easier than you’d think - if I can do it, anyone can. Trust me, I’m no engineer or tech wizard.

I fit a Navman MiVue840 DC setup to Harvey, as we’ve affectionately labelled our long-term Honda HR-V, to help capture any weird moments on the road, but also because the HR-V lacks some of the safety gear you can get included in this dash cam unit. And it’s a twin camera system - there’s one camera at the front, and one at the rear.

The Navman MiVue840 DC has a GPS location and is very easy to use. The Navman MiVue840 DC has a GPS location and is very easy to use.

The system has Advanced Driver Assist System (ADAS) tech included in it, and we’re talking about stuff that the HR-V isn’t offered with anywhere in the world: lane departure warning and forward vehicle move-away alert, for instance. This system - because it’s got a 2.7-inch screen on the back - also shows you a realtime GPS-based digital speed readout, which is excellent because that’s another thing the HR-V doesn’t have.

I managed to run the cables across the top of the windscreen and down under the dashboard to the centrally-mounted 12-volt outlet, and I hid away the cables for the rear camera behind the door rubbers, in behind the pillar plastics, and I mounted the back camera on the rear windscreen.

  • Power is drawn from the centrally-mounted 12-volt outlet. Power is drawn from the centrally-mounted 12-volt outlet.
  • I managed to run the cables down under the dashboard. I managed to run the cables down under the dashboard.
  • The cable ran across the top of the windscreen and was hidden behind the pillar plastics. The cable ran across the top of the windscreen and was hidden behind the pillar plastics.
  • 2020 Honda HR-V RS | dash cam one | Matt Campbell 2020 Honda HR-V RS | dash cam one | Matt Campbell
  • The installation took around about an hour. The installation took around about an hour.
  • It’s a twin camera system, there’s one camera at the front, and one at the rear. It’s a twin camera system, there’s one camera at the front, and one at the rear.

All in all, the install took me about an hour. And once I got it in, it started working pretty much straight away. It has GPS location (for speed and checkpoint data if you do have an accident) and it’s very easy to use.

While the setup I’ve got only works while the car is running, the system does have a parking mode and you can use a thing called a Smartbox power supply, which you hard wire to your battery and it will then record any instances where the car is bumped when its parked - there’s a G-sensor in the device to detect when the weight of the body shifts. I’d definitely recommend investing in that.

  • Navman MiVue840 DC has a 2.7-inch screen on the back, which shows you a realtime GPS-based digital speed readout. Navman MiVue840 DC has a 2.7-inch screen on the back, which shows you a realtime GPS-based digital speed readout.
  • The system only works while the car is running. The system only works while the car is running.

But this isn’t just a positive review for the dash cam - it’s more of an indictment on the HR-V. It shows this car’s age. 

The HR-V was updated in 2019 with a low-speed auto emergency braking (AEB) system, but it doesn’t have any lane keeping assistance or lane departure tech, nor does it have blind spot monitoring, front or rear cross traffic alert, a surround view camera… it really is well behind the pack when it comes to safety stuff.

Rival small SUVs have the tech this car is missing. Vehicles like the new Mazda CX-30 outdoes the HR-V for inclusions, but so does the CX-3, the Kia Seltos, the Hyundai Kona… I guess, happily, a $400 dash cam system can address at least a couple of those shortcomings. 

Over the month I had friends tell me the back seat felt “much bigger than the outside of the car makes you think it should be”. Over the month I had friends tell me the back seat felt “much bigger than the outside of the car makes you think it should be”.

I didn’t drive Harvey very much over the past month, apart from some urban duties - picking up and dropping off my partner to work, a few weekend urban trips and a couple of runs to the shops. And I’ve seen my fuel use average go up as a result of doing fewer highway kays.

Over the month I had friends tell me the back seat felt “much bigger than the outside of the car makes you think it should be”. And my sister said she’d be happy to have a car this size: she has two kids (aged nine and 13) and drives and older Subaru Outback, because she was impressed by the back seat and boot room. 

Next month I plan to do a bit more weekend touring in the car, as well as the usual commuting and urban duties. 

Acquired: December 2019

Distance travelled this month: 215km

Odometer: 2717km

Average fuel consumption for February: 10.1L/100km

Part 3: April 1, 2020

Well, what a month March was.

Despite my best intentions to get out and about a bit more in the HR-V RS, things did become a bit hectic towards the end of the month, and a few things we had planned to attend in further flung areas were, understandably, cancelled.

But early in March my partner and I decided to go down the coast for a drive on a lazy Sunday arvo, stopping in at Bald Hill lookout at Stanwell Tops and also hitting up the amazing Scarborough Hotel for lunch. If you’re a Sydney-sider and have never been to these places, you really ought to… though a visit to the pub mightn’t be possible for a while. 

  • I decided to go down the coast for a drive on a lazy Sunday arvo. I decided to go down the coast for a drive on a lazy Sunday arvo.
  • For ll Sydney-siders, the Scarborough Hotel is a must visit for lunch. For ll Sydney-siders, the Scarborough Hotel is a must visit for lunch.

Even so, the drive gave me a chance to remember why the HR-V RS is arguably the best model in the range. 

On the open road and when you get to the twisty bits, the steering response is very reliable and quick, meaning it will throw a smile on your dial if you give it a bit in the bends. 

The ride comfort - which can be a bit terse around town thanks to the 18-inch wheels - is better at pace, and the grip from the Dunlop Enasave tyres is good. They’re not the most aggressively sporty tyre, but they hang on well.

When you get to the twisty bits, the steering response is very reliable and quick. When you get to the twisty bits, the steering response is very reliable and quick.

Nothing exciting to report as being captured on the dash cam, yet. The odd idiot in the middle of the road, the occasional Wally not really knowing what they’re doing… and that’s about it. But I did learn that the lane-keeping warning system doesn’t understand when you’re using the blinkers on the highway, and that means it’ll beep every time you change lanes - and you do that a lot if you maintain correct lane etiquette. Suffice to say, I don’t have lane watch active anymore on the Navman!

One car-related concern I’ve noticed is a bit of a brake squeal at times, and a slight grinding noise - even when not applying the brakes. A few weeks ago there was a period of consistent rain, and because the car was parked for an extended period without being driven, the brake discs had surface rust on them. I don’t think they have recovered properly ever since, and it’s something I may have to get seen to by Honda’s service team.

Another adventure with Harvey this month included a trip to the Tiny House Carnival at St Ives Showground. Being a bit of a packaging marvel himself, Harvey clearly felt right at home among these spectacular feats of engineering that seemingly fit the space of a two bedroom house into the length of a tandem car parking spot.

  • "Harvey" felt right at home the Tiny House Carnival. "Harvey" felt right at home the Tiny House Carnival.
  • These homes manage fit the space of a two bedroom house into the length of a tandem car parking spot. These homes manage fit the space of a two bedroom house into the length of a tandem car parking spot.

My month also included a few ‘work drop-offs’ for my partner, as she was working in Woolloomooloo and, given the reasonable doubts around public transport exposure, my morning routine included a couple of peak hour runs in traffic.

The result was a slightly higher fuel consumption readout than I’d seen in previous months - one that is probably closer to what you might realistically expect to see in constant urban driving.

  • There were a few ‘work drop-offs’ for my partner, which included a few runs in peak hour traffic. There were a few ‘work drop-offs’ for my partner, which included a few runs in peak hour traffic.
  • Average fuel consumption for March was 9.1L/100km. Average fuel consumption for March was 9.1L/100km.
  • This month's fuel consumption was a slightly higher compared to previous months. This month's fuel consumption was a slightly higher compared to previous months.

Who knows what the months ahead will bring for us and Harvey the HR-V, but we’ll be sure to keep you updated.

Acquired: December 2019

Distance travelled this month: 456km

Odometer: 3173

Average fuel consumption for March: 9.1L/100km

Part 4: May 1, 2020

We’ve escaped the city.

Myself, my partner Gemma, and our dogs Ziggy and Joey.  Oh, and Harvey of course. We’re out. We decided to leave Sydney behind in the midst of the Coronavirus outbreak, and in April we packed up and left for Cowra, where Gem’s parents live.

I know this was supposed to be an UrbanGuide long-term loan, but maybe it just says we need to create CountryGuide? 

Gemma thought the HR-V “was very easy to drive”. Gemma thought the HR-V “was very easy to drive”.

It was Gem who drove Harvey from Sydney to Cowra, because I was driving a loaded up Ford Transit Custom Sport van. Over the hills and far away, and the doggoes kept her company for the four-hour jaunt.

She said she thought Harvey “was very easy to drive”, but that the media system “is the worst thing about the car”.

She struggled to get her phone to Bluetooth connect, and - annoyingly - you can plug in to have your phone’s media read by USB, but just make sure you don’t hit the button that says “USB”. You need to hit “iPod”. That gives you an idea of how old and outdated this media system is.

At times Gem had to pull over to choose a new podcast. “I had to choose a really long podcast,” she said. That’s how frustrating the current multimedia system interface is to use, and how diligent she is when it comes to not touching her phone while she drives. 

The media system is the worst thing about the HR-V. The media system is the worst thing about the HR-V.

You might have read about Honda’s mid-2020 update for the HR-V, which will see a new media screen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto fitted to all variants in the range, and you might even be able to retrofit it to pre-update models like this one. It’d be something I’d do in a heartbeat, if I owned a HR-V. 

But she liked the way the HR-V handled coming over the mountains, she liked how good its LED headlights were as darkness fell just after Bathurst, and the dogs clearly liked the way it rode, because they fell asleep and stayed asleep for almost the entire time apart from when we all stopped at Lithgow for KFC. The reversing camera and tight turning circle were also advantages in Gem’s eyes.

Gem was behind the wheel for the drive from Sydney to Cowra. Gem was behind the wheel for the drive from Sydney to Cowra.

And she liked the size of the boot in the HR-V, because she had to take some of the more fragile items in the back of it, while I loaded the bulky bits in the van. She also appreciated the window tint on the rear doors, the visibility from the driver’s seat, and the general size of the HR-V - “you’re close enough to be near the dogs in the back, but they’re not all up in your grille”.

The highway drive also saw an improvement on the fuel economy figure. See below.

I should mention also that I spent some time in a CR-V recently, and it really reinforced to me that if you think you need a bigger SUV, you should check out a HR-V. It's such a practical thing for its size!

How much bigger is the CR-V compared to the HR-V? How much bigger is the CR-V compared to the HR-V?

Oh, and I need to admit something else.

Insert ashamed face here.

In very early April, there was a mistake made by me. I crunched two of Harvey’s rims.

Accidents happen sometimes. Accidents happen sometimes.

I was parking a narrow alleyway in Sydney’s inner west, and just as I was about to nose into a spot, a car came from the other way, and I was startled and simply nudged both kerbside rims on the gutter. I hate that feeling. I hate it so much.

Especially when you choose a high-spec like the RS, and it gets sporty looking rims like these. But even so, it goes to show that large alloys and city streets mightn’t be the best combination.

Stay tuned for next month’s update, where I’ll give you insider intel after I put Harvey up against one of his newest rivals. 

Acquired: December 2019

Distance travelled this month: 521km

Odometer: 3694km

Average fuel consumption for March: 6.3L/100km

$32,290

Based on new car retail price

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