+ Modern design
+ Versatile interior space
+ Plenty of standard equipment
- Noisy CVT
- Infotainment system could be easier to use
- Not as engaging to drive as rivals
Verdict: The all-new Honda HR-V is a pleasing little SUV in many ways. It looks great, promises good efficiency, provides arguably the most versatile cabin in the class, and comes with Honda’s bulletproof reputation for dependability. However, its refinement is undermined by its CVT.
Since its introduction back in 2013, Honda has sold over 3.8 million of the previous HR-V. The baby SUV was still in high demand even when being phased out, so this all-new car represents a real bread and butter model for Honda – one it needs to get right in an increasingly competitive class. In fact, the compact SUV segment is the fastest-growing breed in the UK by a long way.
Visually, the new HR-V strikes a great balance between intriguing design and knowing the value of the understatement. Sure, compact SUVs tend to enjoy greater fashionable freedoms, but some certainly fall victim to being over-styled. The clean lines of the HR-V create a strong stance, and intricate lighting signatures characterise the modern nature of this car. We particularly like the body-coloured grille element that turns what has long been an automotive status symbol, into something pleasingly subtle.
The cabin has that traditional ‘Honda’ feel to it, in that there’s a strong sense of durability. Hunt around and you’ll find a few hard plastics, but the use of plush materials on the majority of surfaces makes for an upmarket environment. Neat design, a standard 9-inch touchscreen, and key controls that fall easily to hand are all pleasing traits.
Speaking of things that make us happy, the HR-V retains a handful of physical dials for things such as the air-conditioning. So many of this car’s rivals have opted to make key controls virtual, something that makes them very difficult to use on the move, so Honda has to be commended for applying the common sense some other manufacturers are currently lacking.
The HR-V’s rear bench accommodates three with head and legroom being generous. Statistically speaking, the 35mm increase in legroom over the old car actually makes this little SUV more akin to roomier models in the class above. Its practicality continues with the inclusion of Honda’s clever magic seats that can fold like those found at a cinema, thus allowing you to load bulky cargo in the middle of the car. The 319-litre boot offers a wide opening for loading, but it is small than competitors such as the Peugeot 2008. There is an additional underfloor storage cubby for delicate or valuable items.
This new HR-V can only be had as a 129bhp hybrid featuring a pair of electric motors that drive its front wheels. It’s effectively a beefed-up version of what you find in the Jazz, a ‘self-charging' system that gains power from the engine and harvesting energy when braking. It’s a clever system that means the engine only rarely directly drives the wheels, with those electric motors providing the ‘get up and go’ most of the time.
Around town, the HR-V is actually pretty impressive in terms of refinement. The car silently glides along at low speeds and its ability to soak up lumps and bumps in the road surface provides a cosseting ride. The engine chimes in when the battery needs some extra juice, but everything is rather zen while heading to the shops or on the school run.
Sadly, things change when you ask for more power from this drivetrain. Every HR-V is equipped with a CVT and not a conventional automatic. This means that when you demand some performance from the car – overtaking, going up steeper hills, briskly pulling out of junctions – you are met with the engine loudly droning a continuous din. The actual performance is adequate, and the mechanical transition between electric and combustion is slick, but the audible monotone soundtrack really undermines what is otherwise a pretty refined car.
Its CVT’s mooing does die down when cruising, and the HR-V once again becomes a pleasant thing to spend time in – a little bit of wind noise being the only real intrusion. Efficiency in the real world is encouragingly close to the claimed 52mpg.
On faster roads, the Honda HR-V feels surefooted, and the direct weighty steering is a pleasing departure from the vague overly assisted systems found in rivals. In fact, the HR-V’s change of direction does give it a real sense of agility, although the car never really encourages you to drive it with verve.
The CVT’s mooing dies down when cruising, and the HR-V once again becomes a pleasant thing to spend time in – a little bit of wind noise being the only real intrusion. It’s a comfortable way to clock those miles, and toys such as active cruise control and heated seats make the journey all the more soothing.
There really is a lot to like about the new Honda HR-V, but the coarse nature of its drivetrain when you make demands of it is disappointing. As a small SUV, this Honda scores highly in terms of versatility, equipment, and comfort, but is let down by that CVT.
As influential as how a car looks is, it’s what’s on the inside that counts as where you’ll be spending all of your time. The HR-V interior has greatly matured from what came before with crisp design lines, neatly integrated features, and a generally upmarket perceived quality. Root around and you’ll find a few hard plastics, but overall its largely plush surfaces radiate a sense of quality and durability.
All cars come equipped with a 9-inch touchscreen display as standard. The system is considerably more responsive than its predecessor, however, some functions remain buried within menus instead of in logical clusters. It is compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, meaning you can run things from a smartphone and have access to all the apps you regularly use.
While on the subject of interior design, the retention of physical controls for things like air-conditioning and volume highlights the cabin’s strong ergonomics. Many cars have absorbed switchgear into the touchscreen, which is great for aesthetics, but far from ideal if you simply want to adjust the temperature on the move. A trio of rotary dials and a series of shortcut buttons in the HR-V shows that Honda is listening to people’s feedback. Sometimes less is more.
There are three HR-V trim levels to choose from, with entry-level Elegance coming with plenty of kit. A 9-inch touchscreen, cruise control, rear-view camera, heated seats, keyless entry and parking sensors are all included. Advance adds things like an electric tailgate and an interesting air diffusion system. Top-spec Advance Style cars are fully loaded with everything from roof rails and a heated steering wheel, to wireless phone chargers. This model also receives a series of sporty external trim pieces.
2022 Honda HR-V practicality and boot space
The Honda HR-V will happily seat five with this B-segment SUV providing interior space akin to the frontrunners of this class. Supportive seats host front occupants, while those in the back can stretch out and enjoy ample legroom. There is a small transmission hump in the floor in front of the middle passenger, but it’s pretty negligible.
When it comes to loading the boot, the hatch affords a nice big aperture and a low load lip to aid in stowing heavier items. The boot itself is a good 319-litres, however, many competitors in the class do offer more cargo space. A small underfloor cubby provides some storage for valuables.
Honda is focusing on electrifying its mainstream range, and so an important car such as the HR-V was a prime candidate. Hosting a 1.5-litre petrol engine and a pair of electric motors, this hybrid produces a total of 129bhp and 250Nm of torque.
This is not a plug-in hybrid, and so the battery is charged via regenerative braking and the engine serving as a generator. It has become common parlance for these cars to be known as ‘self-charging hybrids’. In fact, the engine rarely directly drives the wheels, with the electric motors providing power to its front wheels unless the additional muscle is required. It’s a similar setup to what you’ll find in the new Honda Jazz, but this system’s battery features more cells – 60 verses 48 in the Jazz.
When being driven via the battery and at low speeds, the Honda HR-V is a very refined package. Running on battery power provides silent motoring, with the engine contributing to powering electric motors instead of the wheels directly most of the time. However, under load, the car’s CVT results in the engine holding at a high rpm while the HR-V accelerates. CVTs might be efficient, but the continuous droning under acceleration breaks the facade of serenity. It’s a bit of a shame because the mechanical operation of this drivetrain is slick in all other respects.
Aside from that vocal CVT, the Honda HR-V is a well-executed little SUV. It's a rather relaxing thing to drive around town thanks to good visibility and its ride being supple enough to deal with crumbling Tarmac. The HR-V’s array of cameras and sensors mean that squeezing into a tight space is a nonissue, and its compact size versus a full-fat SUV makes it far easier to live with if you have your heart set on owning something high riding.
As mentioned, the HR-V charges its own battery via the engine or regenerative braking. The latter can be controlled via the wheel-mounted paddles, meaning you can adjust how strong the braking force is when you come off the throttle. By default, it all feels very natural, but if you want to harvest more power, you can turn things up.
Why is that CVT a problem? Well, unlike a conventional gearbox that has a set of gear ratios, a CVT continuously adjusts to effectively have an infinite number of ratios. They are very efficient, but under load, they tend to hold at high rpm while the car accelerates. Sadly, that’s very prominent in this HR-V. Prod the throttle beyond half way and the incessant mooing of the engine via that CVT fills the cabin. Things settle once up to speed, but the peace is often broken when overtaking. It’s very efficient and can deliver its promised mpg figure, but it lacks elegance in practice.
If you’re in search of an exciting car to drive, you’re probably looking at the wrong class. Compact SUVs are more focused on urban life, but occasionally do offer some surprises. The Honda HR-V is no sports car, but it does deliver a sense of agility. Its precise steering that has a purposeful weight to it feels intuitive with swift inputs met with quick responses from the car. There is some body roll, but once the HR-V squats a little, it feels like a stable platform you can lean on thanks to plenty of front-end grip. That’s said, limited driver feedback does little to encourage a spirited drive.
In many respects, the Honda HR-V is a great little compact SUV. Its driving manners are good, it’s a comfortable way to get from point A to point B, and the car has proven frugal in our time with it. Sadly, outright refinement isn’t its strong point.