By: Jag Dhatt
Never has the compact market been so competitive than today. With more and more manufacturers getting into the game, there’s an option for almost anyone looking at getting into a compact sport-ute. And for many people, small is the new big, especially when you consider what’s included. The 2017 Honda HR-V is considered a newbie, with the first one making its appearance in 2015 as a 2016 model. Now in its second year, the model is a hot seller, following in the footsteps of siblings like the Civic and CR-V.
For 2017, there aren’t any changes to the HR-V, which is based on the Fit platform, Honda’s compact hatchback that has some pretty unique cargo capabilities. While it doesn’t have the same flexibility of cargo space as the Fit, thanks to Honda’s Magic Seats, the HR-V does make for some neat utility configurations. You can move large Rubbermaid bins, hockey gear, and even a surfboard! Not bad for a compact SUV.
The HR-V’s style isn’t as edgy as Toyota’s new CH-R (yes, the names can get confusing), yet still has a modern, conservative look, with lines that are definitely Honda or Acura, depending on the angle. The pointy nose is distinct but the headlights share common characteristics with the CR-V. Overall, the style will appease to a wide range of buyers, from university students to retirees, and everyone in between. The small footprint of the HR-V makes it a great choice as well for those who live and/or work in an urban environment, with parking being a breeze in any size of space.
Step inside the HR-V and it’s clearly Honda: fit and finish is great, material choice is excellent and there is more room than what the cover portrays. The front seats offer excellent support and what impressed me more were the rear seats – they were roomy and offered a good amount of leg and head room, something I didn’t expect at all! With the way the rear doors and handles are designed, there’s less window space than I would like, but it doesn’t feel as claustrophobic as a couple of competitors. The one caveat that needs to be pointed at are the screens, both infotainment and climate control – for me, they are just too digital. Now, I think that I’m pretty tech savvy and good at gadgets. But these touchscreens fall short of what I expect from the brand. Bring back the knobs for basic functions like volume, tuning and temperature and fan control – it’s much easier when driving.
I had the chance to drive the HR-V during the extended, and unexpected, winter months in Vancouver, where the all-wheel drive system was definitely needed. My test vehicle was the top-of-the-line AWD EX-L Navi, which carries a price tag of $30, 450, coming very close to an entry level CR-V (pick your poison). The other trim levels are the LX and the EX, both of which can be had with either FWD or AWD. I would definitely choose either the EX or EX-L variants because according to Honda, you get more standard features at reasonable prices. For example, add-ons include exclusive features like Lane Departure, Forward Collision, and LaneWatch, and leather heated seats.
All three trims are powered by a 1.8L four cylinder that puts out 141 horsepower, enough for everyday driving. The EX-L Navi can only be had with the CVT and in all honesty, it does a good job. CVT’s have come a long way since they first made their presence almost 10 years ago and Honda makes a darn good one, the elastic feel almost non-existent. And with this CVT, the HR-V gets top points for fuel efficiency in its class. For the week that I had this compact SUV, I found it very easy to drive. The transmission gives enough go when you step on the throttle, with the engine revving high for a decent feeling of acceleration. Also to note is that there isn’t very much engine or road noise; now, it’s not as quiet as the CR-V, but still very adequate for a vehicle of this size and class. Our family owned an older model CR-V and I can attest that the HR-V is way way quieter than that.
Although I was happy with the HR-V’s power for most every day driving, it did disappoint when trying to pass at highway speeds. The engine revved high and made noise, but there was little in terms of performance when needed at these higher speeds. Even putting the vehicle in Sport Mode did little to help!
Honda wants to make sure that you stay as green as possible when driving their vehicles. Thus, as in other models, there’s a ring around the speedometer that glows different colours, depending on your driving style. Drive nice and easy and the ring glows green; drive it harder and it changes to white or blue – neat little feature I think.
The HR-V utilizes an electric power steering system (now becoming the norm) and it is nicely matched for this vehicle. It’s light yet gives very good feedback and road feel. I also liked the size of the steering wheel – just right for most drivers.
On the snow and ice-covered streets of BC’s Lower Mainland, Honda’s AWD system did a great job. Under normal circumstances, power is usually sent to the front wheels. If slippage is detected, the system instantly sends the appropriate amount of power to all wheels, providing great grip (yes, my test vehicle was fitted with snow tires).
I usually test most press vehicles like they are my daily driver and thus, my week included dad duties – school drop off and pick up, swimming, karate, and yes, even shopping at the mall. My kids had no trouble getting into and out of the vehicle and buckling seat belts was no issue. Unlike a few other manufacturers, Honda makes sure that kids don’t have to fuss around when strapping themselves in. Another plus for the HR-V was the height of the cargo area; my kids didn’t have to throw their bags up and over to get them in, something they’ve done in many other vehicles we’ve tested. The one complaint from my kids though – not enough cubby holes and storage places. I guess they are too used to our Odyssey!
While the 2017 Honda HR-V has a few minor quirks, it still has a lot going for it – good styling, excellent safety features, a solid engine and transmission, and a great AWD system that will make it a great choice for many people who are shopping in this class. With a starting price of $21, 150, I think it’s going to do quite well in the Canadian market.