by: Benjamin Yong
Remember back to a time when vehicles could primarily be classified as standard cars, trucks, vans and SUVs? I sure don’t, as today’s automotive segments have been spliced and split into all kinds of alternate categories. One of the most recent ones to be introduced is the subcompact crossover SUV, which as you have probably guessed from the name, is slightly smaller than a conventional crossover.
Honda has entered this new arena quite early in the game with the release of the uniquely sized and positioned 2016 HR-V, which the automaker is banking on to become an instant hit.
“We are targeting 12-month sales of 10,000 units. It will introduce a new generation of buyers to the Honda Brand,” says Jean Marc Leclerc, vice president of auto sales and marketing, during a product launch presentation. Leclerc referred to the HR-V as the “most powerful new weapon in the light truck arsenal.”
Early sales figures are good — at the end of 2015, the company had moved 8,959 units putting it just behind the popular Fit hatchback.
Honda, along with a handful of other manufacturers like Mercedes with the GLA and Mazda and their CX-3, are responsible for creating the tiny SUV automotive segment. Size-wise, the HR-V (2,610 millimetre wheelbase) is neatly nestled in-between the Fit (2,350 mm) and the CR-V (2,620 mm), and aimed at singles, dual income no kids couples and empty nesters wanting a fun, sophisticated ride that doesn’t compromise versatility.
Hayato Mori, senior product planning and business development senior manager, calls the latest offering a mix of a coupe, SUV and minivan, taking the best traits of all three. Indeed, on the outside, the blacked-out headlight-grille combo and hidden rear door handles give it an instant sporty appeal; the slightly raised stance and fender flares suggest weekends driving to mountain bike trails; and the wide tailgate and cargo area says ‘Take me on Costco runs.”
The heart beating underneath the hood of the HR-V is a 1.8-litre four-cylinder i-VTEC engine pumping out 141 horsepower and 127 lb-ft of torque. Depending on the trim (LX/EX/EX-L Navi) you can have front or all-wheel drive with a continuously variable transmission or six-speed manual transmission (base LX and EX only). The press vehicle I was given was the FWD with CVT sprayed in Crystal Black Pearl.
Mori mentions that one of the many goals of the design was to strike a balance between fuel economy and power output. Two-wheel drive variants with the CVT are the gas thriftiest of the bunch, netting an estimated 7.6 L/100 km of combined highway and city driving, although my own observed number through 233 kilometres of mixed-use testing came in higher at 11.6. With the six-speed, consumption rises a little, to 8.3 L/100 km. Finally, the all-wheel drive with the CVT holds a middle average of 8.1 L/100 km.
I don’t have much to report on in regards to the CVT equipped in my HR-V, other than to say it worked. Admittedly, I would have much rather driven the manual gearbox, but I did get the opportunity to try the six-speed briefly at another event. I was delighted at how crisp the shifts felt, and the manner in which the lever satisfyingly clicks into each gear is reminiscent of Honda’s racier models like the Civic Si. Handling definitely feels more car than van or even regular-sized crossover-like, something that was thoroughly evaluated when I had to execute an emergency manoeuvre entering an onramp in order to avoid a confused motorist. The four-wheel disc brakes with ABS and electronic brake distribution are also excellent.
A unique feature is the auto brake hold, operated by a switch underneath the electronic parking brake on the centre console. When on, the driver is free to take his or her foot off the pedal and the brakes will continue to be automatically held until the accelerator is tapped. During one weekend afternoon trying to leave a busy winding parkade, this function came in especially handy in bumper-to-bumper traffic and freed my right leg from the monotony of repetitive braking.
Trying out the back bench, I revelled in the 998 mm of rear legroom, while playing with the second row Magic Seat — identical to the one found in the Fit — which allows for a variety of folded configurations to accommodate large or oddly shaped objects. For instance, a surfboard can be squeezed in when you activate what Honda has named “Long Mode,” where you tilt both the front and rear passenger seat at the same time. Folding both rear seats is known to as “Utility Mode,” yielding a maximum 1,665 litres (1,631 if AWD) of carrying capacity. There’s even a “Tall Mode” where the base of the rear seat flips up to make room for something like a potted plant.
The 2016 Honda HR-V is built in Celaya, Mexico and is on sale now. Pricing starts at $20,690.