By Steve & Tamami Laser
Excuse the pun, but Honda is in its element when it comes to small cars. After spending a week behind the wheel of the all-new 2016 HR-V, we predict it will become a hit for Honda in the rapidly expanding entry crossover segment legitimized in the U.S. by the Nissan Juke.
We’ve had a front-row seat during the past 18 months watching the new HR-V take shape. Our first look was at the last Tokyo Motor Show where Honda introduced the Vezel (above). When we learned it was destined to come to America to slot below the CR-V, we bet it wouldn’t be called Vezel.
Based on the Fit, HR-V could stand for “Honda’s Renamed Vezel.” Yet Honda actually borrowed the HR-V nameplate from a previous small crossover that never made it to America. Back in the ‘90s, we weren’t ready for something smaller than the first-generation CR-V.
Times change, tastes change and Honda did its homework. We could have received the new HR-V sooner, yet Honda waited to build it at its new plant in Mexico with the Fit. A year after our close encounter in Tokyo, we got up close and personal with the HR-V at the Los Angeles Auto Show (above). Yet we had to wait another six months to drive it.
We had the good fortune to test the 2016 HR-V the same month it went on sale stateside, so it was an uncommon sight on the streets of L.A. and Orange County. Thus we couldn’t go anywhere without being stopped by curious folks who wanted the lowdown on this new Honda. And if we didn’t have a chance to stop and chat, plenty of fellow motorists and even a few pedestrians gave us a big thumbs up.
To book a week-long test in the HR-V so early, we had to “settle” for a model with the 6-speed manual gearbox, which had a shorter waiting list. Kudos to Honda for having the guts to offer a stick for those of us who relish the opportunity to drive vehicles equipped with three pedals.
For 2016, the HR-V comes in LX, EX and EX-L with navigation, offering a choice of front or all-wheel drive. All are fitted with a 1.8-liter SOHC 4-cylinder i-VTEC engine that develops 141 horsepower and 127 lb.-ft. of torque. Only the base LX and EX FWD have the 6-speed manual. All others are mated to a Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT). Unfortunately, we don’t get the Vezel’s available Sport Hybrid i-DCD model that combines a 1.5-liter gas engine, 7-speed DCT and an electric motor – for now.
Underneath, the HR-V rides on an independent MacPherson strut front suspension with a torsion-beam bringing up the rear. Both are assisted by Amplitude Reactive Dampers that contribute to a comfortable and smooth ride. All models sit on 17-inch wheels with our EX tester fitted with good-looking alloys. HR-V’s safety features include Vehicle Stability Assist, Honda’s ACE body structure, and standard LaneWatch blind-spot monitor.
Way back at Honda’s press conference in Tokyo, we were told that the Vezel’s exterior design “expresses SUV-like stability in its lower body and coupe-like styling in its upper body fusing these two types of styling together to create an inspiring and emotional exterior design.” At the L.A. Auto Show, the story was pretty much the same with Honda emphasizing the HR-V’s “coupe-like cabin and sporty stance.”
Our tester was mistaken for a coupe when we picked up a friend and he didn’t see the rear door handle (concealed in the C-pillar) so he tried to get into the back seat through the front door. Honda worked its magic on the HR-V’s interior design resulting in a surprising amount of space for passengers and cargo. Credit the Fit-like packaging that positions the fuel tank under the front seats resulting in a generous 58.8 cubic feet of cargo volume with the rear seats down and 24.3 with them up.
With the low floor, Honda installed Fit-style second-row Magic Seats that can be reconfigured several different ways. In the standard position there’s room for three passengers. Folding down either side of the 60/40-split seatback offers space for one or two passengers plus long cargo. Flip up one or both seat cushions, lock them in place, and the “Tall Mode” provides extra room for a potted plant or two mountain bikes with their front wheels removed.
We liked the HR-V’s no-nonsense instrument cluster with its large, easy to read speedometer and tach flanked by a Multi-Information Display. Our EX tester was fitted with a large 7-inch centrally mounted Display Audio system that included a multi-view rear camera. That and the automatic climate control are devoid of traditional buttons. Those who miss them can take solace in the steering-wheel mounted buttons to operate audio, Bluetooth and cruise control.
EX and EX-L Navi trims feature 180-watt audio and six speakers, USB port, and an HDMI Display Audio interface. On the EX-L Navi trim, the tuner is upgraded with HD Radio™ reception and SiriusXM® Radio. Pandora® compatibility is standard on EX and EX-L Navi through both Bluetooth® and USB connections. In all models, the single-disc CD player can read CD-Rs loaded with Windows Media® Audio (WMA) or MP3 audio files.
Honda says the Display Audio system with next-generation HondaLink allows the customer’s digital lifestyle to “seamlessly integrate with the car” and provide access to a world of cloud-based information. The new application-based platform connects customers to online content both inside and outside the car, all powered by their smartphones. Four apps – Connect, Navigation, Aha™, and Launcher – provide a gateway to additional online content. Display Audio also connects with Apple’s Siri Eyes Free mode and offers an SMS Text Message function.
During our seven-day test, we used the HR-V to run errands to a big-box membership store, transport our dogs to the vet, cruise along the beach, and venture up and down the steep hills in our neighborhood. During a run to Orange County we stopped at Disneyland to meet our friends. But before we could leave the parking lot we were surrounded by curious folks who wanted to know more about the HR-V.
We told them that we liked everything about it including the price. Our HR-V EX tester with destination checked in with an MSRP of $22,045. Prices begin at just $19,115 for the base LX and run up to $25,840 for the EX-L AWD with leather upholstery and navigation. Our average fuel economy for the week was 27 mpg, on par with the EPA ratings of 25 city/34 highway and 28 combined.
With its attractive pricing, flexible interior, standard features, connectivity, choice of models and sporty styling, HR-V checks all the right boxes. About the only thing we wish for is a bit more power, especially on the hills. Perhaps we could convince Honda to bring over its latest 1.5-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine offered in new small cars and vans in Japan (like the StepWGN) and drop it into the HR-V?
Honda HR-V press fleet vehicle provided by Honda North America. (Prices and vehicle information applies to models sold in the U.S. at the time of publication. All information including prices, features and specifications is subject to change without notice by the automaker.)
Story, photos and videos ©2015 CarNichiWa.com