Review: Honda HR-V


Design, interior and infotainment

Crossover utility vehicles (CUVs) are here to stay, so it’s time we embrace the hatchback on stilts. Honda’s latest attempt to attract buyers that desire a small car with high seating position, coupled with car-like driving dynamics and fuel economy, resulted in the all-new 2016 HR-V. Starting with the Honda Fit platform, the HR-V adds 9.1 inches of length, 1.7 inches of ground clearance and optional all-wheel drive (AWD) to transform a mundane hatchback into a CUV.

Honda sent me a fully-loaded HR-V EX-L Navi with an MSRP of $26,740 for a week to test out every aspect of the car, from drivability to infotainment. (It’s £25,425 for the similar EX, but the UK model has a smaller 1.5-liter motor and more driver assist technologies, and AU$36,610 for the equivalent VTi-L trim.)

Styling of the HR-V is very conservative and not something that attracts attention or excitement, there’s no denying that it looks like what you would expect from a Honda, though. The front end is tame, with reflector-housing halogen headlights and Honda’s signature, V-shaped grille, a distinguishing feature of Honda’s entire model lineup. There are no LED daytime running lights (DRL) that other automakers install to give cars a modern look.

Honda HR-V LED tail lights

I find the lack of high-intensity discharge (HID), or projector lens halogens at a minimum, disappointing because the reflector-housing halogens aren’t very bright. The HR-V’s nearest competitor, the Mazda CX-3 Grand Touring, features bright LED headlights at a comparable price. Things start to look better when you move around back, where bright LED brake lights and high-mount brake lights are employed.

The Deep Ocean Pearl paint on the tested HR-V is a gorgeous color. It appears blue or purple, depending on the available light and angle. I’m usually not a fan of the color purple but the HR-V wears it well.

Interior

Reach for the front door handle with the key fob in your pocket, and the respective door unlocks, thanks to a proximity-sensing door handle and the HR-V’s passive keyless entry feature. There’s a button on the door handle to press to lock the door if you’re exiting the car, so you never have to take the keys out of your pocket or purse.

Honda HR-V

Step into the driver’s seat, and you’re treated to plenty of vinyl-covered soft-touch surfaces. There’s some hard plastic surfaces on the lower part of the dashboard, but Honda does a great job dressing up frequently seen and touched spots with vinyl.

When the car is off, the gauges, infotainment display and climate controls appear as completely black panels. Push the red start button, and everything lights up and becomes functional.

Honda sticks to analog gauges for the tachometer and speedometer, which I prefer because they respond quicker than LCD displays. A low-fi information display shows your fuel economy, trip information, fuel gauge, outdoor temperature and time. It’s not as colorful or functional as an LCD display but suits the HR-V’s black and white theme well.

Honda HR-V

My biggest annoyance with the interior is the climate control panel. It’s a capacitive touch panel that looks great when the car is off, and even responds well to my touch. However, the lack of physical feedback annoys me because it’s hard to change the climate control without looking down at the controls. You cannot rely on muscle memory since there’s no physical response or haptic feedback.

Fortunately, the car has automatic climate control that you can set and forget. It’s not an ideal input method, but if you don’t adjust the climate control too often (like me), it’s only a minor annoyance and not a deal breaker.

The deal breaker for me is the seats in the HR-V. There’s plenty of side bolster for the top and bottom cushions and the back support is curved to contour to my back, despite the lack of lumbar support. But the seat bottoms are very flat, wide and hard where my bum sits. My 5’7″ and 195-pound frame doesn’t have enough cushion to fill the seat bottom and causes my lower back to hurt immensely after an hour of driving.

Infotainment system

A 7-inch touch screen infotainment system is standard on HR-V EX and EX-L Navi trims. Honda employs capacitive touch technology for more responsive touch input. The 800 x 480 resolution display may seem low compared to smartphones, but you’re sitting far away enough where a high-resolution screen isn’t necessary.

Honda HR-V

Honda really likes capacitive touch technology, as the infotainment system is devoid of any physical buttons. Instead, capacitive touch buttons to the left of the screen are available for home, menu and back functions, similar to an Android smartphone. The buttons don’t bother me too much, as I prefer using the steering wheel controls, which are traditional buttons.

The volume control is particularly annoying with the capacitive touch buttons and steering wheel controls. I prefer having a volume knob that I can quickly turn to bring the volume up or down. The HR-V also lacks a mute button too, which makes ordering a McRib at the drive-through window at McDonald’s and waiting for my order a little more tedious.

Honda HR-V

Basic features of the infotainment system are as expected, with USB connectivity, SiriusXM, HD Radio, Pandora and Aha Internet radio. Honda provides two USB ports to connect your smartphone and a USB flash drive at the same time. An HDMI input is available, but only usable via HondaLink or when the car is in park.

Navigating USB flash drives isn’t really ideal with the purely touch interface. You can navigate music by track data or folder layout, but if you load a large flash drive full of music, it’s a slow process of scrolling through all of your music or folders. A knob that could scroll through quickly is my preferred method of input.

SiriusXM and HD Radio capabilities are available. I listened to SiriusXM most of the time, as HD Radio cuts out often where I live. Honda doesn’t provide any time-shifting features for SiriusXM, so you can only listen to live music.

Pandora connectivity is available via Bluetooth for Android devices and USB for iOS devices. I tested the feature with my Nexus 6 and iPhone 6S and preferred the audio quality of the wired USB connection. However, the sound system in the HR-V isn’t very good, so I’m willing to sacrifice some audio quality for convenience in it.

Honda HR-V

Smartphone connectivity via Bluetooth is available with your usual phonebook and recent calls. Text messaging is supported, but the functions are extremely limited to reading the messages and issuing quick replies. You’re better off replying using your phone’s Google Now or Siri voice recognition.

Fortunately, if you pair an iPhone to the HR-V, you can take advantage of Siri. Eyes Free mode is activated by holding down the voice recognition button until you hear the Siri tone to speak. Siri accepts commands through the car’s microphone, so you can use all of the functions while keeping your iPhone in your pocket.

Navigation is included on the EX-L Navi, as the trim level suggests. The maps are flat and the user interface resembles the navigation software in the Hyundai Tucson and Kia Optima. There’s nothing out of the ordinary with the navigation function, and it had no trouble finding locations. However, Honda employs a lockout that prevents destination or POI input when the car is moving.

Honda HR-V

When the car is rolling at speeds above a crawling pace, the features are blocked out and unselectable. This is always the case, even if there’s a passenger trying to use it. You can use voice recognition when the car is moving, but it’s a clunky mess that requires too many commands and corrections to find where I need to go. It’s much faster to use Siri Eyes Free or pull out my phone to find my destination, which defeats the purpose of having a safety lockout to prevent distracted driving.

Honda HD Digital Traffic provides subscription-free access to traffic data for popular highways, but like most traffic services, you’re better off learning the traffic conditions of your route. It relies on HD Radio technology that promises quicker updates, but you’re still better off using Google Now to predict travel times and traffic.

Features aside, the HR-V’s infotainment system is terrible. The menu transition effects stutter, which doesn’t help the perception of speed and responsiveness. The menu layouts are intuitive for technically-inclined users, but the average person may not realize the tab in the middle of the right side of the display is a pressable onscreen button, which expands the function of the audio source or phone features.

Selecting the audio source from the infotainment screen is very obvious, but only to the savviest tech users. There’s an onscreen button labeled “SOURCE,” but it shows what’s playing, so less techy drivers may not think to press it to change the source. Honda’s decision to give up physical buttons for a cleaner and simpler dash layout is more visually appealing, but not very intuitive to those that may struggle to use a smartphone.

Overall, it’s an infotainment system you learn to put up with, rather than enjoy using. The worse part is the recently released Honda Civic, refreshed Accord and all-new Pilot have the latest generation Android-based infotainment system, which is really strong, from my experience.

HondaLink Next Generation

The HR-V’s last infotainment feature is HondaLink, a supposedly next generation connectivity method for iOS users. The system relies on an iPhone connected to the infotainment system via the Lightning connector and HDMI video input.

You need to shell out $100 (HondaLink is only available in the US) for the official Honda connection kit, or any other Lightning HDMI output adapter, to take advantage of the feature. Regardless of the adapter you choose, it’s still an unnecessary wiring mess that requires an HDMI and Lightning cable connected to the video output dongle.

I wouldn’t mind the excessively complex connectivity if it provided useful features, but HondaLink does not provide anything useful. It offers screen-mirroring functionality that’s extremely limited to an optional navigation app, Aha radio and iHeartRadio. It hardly seems worth the effort and extra cost for such limited functionality.

To top things off, the HondaLink Navigation app is a separate $59.99 (not available outside of the US) purchase if you want to use smartphone-based navigation. The feature is better touted on the lesser EX trim level, which doesn’t have integrated navigation, but I’d prefer integration with the free Google Maps or Apple Maps apps.

Ultimately, I have no idea why anyone thought HondaLink was a good idea or why it exists. Just give us Android Auto and CarPlay support, please.

Audio and driver assists

Audio quality in the HR-V is not something I enjoyed listening to. The EX and EX-L trims get a six-speaker system with 180 watts of power, a bump from the base LX trim four-speaker and 160-watt setup, but it’s far from adequate to my ears.

The bass is muddy and overpowers the tweeters. You can turn up the treble and the bass down, but I was unable to find a balance that left me with any form of tolerable bass.

However, if you’re into installing your own sound system, the HR-V is ready for an upgrade. It employs standard 6.75-inch speakers with separate tweeters in the front and single speakers in the back, which are available from all the aftermarket brands.

Driver assists

Honda offers very few driver assist technologies in the US-market HR-V. While Europe and Australia get lane departure and forward collision warning systems, the US only gets backup and LaneWatch cameras. I asked Honda why the US does not get the driver assists and was told it was because of market preferences and price point, unfortunately.

Honda HR-V

Nevertheless, Honda does go above and beyond with the backup camera by offering selectable viewing angles. I never found the need to change the camera angles when backing up the car, but at least the option is available for those that rely heavily on it. The HR-V backup camera has active guidelines that turn with the steering wheel to provide an estimate of where the car will end up at its current trajectory, too.

Radar-based blind spot monitor (BSM) systems are typically what automakers offer on cars. The typical BSM has a visual indicator that flashes in or on the side mirrors. Honda takes a different approach to letting drivers see what’s in their blind spot with LaneWatch technology. The HR-V EX and EX-L trims include the technology, which installs a camera in the passenger side mirror to provide the driver with a view of what’s in the adjacent lane.

Honda HR-V

When you use the right turn signal, LaneWatch activates and provides a view of the right side of the car on the infotainment screen. Guidelines are displayed to show where a car in the adjacent lane is in relation to your car.

The system seems simple enough, but I find it hard to get used to. My default process for right lane changes is to scan my side and rear view mirrors, put on the turn signal, perform a quick head check and move over.

The process of checking the side mirror and performing head checks relies on looking at the right side of the car, not the infotainment screen. There’s also a minor delay from when you flip the turn signal stalk to when the image displays, so it’s not ideal for quick maneuvers. I find myself not using LaneWatch much at all with the HR-V.

Honda HR-V

If you’re so inclined, the LaneWatch camera is available any time with a press of a button on the turn signal stalk. The other problem with LaneWatch is it only covers the right side of the car, so you still have to perform head checks as usual when changing into the left lane.

As to why Honda opted to incorporate a camera instead of a radar-based BSM system, the company sees the radar-based system as a premium feature. Radar-based BSM is available on top trim levels of the Honda Pilot and premium Acura vehicles.

Performance and living with it

Motivating the Honda HR-V is a 1.8-liter, four-cylinder engine mated to a continuously variable transmission (CVT), a rather unexciting powertrain combination. Power from the 1.8-liter motor is a lowly 141 horsepower (hp) and 127 pound-feet (lb-ft) of torque.

The motor has plenty of power to get around town and merge at a safe speed, but the HR-V is no speed demon. While I usually toss the car on my friend’s vehicle dynamometer at Drift-Office to verify hp ratings, there wasn’t an available appointment when I had the HR-V for review.

Honda HR-V

Power is sent to all four wheels via Honda’s Real Time AWD with Intelligent Control system. The part-time all-wheel drive (AWD) system only moves the front wheels unless it detects a loss of traction. If the system detects a loss of traction, it automatically engages the rear wheels to help. My experience with the HR-V’s AWD system is it lets the system understeer (the car doesn’t turn enough) before engaging the rear wheels to help.

Other available systems can provide the feeling of oversteer (turning too much) before kicking in the other wheels or provide seamless grip and steering so you don’t notice the AWD working at all. I’ve driven all types of AWD systems, and the HR-V’s understeer-biased system isn’t as ideal as the seamless systems used in higher-end Acura’s such as the MDX, but better than the oversteer-biased systems typically installed with rear-wheel-drive (RWD) based cars from BMW, for inexperienced drivers.

The CVT differs from traditional automatic transmission by providing greater efficiency due to the lack of standard gears. Automatic transmissions have a set number of gears with different ratios to propel the car forward. CVTs have an infinite number of gear ratios that adjusts to always have the engine running at peak efficiency. The trade-off is better fuel economy with CVTs, but it numbs the driving experience.

Regardless, the beauty of the CVT is greater efficiency for good fuel economy, which the US Environmental Protection Agency rates the HR-V at 27 miles per gallon (mpg) in the city, 32 on the highway and 29 combined. My driving yielded 26 mpg average, which is impressive to me since I have a lead foot.

Honda HR-V

The downside is driving the HR-V is a thoroughly boring experience. The CVT is extremely smooth when accelerating at full throttle, but as soon as you let go of the gas pedal, there’s a slight elastic sensation in which the car feels like a stretched out rubber band. This is typical of all CVTs and more noticeable on lower hp applications, like the HR-V.

It’s a shame the CVT sucks the life out of the car, as the chassis and suspension tuning is excellent. The car handles windy roads with confidence and minimal body roll. The suspension isn’t too stiff, while the dampers mitigate bumps in the road without sacrificing road feel.

Steering response is excellent and has the right amount of weight and precision without the need of selectable drive modes. The HR-V would be an enjoyable car to drive if it weren’t for the CVT. However, Honda does offer a six-speed manual transmission on LX and EX trim levels, but it’s only available on front wheel drive (FWD) models.

Living with the car

Despite being a sub-compact CUV, the Honda HR-V is deceptively spacious. It’s small on the outside but a smart back seat and cargo area makes it perfect for pet owners and families. Take the Honda Magic Seat system for the back seat, for instance: it’s a genius idea. The seat backs not only fold down to maximize cargo space, but the seat bottoms fold up to provide an open space for pets while keeping the cargo area closed off.

In terms of family friendliness, we partnered up with Diono, a car seat manufacturer, to test-fit three car seats in the back of the HR-V. Diono’s USA headquarters is in Puyallup, Wash., where I conduct vehicle testing and a convenient place to stop by and test-fit car seats. With the help of Diono, I attempted to install three Radian RXT convertible car seats in the back of the HR-V.

Honda HR-V

Honda provides two pairs of LATCH anchors for the outboard seats, which is typical of all new cars nowadays. The middle seat requires the use of the three-point seat belt for installation. Top LATCH anchors are available for all three seats. The car seat installations are completed using the three-point seat belt instead of LATCH, because LATCH has weight limitations that can vary by car.

The Honda HR-V narrowly passed the car seat test. I tried installing a rear-facing seat in the center, and front-facing seats in the outboard seats, without any luck. The rear-facing seat wouldn’t secure properly due to the mechanism for the Magic Seats.

However, I was able to install three front-facing car seats safely in the HR-V. I found it very impressive considering how small of a car the HR-V is.

Junk in the trunk

Honda doesn’t employ any fancy smart trunk features in the HR-V. There’s a trunk release button and an old-fashioned, open-it-yourself rear hatch. Since the car has passive keyless entry, you can unlock and open the trunk without taking the keys out of your pocket.

HR-V models with AWD have 23.2 cubic feet (cu-ft) of rear cargo space with the rear seats up. FWD models have an extra 1.1 cu-ft of space since it doesn’t have to accommodate the rear drive line. I keep a Sumo Gigantor and Omni from Sumo Lounge around for trunk space testing. The Gigantor is a little too big to carry in and out of my house, so I stick to using the Omni for most cars. It’s a fun way I devised to show how big a trunk is.

Honda HR-V

I dragged the Sumo Omni outside on one of the few sunny days we’ve had in Washington State recently to shove the bean bag into the back of the HR-V. I got the Sumo Omni a third of the way in with the back seats up and it fit no problem with the back seats down. The beauty of a hatch is fitting tall objects, which the HR-V should have no problems with.

In terms of trunk space, the HR-V has plenty of space to fit luggage for a weekend get-away for a family, as long as you pack lightly.

Verdict

Honda’s HR-V is a car in the traditional sense, with four tires, a steering wheel and will get you from point A to point B reliably. It has a spacious interior, a competent chassis with sporty driving dynamics, adequate powertrain, available AWD and a familiar dashboard layout. You’ll feel at home in the car if the last car you bought is over a decade old.

But modern cars have long moved beyond offering a steering wheel and pedals to make it move. Technology is a big selling point with cars today, and more so with affordable cars, which is where Honda HR-V falls short.

Honda HR-V

We liked

Everything is powered or charged via USB, and that the HR-V features two ports for data, in addition to a standard 12V power jack, is welcome. The two USB ports also let you keep a flash drive loaded with music installed, and a port to charge your phone or stream Pandora from an iPhone.

Apple CarPlay isn’t supported, but at least there’s Siri Eyes Free support. If you’re an iPhone user that relies heavily on your phone, the HR-V’s compatibility with Siri makes your connected life much easier in the car.

Honda’s Magic Seats in the back make the interior super flexible. The 60/40 split seats can have seat backs folded down for maximum cargo space or the seat bottoms folded up to create an area perfect for pets, but keep them away from the groceries. You can also change the rear seating arrangement so you can have one passenger and a big dog with ease, too. It’s a clever seating system that’s effortless to arrange to your liking.

Driving the HR-V on twisty roads is a pleasure, despite the soul-sucking CVT. Honda always does a fine job tuning the chassis, suspension and steering to make the car dynamic and confident on windy roads, without sacrificing ride quality or requiring extra gimmicks, such as different drive modes.

We disliked

I hate capacitive touch buttons on car interiors. I’ve yet to have a life-changing experience wherein I stopped asking for physical buttons, and the HR-V is no different. In Honda’s favor, the capacitive touch climate control panel and infotainment system functions are responsive and look attractive when the car is off. But, physical buttons that click when pressed make navigating both functions from muscle memory much easier and intuitive.

Honda’s infotainment system in the HR-V is terrible. It’s not designed for your average consumer. The menu transitions exhibit lag and the on-screen functions aren’t laid out in an intuitive manner. The capacitive touch buttons aren’t a substitute for buttons and dials. This isn’t an infotainment system I’d let my mother use, and she just learned to text message a little over a year ago.

Last is HondaLink. Why Honda found it necessary to offer screen-mirroring only on iOS devices, with a limited selection of apps when Android Auto and CarPlay were already in development, is beyond me. There is nothing redeeming about HondaLink. From the $60 navigation app you have to purchase instead of using the free solutions from Apple and Google to the $50 to $100 cost in adapters you have to buy to make it work, only disappointment in how useless the system is awaits.

Final verdict

Honda’s HR-V seems like a car designed for those that seek the generic definition of a car and not more technically-inclined, gadget-buying drivers. The 1.8-liter, four-cylinder motor propels the car at a relaxed pace – and the Magic Seats are ideal for pets. There’s plenty of space in the car to go antique shopping and haul large items.

Honda HR-V

The infotainment system is quite awful compared to Honda’s other offerings in the Accord, Civic and Pilot. Honda LaneWatch is an intriguing feature in theory, but I’d prefer the radar-based blind-spot monitor systems used by every other car maker. The lag time before the LaneWatch camera appears on screen bugs me, as does the lower placement of the infotainment screen. It doesn’t feel natural for my driving style.

Overall, I look at the Honda HR-V in two ways. As a car for those that want the latest technology and features, it completely fails. As a car enthusiast that enjoys modifying and driving cars, the HR-V with the six-speed manual transmission is a fine canvas to build something fun on. The infotainment system and speaker annoyances can be solved by throwing the factory unit out the window and replacing it with something that supports Android Auto and CarPlay and a new set of speakers.

But, if you’re not willing to put the time and effort into making it your own, there are better crossover choices than the HR-V for the money Honda is asking.

From: Review: Honda HR-V