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PowerSteering: 2016 Honda HR-V Review

PowerSteering: 2016 Honda HR-V Review

By Christian Wardlaw, October 27, 2015
For the 2015 and 2016 model years, five new small crossover SUVs debuted, doubling the number of nameplates in the segment and giving consumers more choice than ever. The 2016 Honda HR-V is one of those new models, a 5-passenger crossover utility with a 4-cylinder engine and available all-wheel drive (AWD).

Automakers are rushing to compete in this growing small SUV segment because these types of vehicles are more profitable than the small cars on which they are typically based. For example, Honda bases the HR-V on the same platform as the Fit hatchback, and the HR-V offers the same Magic Seat design and configuration that gives the Fit impressive utility. Yet the HR-V is priced $3,325 higher in standard LX trim.

In exchange for that price premium, the heavier HR-V has a more powerful engine, sits higher for a taller driving position and easier entry/exit, and provides an optional AWD system for added traction during inclement weather.

For this review, J.D. Power evaluated a 2016 Honda HR-V EX-L with front-wheel drive (FWD), which carried a sticker price of $25,470 including the $880 destination charge.

What Owners Say…
Before we discuss the results of our evaluation, it is helpful to reference J.D. Power study data to understand what small SUV owners value most in such a vehicle, where Honda could best resolve complaints with small SUVs in general, and who buys this type of vehicle.

According to the 2015 U.S. Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study and the 2015 U.S. Initial Quality Study (IQS), small SUV buyers are more often female, more often members of the Boomer (born 1946-1964) generation, and more often practical or price buyers who are seeking a reliable, high-quality vehicle that will be inexpensive to own.

Consumers also told J.D. Power that the five most important factors when deciding which small SUV to buy are, in descending order, price and payment, availability of 4-wheel or all-wheel drive, expected reliability, fuel economy, and safety.

Based on feedback from owners of small SUVs, the areas where Honda could best capitalize on resolving consumer complaints were, in this order: visibility when changing lanes, ease of entering and exiting the vehicle, rear-seat room, usefulness of rear cupholders, and ground clearance.

What Our Expert Says…
In the sections that follow, our expert discusses how the new Honda HR-V measures up in each of the 10 categories that comprise the annual APEAL Study.

Hidden rear door handles, a tapered greenhouse, and an upswept side character line give the Honda HR-V a sporty, youthful appearance, and standard 17-in. aluminum wheels ensure that every trim level looks good. The design is well balanced and appealing, though the cute little crossover has a chubby-cheeked visage.

Compared with the Honda Fit with which it shares a platform, the Honda HR-V offers an additional 1.7 in. of ground clearance, for a total of 6.7 in. However, that is 2 in. fewer than segment leaders such as the Jeep Renegade Trailhawk and Subaru Crosstrek, each of which supply 8.7 in. of ground clearance.

When equipped with a gray interior, the HR-V’s cabin takes on a pleasing 2-tone appearance thanks to its black carpets, lower door panel coverings, and dashboard top. This, combined with simulated exposed stitching on the dashboard, the line of vents in front of the passenger, and clean design elements, gives the HR-V a simple elegance frequently lacking in this segment.

Better yet, interior materials exhibit the quality and refinement expected of a Honda, which is to say that they exceed expectations at the HR-V’s base price point.

One of the benefits of buying a crossover SUV is that the seat hip points are higher, making it easier to get into and out of the vehicle. Compared with the Honda Fit, this is true of the HR-V. Additionally, the HR-V includes a standard driver’s seat-height adjuster.

Our reviewer, who is 6 ft. tall with fairly long legs, found that the lack of seat track travel for the driver’s seat made it harder to get into and out of the HR-V. Keep this in mind if you are a taller person. Entering and exiting the front passenger’s seat and the rear seats was not a problem.

Equipped with a rear seat that is roomy enough for children of any age and boasting a trunk that easily swallows a compact folding stroller, the HR-V is a legitimate family car. Because the rear offers plenty of legroom, Honda should increase the driver’s seat’s range of travel to better accommodate taller people. Beyond the cramped legroom, the HR-V’s driver’s seat lacks thigh support and supplies intrusive lumbar support that cannot be adjusted.

Climate Control System
Long known for its approach to thoughtful control layout and the science of ergonomics, Honda stumbles with the touch-sensing automatic climate control panel that is standard for the EX and EX-L trim levels of the 2016 HR-V.

Set it and forget it and you’ll be OK. But if you like to make frequent adjustments to temperature or fan speed, or you need to use the defoggers, or you want to activate the seat heaters, or you wish to switch to air recirculation mode, this touch-sensing design, mounted low on the dashboard, could prove an unnecessary distraction. The HR-V’s bouncy ride quality doesn’t contribute to fingertip accuracy, either.

Infotainment System
The HR-V EX and EX-L have a touch-screen infotainment system that looks and works like a smartphone or tablet computer. It features a 7-in. display, crisp graphics, next-generation HondaLink connected services, and more. Pairing an iPhone 6 to the HR-V’s Bluetooth connection is easy.

To adjust volume, cycle through radio station pre-sets, and switch the source of the entertainment without using the touch screen, the redundant steering wheel controls provide ready access. However, power/volume and tuning knobs would be a nice addition to the dashboard.

Storage and Space
Like the Honda Fit upon which it is based, the HR-V offers impressive cargo carrying flexibility. Behind the rear seat, the cargo area is generous for the segment, measuring 24.3 cu. ft. (23.2 cu. ft. for SUVs with AWD). Fold the rear seats flat to access 58.8 cu. ft. (55.9 cu. ft. with AWD).

Additionally, the rear seat cushions independently flip up in order to carry taller items, like houseplants. Or, owners can fully recline the front passenger’s seat to haul long items, like a surfboard. The driver’s seat also fully reclines, transforming the HR-V into sleeping quarters on a camping trip.

Honda supplies lots of nooks and crannies in which to keep various items. The center cupholders double as a storage bin, and enclosed storage is located beneath the center armrest. A tray under the center console is positioned next to where the dual USB ports, a power outlet, and HDMI input jacks are located.

Visibility and Safety
In addition to oversized side mirrors that make it easy to see on both sides of the HR-V, the windshield pillars are relatively thin for a clear view forward, and the rear-seat head restraints can be positioned for an unobstructed view to the rear. A multi-angle reversing camera is standard equipment, giving the driver a broad view while reversing the HR-V. In order to obtain text-messaging support and HondaLink connected services with automatic-collision notification, HR-V buyers must choose the EX or the EX-L.

The EX and EX-L also include LaneWatch, which is designed to improve visibility when changing into the adjacent right lane. The system does not work for the left side of the HR-V. Instead, the driver must rely on the standard expanded-view driver’s side mirror to see what is in the adjacent left lane. In our reviewer’s opinion, LaneWatch is not as effective or as safe to use as a traditional blind-spot warning system.

2016 Honda HR-V Reversing Camera Display PhotoHonda builds its products upon what it calls an Advanced Compatibility Engineering (ACE) body structure, one that is designed to both deflect crash energy away from the occupant compartment and to provide greater protection in collisions with different-sized vehicles. In addition to the ACE body structure, the HR-V comes with standard SmartVent front side-impact air bags, which are designed to help prevent air bag-related injury in the event that an occupant is improperly seated at the time of a collision.

As this review was written, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) had not assessed the HR-V’s crashworthiness. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has performed crash testing on this new Honda, and the HR-V earned an overall rating of 5 stars, the highest-possible rating. However, in the individual frontal-impact tests, protection levels for the driver and front passenger rated 4 stars.

Every HR-V is equipped with a 141-horsepower, 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine. A 6-speed manual gearbox is standard for the LX and EX, with a continuously variable transmission (CVT) available as an option. The CVT is standard for the EX-L and includes both Sport and Econ driving modes.

This engine is never going to allow the tires to break free and paint black stripes on the pavement, but supplies adequate power in the 3,109-lb. EX-L. Having driven examples of the HR-V equipped with both the manual and the CVT, our reviewer prefers the CVT because it makes better use of the available power. Under hard acceleration the CVT drones in characteristic fashion, but otherwise operates unobtrusively as it makes best use of the engine’s limited power.

A Real Time AWD system is optional for all three of the HR-V’s trim levels, but comes only with the available CVT (the option adds $1,250 to the crossover SUV’s price). Most of the time, the AWD system powers the HR-V’s front wheels, and when cruising on the highway it decouples from the SUV’s rear wheels in order to maximize fuel economy. Under acceleration, a portion of the engine’s output is automatically sent to the HR-V’s rear wheels, regardless of whether the SUV is on a dry or slippery surface. The system also powers the rear wheels when it detects front-wheel slip.

The test vehicle did not have the optional Real Time AWD system, therefore we cannot comment on how effectively it works.

Fuel Economy
According to the EPA, a Honda HR-V with FWD and a CVT should return 28 mpg city, 35 mpg highway, and 31 mpg in combined driving. On the test loop, the HR-V averaged 31.4 mpg.

Using official EPA data, the HR-V is among the most fuel-efficient vehicles in its class. Only the Mazda CX-3 and Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid can match the HR-V’s 31 mpg rating in combined driving, and the Subaru does so while equipped with standard AWD. However, the Subaru is also significantly more expensive than the HR-V.

Driving Dynamics
During the twisty mountain road portion of the test loop, our reviewer reports that he giggled out loud while driving the HR-V. Tossable, nimble, and demonstrating impressive grip, the HR-V is an unexpectedly capable athlete…as long as you’re driving downhill.

Light, accurate steering and excellent brakes make the HR-V enjoyable to drive no matter the circumstance, and during a panic stop the braking system worked flawlessly to bring the SUV to a quick, clean, drama-free stop.

Ride quality, though, requires fine-tuning. Alternately woozy and stiff when driving in the city and suburbs, the HR-V’s suspension communicates sharper bumps and jolts to the cabin while struggling to attenuate dips and rises in the pavement. The result is a jittery and bouncy ride quality that is rather unpleasant.

Final Impressions
When it comes to satisfying the primary requirements of a small SUV buyer, Honda checks all of the boxes when it comes to the new HR-V. Affordable, efficient, and safe, the HR-V is likely to be reliable if past performance by other Honda products is any indication. Plus, it comes with an optional AWD system.

Where Honda could improve the HR-V is with regard to how easy it is for tall people to get into and out of the driver’s seat, which is cramped if you have longer legs. A rear center armrest with cupholders would be great, too, especially when traveling with children who must sit in child safety seats. Honda needs to revisit the HR-V’s suspension tuning, too, in order to improve the ride and handling mix.

As far as Honda’s LaneWatch technology is concerned, consumers will need to judge for themselves whether or not they prefer the automaker’s approach to helping the driver to see in a vehicle’s blind spots. Our test driver believes that a traditional blind-spot warning system that monitors both sides of the vehicle is a superior approach, one seemingly endorsed by Honda because it offers the traditional blind-spot warning system for the most expensive version of the larger Pilot SUV, while lower trim levels employ LaneWatch.

American Honda Motor Company supplied the vehicle used for this 2016 Honda HR-V review.

For more information about our test driver and our methodology, please see our reviewer profile.

Additional Research:

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