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2016 Honda HR-V First Impression Small and smart; making it count

2016 Honda HR-V First Impression
Photo: Mathieu St-Pierre

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Miami, FL -- Let’s generalize a bit; Americans make good trucks, Europeans make amazing luxury cars, Koreans make all kinds of things (as do the Chinese), while the Japanese, well, they make exceptional small cars. 

The list of the best-of-the-best of the best compact vehicles on our market all come from that wee island in the Pacific ocean, off the coast of Eastern Asia: Japan. Examples? Mazda3, Toyota Corolla, Nissan Micra, and the Honda Civic. Truly, if anyone knows about making small vehicles far larger than their outer dimensions suggest, it’s Honda. The Fit, CR-V, and aforementioned Civic are champions in their segments and now, Honda’s here to take on the newest and fastest growing of them all: the sub-compact CUV. 

The heat is on and Honda knows it. Nothing less than their A game will do if they’re to challenge the likes of the Mazda CX-3 and Fiat 500x. To these, we can add the Nissan JUKE, Kia Soul, Subaru XV Crosstrek, Chevy Trax, and (my current favourite) the Jeep Renegade. 

Is the Honda HR-V good enough? Will it stand tall enough to be perceived as the go-to vehicle in this segment? The answer is, as you may have guessed: Yes and no. 

Yes
It will do wonders for Honda and will satisfy at least 10,000 customers (1/2 of which are expected to be new to the brand) in 12 months following its arrival this summer. 

As I’ve stated, Honda makes amazing small products and y’all know about it since the Civic has been the best-selling car in Canada for 17 years and the CR-V was the #1 import utility vehicle last year.

How does the HR-V fit?
The 2016 HR-V will slot itself between the Fit and the CR-V and fill in a gap that was created by the market where the demand for more utility, AWD, and fuel economy without hampering “fun-to-drive” has become a need. 

The Fit cannot be had with AWD and the CR-V, although not much larger on the inside than the HR-V, may have too large a footprint for some. The HR-V blends the best of both vehicles into a modern, compact, and sleek vehicle. 

Pricing has been announced, and starts at $20,690 for a base LX FWD 6-speed manual and goes all the way up to $29,990 for a top-trim EX-L AWD CVT with five other options in between. 

Smart and compact design
From a styling standpoint, the 2016 HR-V is mighty handsome with the right balance of smooth edges, sharp curves, and tidy wheels. My only qualm has to do with the rear hidden door handles that are intended to make the HR-V more coupe-like, for some unknown reason. Also, in my mind, they belong to Nissan…

The cabin is impressively well thought out and is the HR-V’s best asset. As it uses the Global Small platform that’s shared with the Fit (features a centre-mounted fuel tank), the HR-V is blessed with the Fit’s rear Magic Seat that makes carrying almost anything possible. The large 688 litre, low and deep boot is easily accessible and terribly user-friendly. Overall, the HR-V is only marginally “tighter” than the CR-V as its total interior volume is of 2,721 litres compared to 2,873. 

The HR-V’s dashboard is currently the best sorted in all of Honda’s lineup. The exaggerated use of two screens that too often display redundant information was reduced to one screen and a touch-sensitive panel for HVAC controls. Aesthetically, it’s brilliant and functions just as well. The layout and ergonomics are clean and the use of available space is very good. 

The centre console is sleek with a number of integrated cubbyholes along its flanks, as well as below it. The seats are firm yet supportive and the driving position is good. Sitting slightly higher than the average automobile is a desired aspect, and the HR-V delivers here.  

The list of standard features for Canada explains in part why the base price is expected to be in the low $20,000. It includes a multi-view camera, automatic climate control, heated front seats, Display Audio with HondaLink, and remote entry. This is a fair bit of kit. 

Mixed emotions about the drive
Driving the HR-V is a mixed bag. The slightly longer wheelbase over the Fit (2,610mm vs. 2,530mm) should convey a smoother drive than that of the subcompact car; however, I found the HR-V’s ride to be too stiff with insufficient wheel travel. Remember that this observation was made in Florida where the streets are generally nicer than our weather-battered roads. A weeklong road test this summer will be telling. 

From a chassis standpoint, the 2016 Honda HR-V handles quite well, remaining flat even when pushed through on- and off-ramps. On freeways, it is stable and surefooted. The electric power steering is surprisingly precise, and the level of assistance is well judged. 

The standard 1.8L 4-cylinder engine is adequate, no more. I was only able to drive FWD examples of the HR-V (both manual and with CVT) and I questioned the mill’s 141 horsepower and 127 lb-ft of torque as being sufficient in a 100kg (220lb) heavier EX-L Navi version with four passengers and gear aboard. Fast or even quick, this vehicle is not. 

Said AWD system is the good ol’ RealTime setup. It has been updated for the HR-V as it now includes Intelligent Control that can send more torque to the rear wheels, more so than what the CR-V gets, for more dynamic driving. In fact, depending on the drive conditions, up to 50% of available torque can be sent to the rear, more than what the CR-V can muster. 

The CVT’s a natural fit with the HR-V and better suited to the daily grind than the Accord-sourced less-than-fun manual. On the latter, I was taken aback by its less than progressive action; the recently driven ’15 Acura ILX Dynamic and my household ’14 Fit are far better synchronized and Honda-like. 

The CVT mimics shift points as with other recent Honda products, and it does a fine job balancing the available power and driver demands when possible. Without a doubt, I would opt for the expected $1,300 CVT option.  

No
In reality, there is no good reason why Honda’s entry level "light trucks" (CR-V, Pilot, Ridgeline, Odyssey) will not do well. Ride quality and power level are potential issues that can be adapted to. 

Pricing and the potentially harsh ride may be two of the only three valid explanations should Honda not achieve their 10,000-unit goal. The fierce competition from the Mazda CX-3 and Jeep Renegade could be the other. The name HR-V is all new, which could pose a problem, however, the Honda brand is synonymous with quality and good things.  

The 2016 Honda HR-V will go on sale in summer 2015, and will be built in Mexico.