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HomeHome / Blog / Honda HR

May 26, 2023

Honda HR

In Car Reviews, Cars, Honda / By Danny Tan / 5 December 2022 3:03 pm / 45 comments In contrast to some of my counterparts who live and breathe cars, I kind of dread revealing what I do for a living,

In Car Reviews, Cars, Honda / By Danny Tan / 5 December 2022 3:03 pm / 45 comments

In contrast to some of my counterparts who live and breathe cars, I kind of dread revealing what I do for a living, but the “so, what do you do?” question is inevitable. The initial “website” and “I write” answers are never enough, which forces a full unmasking.

The revelation usually prompts two questions: “What is the best car you’ve driven?” and “Is the new XXX (insert hot car of the season) good?”. A variation of the latter is asking which of two rivals is better. Some ask for the best car within a specified budget. Again, many are happy to play expert, but I don’t like being the transportation Thelma.

But when backed into a corner that I can’t wriggle out of, there are a couple of reliable options that I fall back on, time and again. The Honda HR-V is one of those cars. It’s the right fit for so many people wanting an urban runabout that’s an SUV (trend), proven (OG of the segment), practical (best interior packaging) and reliable (both the car and after-sales). If you’re OK with the ubiquity, the HR-V is one of those cars that you just can’t go wrong with.

Even in the previous model’s final days, the qualities that made the HR-V an overnight sensation back in 2015 remained intact in the face of younger rivals. Now, we have a new one that looks fresh and more premium, plus a broad range of three powertrains. What do you think the verdict will be?

Turbo, bro

You’ve already read our review of the third-generation ‘Hi-rider Revolutionary Vehicle’ (the first one was a boxy two-door oddball from the early 2000s, the one we’re familiar with is the second car to carry the name) in RS e:HEV hybrid form.

Personally, I like hybrids and eking out good FC, but beyond the entry-level national segment and e-hailing drivers, fuel efficiency doesn’t seem to be top priority in a country where petrol is heavily subsidised, and hybrid variants of popular models usually aren’t popular as a result.

And so it is with the new HR-V. Despite being decked out in sporty RS trim with all the bells and whistles (in Malaysia, top variants are typically the most popular), the hybrid’s share of bookings (over 30k as of end October) was 21%. Sounds low, but that’s already much higher than the single digits typically seen by Honda Malaysia. Combined, the turbo models – E and V – make up the lion’s share of bookings at 70%, with the RM134,800 V alone responsible for more than half of HR-V orders (57%).

What does this say? We like power, and we don’t mind paying for high specs. The latter has become very clear over the past few years, and before you say that only the well-to-do are willing to shell out, Perodua’s AV range toppers regularly top their model sales breakdowns as well. Here, we drive the HR-V Turbo V to see if it really merits the popularity.

Effortless charm

This is the first time I’m sampling the new HR-V with the 1.5 litre turbocharged engine, which has four cylinders, 181 PS and 240 Nm of torque between 1,700 and 4,500 rpm. The Turbo E is the fastest in the HR-V range with an 0-100 km/h time of 8.7 seconds, a tenth faster than the Turbo V you see here, which is 23 kg heavier and rolls on 18-inch alloys (an inch larger than the S and E). Top speed is 200 km/h.

That makes the V nearly two full seconds faster than the hybrid in the century sprint (RS 10.7 seconds), and its top speed is 30 km/h higher (RS 170 km/h). Sometimes, you don’t really feel on-paper differences on the move, but it’s pretty apparent here – the turbo clearly accelerates faster than the hybrid, whether standing or rolling.

This is the fastest the HR-V has ever been, and the speed should be quite novel for City/Jazz folk who are upgrading, as well as previous-generation HR-V owners. However, don’t expect kick in the back kind of pick-up; in conjunction with the CVT, getting up to speed is smooth and effortless, and that’s the way it should be in a daily driver. Whether you’re taking it easy or pushing, the HR-V Turbo is just so easy.

The acceleration experience (not the rate) isn’t very different from that in the Perodua Ativa, but here, the process is smoother and significantly quieter, which adds to the effortlessness of it all. Compared to the RS hybrid, the Turbo is more conventional in the way it picks up speed and I can imagine this “direct performance” to be more agreeable to most.

The CVT is a perfect partner for the boosted engine. If you’re coming from a recent Japanese B-segment NA car, expect the same efficiency in harnessing available power, but with less effort – thanks to turbo torque, you’re spending less time on the throttle. If you’re coming from a Proton CVT, you’re super late to the party called Today’s Standard.

The seamless gearbox is unobtrusive in daily driving and responsive enough in a fast cross country drive, so much so that I completely ignored the Sport mode and shift paddles. I can imagine some using Sport but not Eco, which blunts the throttle/response so much that it feels like something has malfunctioned.

Balik kampung

The new HR-V is a fantastic daily driver, but does its case fall apart when you go further and push harder? Not at all. Although the Honda isn’t as exciting to drive as a Toyota C-HR when going all out (who does these things in a family SUV anyway?), it’s dynamically competent and an improvement over the previous model. Immediately, the steering stands out for being meatier than expected.

Quick and precise, the helm is also calm at a cruise. Despite the visibly higher ground clearance (196 mm, 26 mm higher than before), high speed stability is good and primary ride comfort is steady at speeds that we cannot publish, with three adults and luggage. Likewise, body roll isn’t an issue.

I suspect that rolling refinement, while improved, isn’t quite up to quietness of the Proton X70, which is not really a surprise given that the Geely SUV has a comfort focus typical of Chinese cars. In any case, tyre roar isn’t deafening and I think that the insulation is pretty much like what you’ll find in a European car, which is to mean that an equivalent Toyota is likely to be quieter.

Also rather Continental is the HR-V’s high speed ride and the way it handles patchy roads in town on 18-inch wheels – not soft but not uncomfortable either. This more substantial feel in the controls and the way the HR-V moves is also found in the latest Civic.

By the way, the new HR-V has a relatively high perch, which I personally like. There are peers that feel more “car-like” in height – off the bat, I can think of the Hyundai Kona and Toyota Corolla Cross – so if you need something lower, there are options. But why SUV then?

Missed opportunity?

It’s easy to find a good driving position, and the seat base length is just about right for my 175 cm frame. Comfort is good and there are no ergonomic issues, save for the head unit that is angled away from the driver. Yes, away.

While this doesn’t really affect operation and there are no unwanted reflections of your passenger’s chest (you can’t unsee this in the latest Proton Iriz/Persona), it annoys me nonetheless, and the angle also forces the driver to look at the sides of the head unit – specifically, the depth of the “CRT TV” style HU, a reminder that you don’t get a freestanding screen here like in the Civic.

Zoom out and you’ll find that the HR-V’s horizontal-style dash isn’t as pretty as the Civic’s. Sans the FE’s speaker grille-style cover for the air vent strip, it’s pretty drab in here, and the safe all-black theme (with very minor lashings of metallic) doesn’t help. Product planners will say that Malaysian buyers are a conservative bunch when it comes to colours, and they’re probably correct, but Proton has been bold with its X SUVs and they’re doing all right.

Speaking of cabins, the previous HR-V’s cockpit was sports car-like with a tall centre console and minimalist layout. It felt quite special, more so when rendered in two-tone. If this sounds familiar, it’s the same rant from our first drive of the RV back in June. Right after that review went up, Honda released first images of the next-generation CR-V and it all became clear – to get a Civic cabin in an SUV, you’ve got to pony up to a CR-V. Fair enough.

Don’t get me wrong, this is still a pleasant and functional interior, just not very exciting after the big design shift of the exterior, which we covered in detail here. A bit of a missed opportunity in my books but perhaps the typical HR-V owner won’t find dullness to be an issue.

Safety and practicality

Moving to the rear, Honda’s Ultra Seats combine with typically great packaging to make the HR-V a great option for a small family. Legroom is really generous and I can even cross my legs (think stock image of a man in a suit reading a broadsheet newspaper) at the back, with the front seat set to my driving position.

Headroom isn’t as abundant, but I fit well with a palm’s height left – if you have regular backbenchers who are 180 cm and above, do try it out for size. The steep angle of the roofline plunges behind rear seat heads, in case you’re wondering. On the move, I appreciate the long rear windows that prevents the space from being claustrophobic (it could easily have become that, with the body’s high shoulders and all-black cabin) plus nifty touches like the arm-level door cupholder and phone slot in the map pockets.

When it debut, the previous HR-V had more boot space than SUVs from a higher segment, something you wouldn’t have guessed based on the footprint. Once again, few would be unsatisfied with the cargo volume on offer here – Ultra Seats for tall items aside, even the hybrid’s floor is flat with the seats folded. In contrast, the Corolla Cross Hybrid’s floor has a notch to accommodate the additional hardware. Cyclists, with the rear seats folded, there’s enough space for two mountain bikes with their front wheels removed.

Practicality aside, safety is another box that the head needs to check off and the HR-V obliges. The Honda Sensing active safety and driver assist suite – with the latest wide-view camera – is standard across the range, and there’s even hill descent control. The latter’s only use in a car like the HR-V is probably to avoid a blank button. Turbo and hybrid models get six airbags (four the the NA), while LaneWatch is from the V onwards.

A note on Sensing, which is one of the better ADAS systems out there. No big deal since even Perodua offers it, I hear you say. Well, it’s a good thing that P2 prioritises safety in affordable cars, but the ACC and lane centering has more finesse here, with less severe braking/acceleration and smoother tracing of the line. It’s a real pleasure to use.

That said, I think that LaneWatch is inferior to the simple blind spot monitoring that everyone else employs. Will Honda one day eat humble pie and go with the flow? Never say never, as even Lexus has ditched its mouse and pad for a touchscreen!

Turbo or hybrid?

Honda’s current range of e:HEV hybrids are essentially EVs in town, smooth and quiet as you navigate start-stop traffic. The i-MMD (intelligent Multi-Mode Drive) hybrid system is a huge upgrade over the previous-generation i-DCD when it comes to rolling in pure EV mode, being able to go much further and withstand significantly more pedal pressure before the engine is forced to assist.

This occasional use of the ICE returns very good fuel consumption as a result. Over 20 km/l in the City Hybrid is easy and although the HR-V is a bigger and heavier car, I would set that as the target for my normal urban routine. I did a short 34 km stint in the RS last week and used less than 1.5 litres of petrol.

My guess is that not many Malaysians have fuel efficiency as top priority, even though many will say that they do. Going multiples rounds in search of a near parking spot, engines left to idle when we tapau food, aggressive big acceleration/big braking style of driving; and the list of fuel wasting habits goes on. It’s most likely due to our heavily subsidised fuel, which at RM2.05 per litre, is among the lowest in the world. We can afford to be wasteful, so to speak.

Cheap fuel neutralises a hybrid’s selling point, but things might change if the proposed targeted fuel subsidy becomes reality. In such a scheme, HR-V owners will most likely not receive assistance, and if RON 95 is floated, km/l might gain more importance. As it stands, it’s no wonder that the Turbo V comprehensively outsells the RS hybrid, which at RM140,800 is RM6k costlier than the top pure-petrol variant.

I took the Turbo V on a recent trip to Ipoh and encountered a massive jam, which makes the 13.2 km/l FC reading (over 441 km, 2 km remaining range) a pleasant surprise. Subsequently, a cycle that’s a lot more like my usual routine returned 14.6 km/l (over 316 km), something that’s within the normal FC range for my 1.0L Ativa.

The economy gap between the hybrid and turbo is smaller than I expected; this, plus the speed advantage, means that the turbo will be my choice if I too were to put down money on an HR-V today. I also prefer the Turbo’s black grille over the RS’ shiny chequered flag nose. Once again, the rollback of blanket fuel subsidy, and the degree of it, might swing the future in the RS’ favour.

The people’s choice

As you’d have figured by now, the Honda HR-V is quite an all-rounder. I think that the cockpit could be more fancy, but other than that subjective point, it’s a car that I find hard to pick faults with. Of the lot, the Turbo is the all-rounder, combining power with surprising efficiency. The RM134,800 V tested here is also not lacking in the kit department. Now, I know why it’s the people’s choice.

The RS hybrid sounds expensive at RM140,800, but if your HR-V is going to live 95% of its life in the city, don’t dismiss it just yet. Aside from all that extra hardware that will deliver at least 5 km/l more (my estimate), you also get a powered tailgate (with walk-away auto close), auto wipers and dual-zone climate control, among other things. RM6k is actually a small premium for all that.

Turbo or hybrid, you can’t really go wrong with the new HR-V. It’s proven, it ticks all the boxes, it’s desirable and it’s as sure as bets come. As such, the Honda HR-V will continue to be my small talk buddy, the name I drop when those “which is the best?” questions come along.

GALLERY: Honda HR-V Turbo V

GALLERY: Honda HR-V RS e:HEV hybrid

GALLERY: Honda HR-V RS Hybrid vs HR-V Turbo V

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Tags: Honda HR-V 2022

Turbo, broEffortless charmBalik kampungMissed opportunity?Safety and practicalityTurbo or hybrid?The people’s choiceGALLERY: Honda HR-V Turbo VGALLERY: Honda HR-V RS e:HEV hybridGALLERY: Honda HR-V RS Hybrid vs HR-V Turbo VTags: