The cool new Honda HR-V can be had with a hybrid powertrain, but at $45,000 driveaway with only four seats, this sweet-handling small SUV won’t be for everyone
The 2022 Honda HR-V has arrived in Australia packing a hybrid powertrain to pick up where the second-generation model (2015-22) left off. This all-new third-gen HR-V (or Vezel in Japan) promises greater cabin refinement and a sharper driving experience, though that comes at a much higher price of entry.
For 2022, the price of entry to Honda’s HR-V range is $5400 higher than before, though the $36,700 driveaway 1.5-litre petrol Vi-X does increase standard equipment levels significantly over the outgoing ($31,300 driveaway) VTi base model with adaptive cruise control, lane-trace assist and 18-inch alloy wheels standard.
We’ll review the new HR-V petrol version soon, but for now we’ve tested the flagship ($45,000 driveaway) HR-V e-HEV L Hybrid to see where the high watermark of this new small SUV sits. There are only two grades available in Australia, and Honda hasn’t hinted at any more in the pipeline.
The new HR-V range has shrunk from four variants to two, and the price is up significantly, so how will it achieve volume? Well, like the new Civic, Honda doesn’t have illusions of the new HR-V reaching its predecessor’s sales peak of 12,403 units in 2016. Instead, Honda’s philosophy centres around high-spec variants and a yearly sales target of about 5000, or 4.0 percent of the small SUV segment.
That’s because Honda wants the HR-V to be premium – like when the brand was known as the Japanese BMW in the late-’80s – which is becoming more prevalent in the small SUV space with the HR-V’s rivals such as the Mazda CX-30 X20 Astina ($47,490 before on-road costs), Toyota C-HR Koba Hybrid ($37,665 before on-roads) and forthcoming Nissan Qashqai Ti e-Power (price TBA) all pushing upmarket.
Outside, Honda has really refined the looks of the third-generation HR-V with a design philosophy unique from the latest Civic hatch or forthcoming new-generation CR-V. The HR-V’s sparsely-detailed metalwork and body-colour grille suggest this cutesy small SUV was designed in a parallel universe where chrome bumpers never took off in the 1960s.
The resulting small SUV is tidy and will suit some people’s tastes (including mine) more than others, though I think the HR-V’s fastback shape would benefit from a contrasting black roof. There are five colours including Red Crystal and Opal White, with no extra cost for any hue.
Based on the new-generation Jazz platform – the all-new model not sold in Australia – this e-HEV technology has featured in Japanese market vehicles such as the new-generation Civic Hybrid and is also used in the current-generation Accord sedan.
The HR-V Hybrid’s outputs are 96kW and 253Nm, which may sound low jumping out of a 110kW turbocharged Volkswagen T-Roc, but compared to Toyota’s larger 1.8-litre powertrain in the C-HR, the HR-V is 6kW stronger, so it’s right in the hybrid ballpark.
The way the HR-V transitions between electric and petrol propulsion at low speeds is pleasingly seamless, with the car starting almost exclusively in electric mode every time you boot it into life . You can’t drive very far using the electric motor alone, but getting up to 50km/h is achievable without sparking up the petrol engine.
Around town the HR-V’s hybrid system is soothing and refined, but the naturally aspirated Atkinson-cycle 1.5-litre petrol four-cylinder that underpins the drivetrain is quite loud when pushing on above 80km/h. The HR-V Hybrid is never sluggish, but the stepped CVT transmission frequently sees the revvy 1.5 break the cabin’s silence – the first example of several contrary attributes in the new HR-V.
On a country road it is a real joy to exploit the HR-V’s deft chassis with fantastic body control for the class and a lithe feeling to the way it corners – mirroring the dynamic flavour of the new-generation Civic. Honda has re-engineered almost every element of the suspension for the new HR-V with firmer compliance bushings for the rear torsion beam and extra caster for the front struts, among many other tweaks.
Sprinkle in the HR-V’s sharp and light steering, great feedback from the road and the predictable grip levels of its 225/50R18 Michelin Primacy tyres and the HR-V maintains momentum effortlessly through a set of bends. It’s just a pity that the 1.5-litre petrol engine isn’t so effortless!
Still, as a car that lives in town most of the time and occasionally strays into the countryside, the HR-V Hybrid is a steadfast and frugal companion.But after experiencing the 1.5-litre petrol in this hybrid application, we’re a little worried as to how it will perform on its own – sans any electrification enhancement – with only 89kW of power and 145Nm of torque. Sure, the base petrol is 106kg lighter than the reasonably spry 1394kg Hybrid, but this electrified HR-V is almost certainly the pick.
The HR-V’s other idiosyncrasy is its urban ride. While the hybrid powertrain is well-suited to town duties, the slightly stiff-legged suspension below 40km/h (just like the new Civic!) doesn’t cosset the driver in the same way the soft-and-friendly Toyota C-HR does, though you wouldn’t call it tiresome.
Adding to the HR-V’s appeal are its significantly improved safety aids with an adaptive cruise control system that’s a match for Toyota’s, and lane-trace assist that exceeds its Japanese rival’s programming. Honda’s small SUV is also equipped with front AEB that can detect pedestrians, cyclists, and cross-traffic, with the high-spec Hybrid scoring blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert over the Vi-X.
Unfortunately for Honda, though, the lack of reversing AEB, knee and centre airbags meant the HR-V only scored four stars in Euro NCAP testing. The new small SUV is yet to be evaluated by ANCAP, though it is likely to carry over the European four-star rating.
The HR-V’s cabin delivers several levels of experience – the first being a degree of wow-factor when compared to the second-gen car’s dated cabin, crowned by a crisp new 9.0-inch touchscreen mounted high on the dashboard, with physical controls for the dual-zone climate control positioned below.
Then you dig a little deeper and discover scratchy plastic on the dash-top (beyond the nicely padded facia), a cheap-feeling centre console, a plastic gearknob and no sunroof – all of which are disappointments in a $45,000 small SUV, even when taking into account its driveaway price status. But the HR-V’s (mostly) sensible control layout, solid construction and classy cloth upholstery means it still has appeal.
The driver’s seat only has manual adjustment, but it’s comfortable and offers good lumbar support, though I do wish the backrest had infinite adjustment rather than a lever to fine-tune the HR-V’s otherwise good driving position. By raising the seating height by 10mm, Honda has attempted to give the new HR-V more of a commanding SUV feel over the outgoing car, though the difference in reality is minimal.
The 9.0-inch multimedia touchscreen boasts wireless Apple CarPlay that worked well during our time, though there is no wireless charging pad and Android users will have to hook up via a cable. After some equaliser tweaks the HR-V’s six-speaker stereo performed admirably with decent clarity and power.
Honda has fitted an analogue speedometer to the HR-V but it is complemented by a 7.0-inch digital display with selectable readouts including energy flow and turn-by-turn guidance, though no ability to display a map, or a tachometer, and there’s no head-up display.
Practicality is strong in the front compartment for a small SUV with two cupholders, covered storage under a centre armrest, door bins big enough for a one-litre camping bottle, a decent glovebox and dual-level storage ahead of the shifter with close access to a pair of USB ports and a 12-volt socket.
But the HR-V’s peculiarities continue in the second row – this is only a four-seater, not five like every other rival. According to Honda, this is due to requirements to meet Australian design rules surrounding the fitment of top tether child restraints, which mitigates having a centre belt fitted, even though there’s enough width to accommodate such a move.
Honda Australia has said there is another SUV on the way with five seats that will sit between this HR-V and the larger CR-V. But until that car arrives, Honda compact crossover lovers will have to settle for four seats – even though the space on offer is immense, with bags of leg, toe and headroom even for me at 188cm tall, and the added benefit of individual bucket seats with real bolsters.
As with the previous HR-V, this new car adopts Honda’s ‘magic seats’ that fold completely flat using an intricate system, and can also fold up to the roof in ‘tall mode’ allowing easier transport of bulky objects such as bar fridges, plants, and medium-sized bookcases.
The luggage space in the boot is fairly small at 304 litres, though there is plentiful underfloor storage, a clever load cover that stays in place when the power tailgate lifts up, and the ability to hit a button, walk away with the key in your pocket and have the HR-V automatically close its boot and lock the car.
With the hybrid powertrain, the HR-V’s ADR combined fuel-consumption figure is 4.3L/100km, while in urban running that drops as low as 2.9L/100km. Our testing showed a realistic 4.8L/100km on a 100km fuel loop.
That’s markedly better than the already decent 5.8L/100km claimed by the petrol-only Vi-X, though it would take a long ownership period (about 350,000km at current Sydney 91-octane prices) to offset the additional $8300 purchase cost of the Hybrid.
Honda offers very affordable servicing with the first five services capped at $125 per visit, for a five year/50,000km maintenance cost of just $625.
Honda’s pricing is low compared to a Skoda Kamiq 110TSI ($1500 for five years), and it’s also a bit of a steal compared to the Toyota C-HR ($1100 for five visits), though notably each of those vehicles have longer service intervals of 12 months/15,000km.
Honda backs the HR-V with a five year/unlimited-kilometre warranty in Australia, with the high-voltage battery warranted for eight years, and a six-year rust and perforation guarantee on top.
The HR-V Hybrid is a significant step forward from the ageing vehicle it replaces in terms of style, efficiency, dynamics and interior quality without sacrificing its famous practicalities, yet this small SUV won’t be perfect for everyone.
Honda’s HR-V has a peculiar blend of attributes – frugality, low running costs, a thoughtful boot and a rewarding driving experience, but also the oddness of only four seats, no optional sunroof or contrast roof, and the lack of leather upholstery, all of which make its $45,000 driveaway price appear a little steep next to main rivals.
Honda’s sales expectations are also tempered. With plans to sell only around 5000 units in the first year, the brand knows the new HR-V won’t be as popular as it once was.
But if you like it, though, then go for it because the new-gen HR-V’s lovely handling and looks are sure to resonate with many buyers. The polish and poise of the HR-V means it’s a worthy choice, though we reckon if this Hybrid version came in closer to $40,000 driveaway, with the same affordable servicing and fuel economy, it would be an astounding deal.
A more handsome design outside, new technology inside and extra power: the ultimate petrol-powered Hyundai Kona is now a more mature package.
Variant tested e:HEV L
Key specs (as tested)
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