FIRST DRIVE

Driving the 2016 Honda HR-V

A new mini-SUV choice provides plenty of space for city drivers

Published: April 30, 2015 10:30 AM

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If you’re looking for an SUV but your budget and parking space are small, Honda’s hoping you’ll check out its new HR-V. Based on the Honda Fit subcompact, the entry-level HR-V joins the category of smaller SUVs that may appeal to buyers seeking all-season traction in a versatile, urban-friendly package.

The HR-V will compete in a growing segment, populated by the Chevrolet Trax, Jeep Renegade and upcoming Mazda CX-3. Starting price for the Honda is likely to be under $20,000.

While slightly longer and taller than the Fit, the HR-V is smaller (and less costly) than the popular CR-V. And like the Fit, the HR-V gets a trick rear seat that flips up or folds down flat, which allows it to accommodate a surprising amount of cargo. It swallowed four garden chairs with space to spare.

Power comes from a 141-hp, 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine, driving either the front or all four wheels. Most HR-Vs will be bought with a continuously variable transmission; only the front-wheel-drive version offers a six-speed manual.

EPA fuel economy estimates for the AWD model are 27 mpg in the city and 32 mpg on the highway.

On the road, the engine has to work pretty hard getting the HR-V up to speed and it makes a noticeable racket when doing so.

The ride is reasonable for a small SUV — and better than we thought it would be from a subcompact vehicle. But the underlying basic small-car architecture rears its head when the HR-V is pushed toward its limits or rolling over ugly pavement.

While the HR-V looks quite small from the outside, the cabin actually has a fair amount of passenger space. Adults will find the back seat tolerable—for a short time. The HR-V can be equipped with heated leather seats, a sunroof, and keyless entry.

Unfortunately, high-end models come with Honda’s lousy touchscreen-only radio. We hated this in the last CR-V we tested, calling it one of the most frustrating designs we've seen in a while.

You can work around some of its idiosyncrasies with the steering-wheel controls, or you can wrestle with Honda’s typically hard-to-use voice commands.

Another negative is the very limited view to the back. The thick roof pillars and large rear headrests significantly impede your view aft. At least a rearview camera is standard, and Honda’s LaneWatch — which displays on the center screen what’s lurking in your right side blind spot — is optional.

In a weird and annoying design affectation, the rear door handles are located farther up the door pillars than you’d expect – which makes it particularly troublesome for small kids, who probably can’t reach them.

The HR-V offers functionality with a small footprint but it may fall short on fun and pizzazz.  We’ll be buying our test model next month.

—Mike Quincy

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