Even in top-spec guise, the HR-V is outclassed by competitors on almost all fronts bar one – its ingenious use of its compact cabin space.
Regardless of what you drive, you could be forgiven for suffering from small-SUV fatigue. It feels as though every week there’s a new model announced, or an old model being reinvigorated to vie for our attention.
Amid this onslaught, some viable options can be forgotten in favour of the latest shiny new toy.
One such forgotten contender is the 2020 Honda HR-V VTi-LX – an unassumingly attractive car with ample cabin space and a premium equipment offering, all for under $40,000.
So, does it deserve to be swept to the side, or are we all overlooking an underrated gem?
The HR-V I’m testing here is the top-of-the-range VTi-LX. It’s front-wheel drive and has a continuously variable automatic transmission.
Under the bonnet is a 1.8-litre, four-cylinder petrol engine making a maximum of 105kW of power and 172Nm of torque.
Translation? That should be the right amount of guts for your average around-town and freeway driving with smooth acceleration and even-handed stability, although without the all-wheel-drive capabilities available in some other SUVs.
|Honda HR-V VTi-LX|
|Engine configuration||Four-cylinder petrol|
|Power||105kW @ 6500rpm|
|Torque||172Nm @ 4300rpm|
|Power to weight ratio||77.7kW/t|
|Fuel consumption (combined cycle)||6.9L/100km|
|Fuel tank size||50L|
The VTi-LX starts at $36,240 plus on-road costs, which is about $8000 more than the entry-level HR-V.
The extra spend on top of the next grade down – the RS – will score you an electric sunroof, dual-zone climate control, front and rear sensors, and Honda’s advanced driver-assist system, which consists of lane-departure warning, forward-collision warning and a high-beam support system.
At just over $36,000, the HR-V sits bang in the middle of the ‘top-spec, front-wheel-drive, petrol-powered small-SUV’ club.
It’s pricier than a comparable Seltos Sport + ($33,990 drive-away), C-HR Koba ($33,940 plus ORCs) and ASX Exceed ($35,990 drive-away), similar to a Kona Highlander ($36,660 plus ORCs) and cheaper than a CX-30 G20 Astina ($38,990 plus ORCs) or Qashqai Ti ($38,490 plus ORCs).
Hopping into the driver’s seat of the HR-V, you may feel like you’re behind the wheel of a much larger car.
With its elevated ride height and excellent all-round visibility, it really feels like a proper, solid, large SUV, but the compact size – and 10.6m turning circle – ensure it remains manageable in suburban streets.
There’s no major blind spot, and the positioning of the driver’s seat provides a clear, uninterrupted view of your surroundings
On-road feel possesses a similarly substantial quality – the engine feels appropriately powered and well matched to the car’s size.
The only time it may seem underpowered is if you’re going uphill and need to put your foot down – and it doesn’t feel as though there’s a huge reserve of power to pull from – with peak torque not available until higher in the rev range, you really have to work the HR-V moving well. Generally speaking though, particularly running about town, the HR-V manages just fine.
The CVT makes for really smooth and stable acceleration, and the HR-V is not at all jumpy or hesitant at lower speeds. It's free of the kind of fidgety idle-stop system that can create a jerky feel in some of its competitors.
Steering in the HR-V is heavier than one might expect, but it pairs nicely with the powertrain and adds to the secure, stable behind-the-wheel feel.
Both the engine and the cabin are quiet – a tiny bit of tyre noise may be noticeable if you’ve got the radio off – and the outside world is adequately muffled.
Where the HR-V can lose its ‘big SUV’ feel is when it comes to the suspension, which doesn’t do a great job of softening the road for you. The ride is rougher than one might hope, although not notably uncomfortable – you’ll just have to proceed with caution over potholes, imperfect edges and the like or risk feeling a bit jarred.
Despite the lack of all-wheel drive, the HR-V doesn’t feel at all like it struggles on uneven surfaces or wet roads. Drivers who are predominantly traversing city streets and the occasional dirt road are unlikely to doubt the competency of the traction system.
Just in case, there’s also a vehicle stability assist system to handle under or oversteer, which eliminates any sense of unwieldiness.
Finally – on a personal note – I loved the indicators on the HR-V, which click into place in an incredibly satisfying manner. It’s the little things.
On the safety front, the HR-V range received a five-star ANCAP rating when it was last tested in 2015.
The VTi-LX has basic essentials like six airbags, a lane-departure warning, a forward-collision alert above speeds of 15km/h, high-beam assist, city-speed AEB, front and rear parking sensors, and a reverse camera.
However, it’s missing some key features that plenty of similar cars in the same class possess, including a speed limiter, blind-spot monitoring, a rear-cross traffic alert and high-speed AEB, which really should be standard on every car, in my opinion.
Instead of blind-spot monitoring, the HR-V offers something called Lanewatch, which activates a side-view camera when you hit the indicator in case there are any cyclists or pedestrians you’ve missed.
It’s a good idea in theory, but I find it a little distracting and not an ideal substitute for a head check. You can, of course, turn it off.
It’s not that any of these omissions make the HR-V unsafe per se, it’s just that it’s a slightly less comprehensive package than the one offered in other cars, and there’s not even a way to fill the gaps with options.
As for reliability, the HR-V comes with Honda’s five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty, which is pretty much the industry standard these days, and Honda offers scheduled servicing every 10,000km or 12 months, whichever comes first.
The first 10,000km service is priced at $299, and then all service intervals from there are priced at $315 a pop – with adaptive items like pollen filter or brake fluid replacement added at an additional cost at varying intervals.
|Honda HR-V VTi-LX|
|Colour||Brilliant Sporty Blue Metallic|
|Options as tested||$650|
|Warranty||5 years / unlimited KM|
Honda quotes a combined fuel consumption figure of 6.9L/100km for the VTi-LX, but our real-world figure was higher at 9.7L/100km.
I tend to think anything under 10L/100km is acceptable for an 'SUV', but competitors I've driven are typically around the 7–8L/100km mark, so the HR-V's real-world figure is high. It's also 40 per cent more than the quoted figure – cheeky.
There’s an ECON button to improve fuel economy, which I used occasionally yet inconsistently during my time with the VTi-LX. But given my week’s worth of driving was fairly tame, I’d be surprised if it would have made a dramatic difference anyway.
While I typically don’t love an idle-stop system (I find they’re very rarely executed to the point where you don’t notice them), it’s possible the HR-V might benefit from one.
Where the HR-V has all the others beat is boot size, with an impressive 437L of room – more than any other small SUV.
The boot is astoundingly deep – in a way that makes you wonder what they left out in order to make it happen – but miraculously, Honda even managed to get a space-saver spare wheel under the floor.
Honda also has another leg up on the competition thanks to its rear Magic Seats, which fold up and down to provide maximum storage. It sounds like it would be a cumbersome or complicated process, but it’s remarkably easy and convenient, and I can absolutely picture myself configuring the car in a crowded Bunnings carpark to accommodate my latest house-plant purchases.
In the front seat, the HR-V feels like a moderately premium car existing in the middle-ground between luxurious and practical. I loved the leather touches throughout and the use of black and silver plastic.
A small gripe was the location of the USB port for your smartphone connection, which sits under the centre console and on the passenger’s side away from the driver (frustrating if you spend most of your time driving solo).
Additionally, the single row of air vents above the glovebox, which all blow air directly onto the passenger, might prove a bit overwhelming – although the dual-zone climate control can compensate.
The airflow from the vents may also allow for your passenger to have a Beyoncé hair-flicking moment, which never goes astray.
In the back seat, there are little bubble-like indentations to improve head room, but taller occupants will still find their heads bumping up against the roof.
Leg and toe room, however, are actually excellent for a smaller SUV – even for tall people – and the big windows and sunroof make it feel spacious and light.
Back seat occupants miss out on air vents (clearly Honda used up its full allocation with that front passenger seat wind tunnel) but receive a single cupholder, a small, somewhat flimsy armrest, ISOFIX points on the outboard seats, and headrests that stow away neatly to improve driver visibility.
In terms of standard infotainment and tech, the VTi-LX ticks boxes, but doesn’t go above and beyond.
Honda has finally added Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as standard across the range, plus you’ll get dual-zone climate control, a six-speaker sound system, heated front seats with electronic adjustment, satellite navigation, auto wipers, an electric parking brake and keyless entry and start.
For me, the complete package is let down by a few things.
For starters, the 7.0-inch touchscreen is small and basic, and the infotainment system is like something that might have been cool in 2010. It lets you ‘update your wallpaper’ and yet far more helpful menu options feel limited, and it can struggle with things like playing audio via Bluetooth.
The menu layout seemed to make a big fuss about letting you upload your own photos (if you know someone who has the time or energy to do something like this, I'd like to meet them), while more useful menu options like configuring the safety settings were buried.
I far preferred using Apple CarPlay and relying on my smartphone interface instead, thereby skipping the in-built infotainment and navigation altogether.
Unfortunately, at one point, my CarPlay refused to activate no matter what I did, and a quick hunt through online forums suggested this wasn’t an isolated incident in HR-Vs. I was forced to reset the factory settings in order to get it to work again – the whole process took 15 minutes of my life I will never get back.
I also really missed the inclusion of a digital instrument cluster or even just a digital speedometer – something that’s in most other small SUVs I’ve driven, or at the very least, their top-spec variants.
There’s a big gaping hole in the centre of the speedometer where a digital speedo would go quite nicely, or even a head-up display would be a welcome addition.
Similarly, the HR-V’s cruise control is basic compared to its competitors. It’s not adaptive, so it won’t slow or speed up according to the positioning of the car in front, and there’s no quick and easy way to increase or decrease your speed by 10 or 20km/h increments.
With a moderate to low pricepoint for its class, a really spacious, cleverly designed cabin, and a nice, solid behind-the-wheel feel, ‘practicality’ is certainly the name of the HR-V’s game.
This is a competitive space, however, and I’d humbly suggest Honda might have to do a little more to stand out from the pack.
If advanced driver assistance, safety and infotainment features are important to you, I’d suggest you shop around before committing to the HR-V’s slightly dated package.