► First drive of the new Honda HR-V
► Honda’s return to the small SUV sect
► Aims to steal sales from Juke and co
Though Toyota's RAV4 might take issue, Honda claims to have invented the 'compact crossover' segment with its first HR-V in 1999. Nice to see, then, that the company has so cunningly capitalised on this alleged head start with a total absence from said segment for the best part of a decade...
Honda HR-V: design
Sharp-suited, properly compact and complete with carrying-handle, that first HR-V stood out in every way that this wearily generic offering does not. To most eyes, this is a perfectly acceptable design, albeit somewhat wantonly littered with creases to diminish the bulk of the flanks. But it's a shame that, like so many other manufacturers, Honda has succumbed to the belief that an instantly recognisable corporate face is more important than an instantly recognisable model in its own right.
In a nutshell, then, Honda still hasn't penned a properly striking car since the part-pyramid, part-jet fighter, trophy cabinet-hootered, previous generation Civic.
As ever, Honda has sized its latest offering with scant regard for segment norms. Though a good foot longer than its ancestor and six inches longer than a Nissan Juke, painstaking packaging gives the HR-V the capacities nod over larger rivals such as the ubiquitous Qashqai in pretty much every department.
The driving position's very comfortable, there's adult legroom astern (though that slopping roof does steal headroom from the extremely grown up grown up), and the clever, lifting rear squab, Magic Seat system swiped from the Jazz allows for the ready transportation of assorted clematis, or even a fully-conscious Shetland pony. Should you so choose.
Honda HR-V 2015 prices, specs
The model range is priced from a whisker under £18,000, to an all-singing, all-dancing £25,000 or so. Well, I say all-dancing but, since 85% of UK buyers in this segment opt for front-wheel drive, all-wheel drive variants are not available 'for now' (a euphemism, one suspects, for 'never').
On board, it's a pity that despite this £22,105 SE Navi variant's ample sufficiency of standard equipment- the dashboard design lacks visual homogeny; presenting, rather, as merely a loose gathering of Stuff You Want.
Moreover, it's all very well equipping the car with a perfectly satisfactory touch-screen system and a touch-sensitive air-conditioning panel, but I found the latter surprisingly lacklustre in its efforts to properly cool a cabin heated by the Lisbon midday sun, and one or two elements, such as decidedly low-rent air vent control tabs, fall well short of the engineering quality and attention to detail we've come to expect from Honda.
The driver's instrument binnacle could do better if it tried, to boot. The side-shunted multi-information screen graphics are a dull grey monotone of occasionally dubious legibility, whilst the sizeable black hole that is the core of the central, analogue speedometer cries out for occupation by a full -colour rendition of the former, or turn-by-turn navigation instructions, or... Anything.
How does the Honda HR-V drive?
The company still attracting more than its fair share of petrol aficionados, the 128bhp, 114lb ft, 1.5 litre i-VTEC beckons, and then disappoints. It's raucous, and somewhat gutless, feeling uncomfortably tight as the revs rise, and never suddenly flinging open all the windows for a healthy gulp of fresh air as we've come to expect from this nomenclature.
Indeed, this unit heralds a second string to Honda's VTEC bow. Where once -just when the engine appeared to be running out of puff- you could look forward to another 2000rpm of unalloyed mechanical enthusiasm, in this application, the company says, the VTEC technology focus is on fuel efficiency and emissions. Which does then beg the question: why does it still rev to nearly 7000rpm?
Though the 118bhp, 1.6 litre diesel is still vocal enough to hold sway over commendably minimal road and wind noise, it's a far more eager proposition; 221lb ft of torque obviating the VTEC sibling's insistence on the relentless over-deployment of an accurate, gently notchy, short-throw gear change at the first whiff of an incline.
At the price of an acceptably supple ride which some might consider a little on the tough side, front MacPherson strut and rear torsion beam undercarriage gang up with precise, nicely weighted steering to imbue the HR-V with handling that's a deal more engaging than any equally tall rival that immediately springs to mind.
There is body roll through the bends, but it's well controlled and, allied to pleasingly sharp, willing turn-in and impressive mechanical grip before the predictable onset of understeer, allows the HR-V to be hustled along at a lick that will quickly about-turn the contents of the rest of the family's stomachs.
I find myself writing in a similar vein about every SUV we come across these days. Is this, then, to be the norm? Are we sure, as customers, we'd rather be able to drive the door handles off a tall family car than enjoy proper, straight-line, long-haul ride comfort? Awash with ergonomic issues albeit, at least my long-term Cactus has the capacity to deploy decent motorway waft...
Artfully packaged but no oil painting, then, this is a solid effort which somehow fails to blow the frock up in any particular department. Perhaps it's unfair to feel a tad short-changed simply because of the new HR-V's perceived ten year gestation period. Oh dear; how long have we already had to wait for the next NSX? Commence fretting...