|Photos by Ulysses Ang|
Let’s get one thing out of the way first: this isn’t an EcoSport competitor. While Ford has designed its Fiesta-on-stilts to be a developing market model, the HR-V was designed first to be sold in Japan, where it’s known as the Vezel over there. Of course, the Jazz-on-stilts is now one of Honda’s best-selling models there and that increased the clamor for an international release. And that’s what you see here.
The HR-V is more in the Mitsubishi ASX or Subaru XV mold. Some will rightfully point out the Honda’s non-independent rear suspension and smaller engine as reasons to lump it with the EcoSport, but these guys are just armchair critics. Let’s judge it by the seat of my pants on a long drive from Manila to Pangasinan and back.
It may be based off the Jazz, but you can’t tell that from the exterior. It wears Honda’s family look, but designed around its own unique character. It’s well-chiseled and muscular creating a youthful appearance. The front-end’s restrained use of chrome cements the sportier appeal while the rear end’s dramatically dropping roofline adds to the coupe-like stance. At the side, it has three character lines, two of which intersect creating a focal point to the hidden rear door handle; which by itself it quirky if a bit unpractical design cue, especially for kids. At each corner, it comes standard with road-going 215/55R17 tires, removing any off-roading pretentions.
The HR-V’s attention-grabbing exterior continues inside with the “floating” cylindrical gauges and aircraft-like stubby gearlever. There are almost no physical buttons on the center console, replaced instead by touch-sensitive ones. Overall, they’re easy to use, but may frustrate some first-time drivers. Like the City and Jazz, the HR-V comes with both USB and HDMI inputs for audio and video, however, if you still use a 3.5-mm aux jack, you’re out of luck. Also noticeable is the high center tunnel that creates a more intimate driving feel. On the flip side, this cool layout robs the HR-V of any usable storage.
While not a leader in space utilization, it does have one thing going for it: fit and finish. It makes everyone else’s interior feel like pre-school furniture thanks to all sorts of soft-touch points. The padded leather-like surface across the dash is cool, but the EL does one better with leather seats and chrome surrounds on the A/C vents. If there’s one rather chintzy thing, it’s the glowing front speaker surrounds. Still, I can’t deny that it’s a very individual choice.
Settling in the driver’ seat, the ergonomics are hard to fault. The sitting position, I found, isn’t as high as a traditional crossover, but closer to that of a City or Jazz. With that, you sit lower than you’d expect. You do lose some of the commanding driving position, but visibility is still excellent on all fronts, including the back. Space-wise, it’s exactly what you’d expect: roomy in front, cozy at the back. An interesting takeaway is that the rear seats do offer adjustable seating angles and come with three individual headrests. The lack of width though means a maximum of two in the rear seat for comfort.
In this particular drive, the HR-V was pushed to its limits. Though designed as an urban crossover, it still does well in long-distance touring. It’s not particularly fast, but it’s more than adequate. In slow traffic, there’s good low-end response enabling quick overtaking of provincial irritants: the tricycle. The Earth Dreams CVT, with its low-speed torque converter, is quick on its feet and will almost not require the use of the paddle shifters. That said, the CVT does keep engine revs high to build momentum, resulting in a drone-like sound when pushed. Still, the HR-V convoy did impressively illegal numbers: close to 200 km/h during a downhill portion on the SCTEX. And even at these crazy speeds, NVH isolation is certainly best in its class. One gripe though is the fuel tank. With just 50 liters, the convoy did have to stop for fuel en route to our final destination which is Bolinao, Pangasinan even if the consumption average was in the 11 km/L range.
Despite being fitted with EPS, the HR-V gets good feedback from its tiller. It’s a bit weighty in effort, but returns excellent stability. On twistier settings, it’ll need more turns to get this crossover to dance, but once it does, the body is stable and secure. It’s only in the most extreme cases where the torsion beam axle would rear its ugly head causing understeer and axle hop. In terms of riding comfort, it’s comfortable, but on the firm side. Small undulations, such as cracked concrete and road dips, travel into the cabin almost unfiltered, perhaps due to the limited suspension travel, but it can tackle larger obstacles with ease.
Honda’s not aiming to overthrow the EcoSport with the HR-V, they know this. What they’re doing instead is opening up a new market for themselves. The original HR-V failed because of its wayward positioning. Yes, it did look fashionable for that time, but the equipment level and corresponding pricing was just way off. This all-new model solves all that. With a sharper focus, Honda has successfully identified key selling points to make it a success: style, build quality, trim level, and so on. And like what they’ve shown with the Jazz and Mobilio, they’re not willing to do engineering shortcuts. All models of the HR-V come fitted with stuff like stability control and the like.In the end, they’ve successfully nailed in creating a fun-to-drive crossover with doses of individuality and impeccable engineering.