Cape Town – There is a great deal to like about the new Honda HR-V, which was launched in South Africa this week, but ultimately the bang-for-buck equation lets it down.
Launched exclusively with an updated 1.5-litre normally aspirated engine, which we’ll get to a little later, the Honda HR-V is available in two variants: a 1.5 Comfort, priced at R469 000, and a 1.5 Executive that’s yours for R554 500.
We spent a day with the new Honda HR-V at its national media launch in Cape Town this week and first impressions were very positive.
This third-generation HR-V gets full marks for its design in my book. Featuring a relatively long bonnet, sharp lines and a steeply raked, coupe-inspired C-pillar and lipped tailgate, it looks a lot more arresting than its predecessor.
Despite this, and the fact that it retains similar dimensions to its predecessor, the Honda HR-V uses clever packaging to ensure a spacious, family-sized cabin with surprising rear legroom. Also in place are Honda’s ‘Magic’ back seats, which fold upwards to create a huge storage area. Unfortunately the regular luggage area is relatively tight, with a volume of just 304 litres, as Honda has opted for a full-sized spare tyre.
Perched behind the wheel we were highly impressed with the cabin quality, and the materials are mostly top-notch and impart an upmarket feel. The one exception is the plastic panel behind the touchscreen, which makes the infotainment system look like an ancient television set from some angles.
Ergonomically the cabin works really well though. Not only does it revert back to elegant-looking rotary knobs for the climate controls, but the touchscreen also has short-cut buttons on the side to make navigating between menus ultra-easy. A traditional volume knob would have been nice though, if I have to nitpick.
One innovative and thoughtful touch in the cabin is the new air diffusion system that, at the turn of a button, allows you to redirect air from the side air vents towards the side of the vehicle rather than directly on to the front occupants.
So far the Honda HR-V gets almost full marks for its design and interior, but its weak point is that 1.5-litre normally aspirated engine beneath the bonnet.
Sure, Honda has made some notable improvements to the V-TEC motor, replacing the previous single overhead cam with double overhead cam shafts. It produces 89kW at 6 600rpm, which is 1kW more than before, and although peak torque remains at 1 45Nm, it is produced 300rpm lower at 4 300.
The bottom line though is that a vehicle this size needs more power than that, or at least a turbocharger to compensate for altitude. As the launch was in Cape Town we only got to drive it at sea level, and even here performance was found wanting. While we were able to overtake slower vehicles safely, we really had to rev the guts out of it to do so and here the drone from the continuously variable gearbox became annoying.
The CVT gearbox, which comes as standard on both models, is at least relatively painless to live with in calmer driving situations as Honda has built in ‘steps’ to simulate gear ratios.
In fairness, this engine cruises very nicely when you’re taking it relatively easy in everyday urban driving or at highway speeds, and it’s possible that most buyers don’t want anything more than that. We can’t help but feel, however, that a compact SUV costing half a million rand should at least provide the luxury of being able to overtake effortlessly.
It’s not all bad on the dynamic front, however. The ride quality was comfortable, even over bumpier surfaces, and despite considerable body roll, the vehicle felt agile and sure-footed through the Helshoogte mountain pass near Stellenbosch. In fact, it almost felt like the chassis was begging for a bigger engine! The newcomer is equipped with a system called Agile Handle Assist (AHA), which brakes the inner wheels to enhance turn-in ability and it really works.
But as impressive as this vehicle is in most respects, we’re not entirely convinced by the value equation, given the pricing.
One positive is that you don’t need to stretch to the most expensive model to get decent specs as the regular 1.5 Comfort comes fairly well loaded.
Standard features include 17-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights, white ambient interior lighting, an 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system with four speakers, reverse camera with parking sensors, automatic climate control with rear ventilation, front and side airbags, Hill Descent Control and Vehicle Stability Assist.
Over and above all that, the Executive spec grade, among other things, adds 18-inch alloy wheels, leather seats with 8-way power adjustment for the driver, eight speakers, wireless phone charging pad, auto wipers and an electrically operated tailgate.
The range-topping model also gains a full suite of Honda Sense driver assist features, including Adaptive Cruise Control with Low Speed Following, Lane Keep Assist System, Road Departure Mitigation and Collision Mitigation Braking System.
All Honda HR-V models are sold with an impressive 5-year/200 000km warranty and 4-year/60 000km service plan.