JOHANNESBURG - As more and more buyers flock to SUVs, Honda has introduced another compact crossover offering in South Africa. It’s called the WR-V and if you dig beneath the surface it’s more familiar than you might think.
What is it?
The Honda Jazz, now in its fourth generation internationally, was deemed a masterstroke in interior packaging and practicality when the first versions appeared in the early 2000s, and the subsequent generations have built upon that winning recipe.
But given the aforementioned SUV migration, many buyers simply don’t want to be seen in an MPV-like capsule these days, no matter how roomy and versatile it is. And that’s why the WR-V is dressed for success. Although it’s classified as a separate model, with seemingly no intention of actually replacing the Jazz, the WR-V is in fact very closely related to the third-generation of Honda’s compact hatch.
Look beyond that black cladding and you’ll see the basic Jazz body shell remains intact, but unlike some other ‘cross’ hatches, the WR-V has a completely unique frontal design and the back end has been modified enough to make it look like a different car. Throw in a set of fashionable two-tone 16-inch alloy wheels and a higher ground clearance (173mm versus 135mm) and you suddenly have a car that looks the part in your local supermarket parking lot.
What’s it like to drive?
To test how it would handle a long-distance journey we took our WR-V test unit on a return trip from Johannesburg to the KwaZulu-Natal south coast, and almost as soon as we hit the highway we wished it had more power.
The only engine offered in the WR-V is Honda’s familiar normally aspirated 1.2-litre i-VTEC petrol motor, which produces 66kW at 6000rpm and 110Nm from 4800 revs. That might work fine in a small entry-level car such as Honda’s Amaze, which weighs around 920kg, but it just doesn’t cut the mustard when tasked with pulling the 1100kg WR-V with its big, practical body.
This is an engine that needs to be worked hard, but sometimes that isn’t even enough to maintain a normal pace. The WR-V can be hard work on the highway as whenever there’s an incline it struggles to keep up with traffic in the fast lane. Even on multi-lane highways you will need to plan your moves carefully to avoid getting stuck behind slower trucks or slowing down the right-lane traffic.
I found the performance to be a bit more tolerable at the coast, however Gauteng altitudes really leave this car wanting. Because the engine needed to be worked hard at times, my fuel economy did suffer a bit, but it still returned a respectable 6.8 litres per 100km on the highway.
What this car is really begging for is Honda’s 1.5-litre normally aspirated unit, which is available in the Jazz and BR-V. However, being built in India - where the traffic makes it difficult to exceed 80km/h - a bigger engine was just not deemed necessary for the WR-V.
Apart from the performance, the WR-V is really agreeable to drive. The driving controls and gear lever feel slick and well weighted, as does the steering, and the ride quality is as cushy as you could expect at this level.
But how practical is it?
This is where the WR-V really shines, and being so closely based on the Jazz, that should be a foregone conclusion.
There is plenty of headroom and legroom for occupants at the front and back, as well as a very useful 363-litre boot capacity.
It’s not only spacious - but versatile too, largely thanks to Honda’s ‘Magic Seat’ system that allows the back seat bottoms to individually fold upwards to create a vertical storage compartment behind the front occupants. The back seats also fold flat in the conventional manner to expand the boot into a large horizontal area.
Is it safe?
As far as safety features go, the WR-V offers an impressive airbag count, with front, side and curtain bags being included. Isofix rear seat fixtures are also part of the deal here. However on the active safety front a notable omission is stability control.
As for its structural integrity, the Indian-built WR-V has not, to our knowledge, been tested by an independent crash testing authority as yet. However the fact that it’s so closely based on the Jazz does put our minds at ease since the latter scored five stars in both the Asean NCAP and Latin NCAP tests.
Features for the money
The WR-V is sold in two variants: Comfort (R289 900) and Elegance (R319 900).
We tested the base model, and although its audio system didn’t have a touchscreen, its combination of conventional buttons and a colour LCD screen proved perfectly adequate and functional. However, if you want Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, you’ll have to opt for the Elegance model, which ships with a 17.8cm touchscreen infotainment system.
Other than the infotainment deficit, the Comfort model is impressively appointed for its price, with standard features such as automatic climate control, multi-function steering wheel, height adjustable driver’s seat, electric windows and mirrors as well as front and rear parking sensors.
Apart from the aforementioned touchscreen system, the 1.2 Elegance derivative adds cruise control, push-button start, reverse camera and a leather-covered steering wheel.
The WR-V is a car that we really want to like. Honda has taken its ultra-practical Jazz recipe and spiced it up with some SUV-inspired zing to give it more presence in the parking lot. It’s a formula that really deserves to succeed, but it’s let down by a lack of power that results in long-distance journeys being far from effortless.
However, if you’re at the coast and most of your driving is within the urban jungle then the Honda WR-V could make a lot of sense. It’s priced well too, at R289 900, although we’d happily pay more for a bigger engine.