Honda’s updated HR-V gets smart new looks but the gearbox spoils the party, writes Denis Droppa
In a compact crossover market segment bursting at the seams with some appealing contenders, you need to be pretty decent to stand out.
Honda’s HR-V has done so with its eye-catching styling since its debut here in 2015, and for 2018 it’s undergone a mid-life cosmetic revamp that really cranks up the style.
Available as before in 1.5 Comfort and 1.8 Elegance versions, the HR-V now features the “solid wing face” that is becoming Honda’s new styling signature, with slimmer headlamps connected by a thick glossy bar across the grille. Together with a more aggressive front bumper and LED elements in the headlights (LED daytime running lights on the flagship Elegance version), the HR-V has an ultra-modern appearance and wouldn’t look out of place as a prop in a Star Wars movie.
The restyle is topped off by smoked tail lights and new alloy wheels — 16-inch versions on the 1.5 derivative and 17-inchers on the 1.8 Elegance.
The upgrades come with 2.1% price increases, with the HR-V 1.5 Comfort CVT selling for R354 900 and the HR-V 1.8 Elegance CVT for R419 900.
The interior has also undergone a revamp and upgraded equipment levels to create a more upmarket feel but it’s still a mixed bag. The cabin vibe in the range-topping 1.8 Elegance I drove is generally quite premium and the car has leather seats, but for the R419 900 price tag I expected the dashboard to have soft-touch plastic and not the hard stuff.
For a compact crossover the HR-V is family friendly with its roomy cabin, which takes four tall adults without a squeeze. Honda’s unique Magic Seat System allows a variety of seating and load carrying configurations. The split rear bench seat can be folded forward to extend the 393-litre luggage compartment (with full-sized spare) to 1 002-litres, and the bench seat’s squabs can also be raised to create a cargo area behind the front seats.
Both Honda HR-V models are well stocked, with electric windows and mirrors, remote central locking, air conditioning, cruise control, a multifunction steering wheel and a trip computer as standard.
Both models also have comprehensive safety in the form of six airbags, ABS brakes, stability control and hill-start assist.
With its slightly elevated ground clearance and high- profile tyres the front-wheel drive HR-V is gravel-road capable even though it makes no pretence at being an offroad vehicle. The ride quality’s fairly cushy and it scoots through turns with car-like agility, as befits its urban crossover status.
As part of the upgrade Honda improved the noise and vibration dampening for better refinement, and for the most part the HR-V is a quiet runner, except for when the CVT gearbox sends the engine revs sky high in search of more power. This unfortunately happens quite a lot whenever the vehicle encounters a hill.
Where torque-converter or dual-clutch automatics are becoming the industry standard in most vehicles, Honda has decided to embrace CVTs and this is the only transmission it offers on the HR-V, in both the 1.5 and 1.8 derivatives.
I have experienced CVT drivetrains that I’ve liked but this unfortunately isn’t one of them. Around town there’s not much to complain about and the power delivery’s smooth and unobtrusive, and the steering paddles can be used to effect more natural-feeling manual shifts. But on the open road, as soon as climbing an incline or an overtaking move is called for, the car hikes the revs and settles into an annoyingly loud drone along with a disconcerting “slipping clutch” effect.
The transmission really doesn’t make the best use of the 1.8-litre petrol engine’s 105kW and 172Nm, and having those revs soaring like that isn’t great for fuel consumption either. Our test car slurped 8.7l/100km, which is way thirstier than Honda’s 6.8l/100km claim.
The updated Honda HR-V makes a good case for itself with its handsome styling, family practicality, and a generous dose of luxuries and safety, even though it’s on the expensive side with its price tag venturing into the turf of larger vehicles like the Tucson and Sportage. It’s a pity the gearbox spoils the party because there’s a good urban SUV here bursting to get out. – Denis Droppa
Fast Facts: 2018 Honda HR-V 1.8 Elegance CVT
Engine: 1 799cc four-cylinder petrol
Power: 105kW at 6 500rpm
Torque: 172Nm at 4 300rpm
0-100km/h: 10.1-seconds (claimed)
Top speed: 188km/h (claimed)
Fuel: 8.6l/100km (achieved)
CO2: 162g/km (claimed)
Price: From R419 900