Small cars are big money to Honda, and none might demonstrate that so well as the new 2022 Honda HR-V. Launching the brand right into the midst of the flourishing subcompact crossover segment, Honda isn’t playing it safe with its ambitions, targeting thousands of sales in the first year. With prices kicking off at under R470k, there’s a tricky balancing act involved to achieve the winning mix of styling, performance, equipment, and safety, however. More importantly, does the HR-V do enough to differentiate itself from its own more affordable Fit stablemate, or are you simply paying for a loftier seat?
We’re big fans of the Honda Fit, its perky styling and not only capacious but cleverly organized interior making it one of our top picks in the compact line-up. Turns out we’re not the only people Honda has convinced, with Fit sales flourishing.
Given that demand, it’s hardly a surprise that the Fit has gained a chunkier sibling. Honda is hitting all the typical subcompact crossover keywords for its target demographic, even going so far as to describe the car as having “coupe allure with minivan practicality”, but at its core it’s that appealing mixture of elevated driving position, practical space, and more striking styling that has been in demand ever since SUVs first made their way onto town and city streets.
If the Fit is a cutesy urban runabout, then the HR-V is a mini spaceship. No really, it even looks the part. It takes more than hiding the rear door handles in the C-pillar to give the impression of a coupe, but even discounting the hyperbole it’s an altogether more dynamic-looking car.
Next comes the styling, a radical departure from the previous-gen HR-V’s Lander Robot-inspired fascia. Similar to the incoming 2022 Honda Civic, the HR-V has a cleaner design with marginally bulbous proportions. The taller profile, upswept headlights, and gorgeous slotted grille are excellent additions to the new HR-V’s silhouette. The butcher stance emanates a sense of adventure, but the aggressive fascia lends a sportier, more premium feel.
However, it’s still an HR-V with hidden rear door handles, a sloping roof, and a compact footprint. But the HR-V is definitely a car that looks more interesting from the front three-quarter angle than the back.
Happily – and sensibly – Honda hasn’t allowed the whims of the designers to undermine what many HR-V buyers are going to be most interested in: practical internal space.
It pays dividends once you get inside. Even better, adjusting all those seats is straightforward. The boot opening is broad and tall, while the seats drop down easily.
Soft touch plastic is found in most of the places that matter – though you can still reach out and find the harder stuff without much searching – and the sweep of the dashboard is more cohesive than that of the Fit.
The dashboard layout is similar to what you’ll find in the 2022 Civic. It has a meaty three-spoke tiller with integrated buttons and controls. The dashboard sits low to offer better forward visibility. As a bonus, it has dedicated physical knobs for the climate control system,
It’s also more functional. The climate controls now get a touch-button panel – it looks suitably futuristic, though you have to look down at it to make sure exactly what it is you’re tapping – and there’s an electronic parking brake as standard. A row of vents run all the way across the passenger-side of the dash, too, for what Honda says is swifter cooling or heating when you first get into the car. Sure enough, it’s straightforward to establish a mini gale to subdue the person sat alongside you.
Honda has left space for a “Console Pocket” cubby under the gearstick. It’s not just a place to drop your phone, either, with to two USB ports on either sides.
As for infotainment, Honda has a new high resolution 8” touch-screen display audio which has been neatly integrated into the instrument panel. The infotainment system comes standard across the HR-V model range and gives users full functionality of a smartphone via Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Bluetooth is included and can be controlled via remote controls on the steering wheel.
Still, you can give voice command instructions, and read and respond to text messages received on a connected phone.
While the Fit’s infotainment was ambitious, I found I struggled with the at-times sluggish interface and easily defeated voice navigation. Things have taken a turn for the better in the HR-V, and while the UI still inexplicably ignores most colors beyond shades of blue, at least it navigates more smoothly on the new crossover.
Enhanced Honda SENSING active safety technology, available exclusively on the HR-V Executive model, offers a broad range of driver assistance features and driver aids as standard. This new and improved Honda SENSING™ system incorporates a newly developed front camera that is able to detect a more comprehensive range of road surfaces and traffic characteristics, including enhanced night-time operation.
Engine options are even simpler. In fact, Honda will only offer a single powerplant, at least initially: a 1.5-litre CVT petrol engine generating a power output of 89 kW and torque of 145Nm.
It’s a decent engine, though most of the time you hardly hear it running. Honda has put extra sound insulation into the structure, including around the fenders front and rear, and a sound-absorbing underbody cover. The result is a noticeable reduction in road noise.
Pushed, the 4-cylinder has some poke to it for the city, but it’s never the most sonorous of engines. Fuel consumption during our drive was around 7l per 100km, although Honda rates it as 6l per 100km. There’s no sign as yet of a hybrid version, though I imagine Honda will be watching closely to see how much demand there is for that powertrain.
City cars should be nippy and direct, and happily the HR-V’s steering and suspension do a solid job there. Honda says it took pains to keep the center of gravity low, and there’s certainly little wallow. The HR-V probably won’t ever make it offroad, but the ride stayed smooth even when the surface got rough. According to Cape Town standards.
After experimenting with the paddle shifters, it seemed easier just to leave the CTV to its own devices, particularly around town, though being able to force the transmission down a few virtual gears with a few swift taps did come in useful on more twisty routes.
The 2022 HR-V is competitively priced. Things kick off with the entry level Comfort priced at R469,000. Meanwhile, the flagship Executive model is priced at R554,500.
While the subcompact crossover space may be relatively sparsely-populated, Honda does still face some competition. Mazda’s handsome little CX-3, Fiat’s 500x, Hyundai Kona and Jeep Renegade are all considerable.
In short, the 2022 HR-V certainly ticks all the worthy boxes – interior space, economy, and quiet ride – that typical Honda customers are interested in, but it also does it with a greater-than-usual splash of style and a fair number of toys.
If the Fit has shown us anything, it’s that clever packaging and a few simple choices are in demand. The 2016 Honda HR-V builds on that with fashionable styling alongside the reassurance of a familiar name badge, and it’s hard to imagine it not coming to rule the subcompact crossover segment.
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