2016 Honda HR-V AWD EX-L Navi
Not bad for its first year, or rather its first eight months. The Honda HR-V has only been with us since May of last year, but it’s already claimed fourth position in U.S. subcompact SUV sales at nearly 42,000 units.
It’s not exactly a small market segment either. In fact it’s been growing at a shocking rate, more than doubling with 205,644 new sales last year alone. Yes, U.S. subcompact SUV sales grew from 141,514 units in calendar year 2014 to 330,136 in 2015, which represents a 145.3 percent gain.
You’d think with so much growth there’d be no losers, but not so. The newest entries in this class were responsible for much of the increase, the Jeep Renegade leading the way with 60,946 sales and HR-V the newbie runner up with 41,969. To be completely fair, however, the Chevy Trax only arrived in late 2014 with a mere 739 sales under its belt, so its impressive 63,030-unit tally after its first completed calendar is worthy of rookie of the year status, while its coconspirator, Buicks Encore enjoyed incredible personal growth of 18,657 units to a total of 67,549 units to lead the entire pack. Even Mitsubishi’s Outlander Sport sales grew by 5,912 to 36,966, while the Nissan Juke, which started the entire segment off in 2010, received a refresh but lost 11,063 sales just the same, it’s final tally just 27,121. The Mini Countryman also lost ground with 5,959 fewer sales for the 2015 calendar year, while the Fiat 500X that will likely be the Brit’s greatest challenger added 9,463 to the overall subcompact SUV mix, although it only came on partway through the year so we’ll see how this one does after 12 months. Lastly, latest to the party was the new Mazda CX-3 with just 6,406 sales.
When I last reviewed the HR-V, that model trimmed out in 2WD EX guise, I ran over the year-to-date sales numbers ending in October 2015 and it had already achieved fourth place. I summed it up by saying that “it must feel pretty good to be Honda right now.” Now that the year has ended and the HR-V is number one I think it’s fair to say it again with a little more emphasis this time: it must feel damn good to be Honda right now.
As part of that previous HR-V review I mused about why it was doing so well. In case you’re wondering I’m still not a fan of its exterior styling, but of course I’m not the end all and be all of style so I’ll defer to the HR-V’s younger and hipper target demographic and leave it at that. Still, my most recent AWD EX-L Navi trimmed tester offered some exterior detailing upgrades that made it more appealing, as did its Misty Green Pearl paint (it’s a dark forest green). Styling aside, I could see many purchasing an HR-V solely because of Honda’s glowing reputation for quality and dependability, although other attributes include an excellent standard infotainment system that without doubt appeals strongly to that just noted youthful market sector, and while good infotainment is important to me, that isn’t the key reason I’ve already recommended this model to active-lifestyle buyers.
Now, after two weeks spent with the HR-V, I believe its strongest selling point isn’t up front, but rather in back. Its absolutely brilliant “Magic Seats” deliver best-in-class cargo capacity and unmatched flexibility. If that name sounds familiar it’s because Honda uses the same rear seating system for its slightly smaller Fit subcompact hatchbac,, which I might add is the vehicle platform architecture the new HR-V is based on. Making those rear seats infinitely better than all contenders, the lower cushions of the HR-V’s 60/40-split second-row Magic Seats can be flipped upwards, converting the rear seating area into a sizable cargo hold that’s perfect for hauling bikes (with front wheel removed) or transporting other tall, awkward items such as boxed furniture, large plants, etcetera, or alternatively those seatbacks can be folded flat as per usual in this class.
Crunching the numbers shows that the HR-V offers 24.3 cubic feet of cargo capacity behind its upright rear seats, which just happens to be 7.7 cubic feet more than the Honda Fit. This particular HR-V, however, includes optional all-wheel drive, which compromises the loading area by 1.1 cubic feet and therefore leaves 23.2 cubic feet of total volume when all seats are being used (if you’re a Honda Fit owner you can do your own math here). Lower the seatbacks all the way down and total luggage space grows to 58.8 cubic feet for the front-drive HR-V (which is 6.1 cubic feet more than the Fit’s total volume) and 57.5 cubic feet for the AWD model, the latter ending up with 1.2 cubic feet less than FWD HR-Vs. Got that? This is a lot more space than any rival, incidentally, Honda achieving this via a flat mid-mounted fuel tank that fits under the floorboards.
While the HR-V’s rear seating system gets my most ardent vote, the rest of its interior is impressive too. It benefits from a spacious passenger compartment with ample room front and rear, especially when talking headroom that’s downright cavernous. What initially had me transfixed wasn’t its roominess, mind you, but its tech. This is one of the most digitally advanced vehicles I’ve ever driven, the only seemingly analog interface being the primary gauge package that houses a big speedometer at center and tachometer within the left dial, although all the various lights within are brilliant, literally. Over on the center stack the infotainment system is a complete “buttonless” touchscreen, and it’s a very comprehensive system too. My AWD EX-L Navi tester featured navigation, of course, with nicely detailed graphics, plus phone connectivity, an info screen with instant fuel economy, average fuel economy, and trip history, an audio section with six presets, scan, tune and seek features in a large area showing the station you’re on, plus a source button that takes you to FM, AM, satellite radio, CD, USB, iPod, aha, Audio apps, Bluetooth streaming, and HDMI. If that’s not enough, I don’t know what could be.
That brings me to my next point, the dual USB and single HDMI ports under the center console, Honda having opened that area up for access as well as storage of your cell phone, or whatever else you’d like to put their. Alternatively they include a phone cubby large enough for my Samsung Note 4 alongside the lower console, ideally placed for charging.
Back up to the center stack, the AWD EX-L Navi’s heating and ventilation interface is one of the slickest in the industry. Like the infotainment system it’s completely without buttons, its flush surface featuring touch-sensitive controls for dual-zone automatic HVAC, two-way heated seats, and all other functions. Just below, back on the lower console, is a straightforward gear selector with a Sport mode, while behind that is an electromechanical parking brake plus a switch for brake hold mode. Like I said earlier, Honda has reduced the old school analog and mechanical components to a minimum.
While it’s digitally advanced, I should also mention that this top line model is finished to a higher standard than the EX I tested previously and most others in this class. Maybe that’s going a bit too far, because the dash top isn’t soft touch like some, although two stitched-leatherette instrument panel pads span the entire width of the car, starting just to the left of the primary gauges and finishing off to the right of those same gauges where it stretches all the way to the passenger side door. These visually continue over to the upper door panels where the material used is an even more upscale leatherette with yet nicer padding underneath, while below that is a door insert with even more padding that butts up against a leatherette armrest featuring the same upscale stitching. Right about now I’d be impressed, but Honda has gone even further by covering the edges of the center console with the same stitched leatherette. It’s not done to the same pampering level as the door inserts, but it’s still soft to the touch and therefore much nicer than the majority of rivals that leave hard plastic where knees might otherwise rub. A nice leatherette center armrest/storage bin lid finishes off the upscale experience.
Maybe I spoke too fast because my tester’s leather seats were also very comfortable. They featured perforated detailing, but not where most would expect. Normally the perforations are added to the inserts at center to aid breathability, but instead these areas were solid as were most of the side bolsters, Honda only adding perforations to the lower and upper corners of each seat for the sake of style. It looks nice, but doesn’t really do anything for comfort or coolness during the summer. The seats themselves are inherently supportive, however, which is good considering that they’re not powered as one might expect when stepping up to such a well-equipped top-line vehicle. As noted earlier the rear seating area is very roomy, and those seats are also quite comfortable. A small flip-down armrest provides a little extra luxury when only two are in back, whereas most should be adequately taken care of as far as overall roominess is concerned.
As is predominantly the case with subcompact sector vehicles, the HR-V focuses more on fuel efficiency than all out performance. No matter the trim level Honda stuffs a 1.8-liter four-cylinder under its hood, an engine that makes due without an extra overhead cam and doesn’t incorporate direct-injection or turbo tech, but partially thanks to i-VTEC intelligent-variable valve timing and electronic lift control it still makes a capable 141 horsepower and adequate 127 lb-ft of torque. Honda drops a six-speed manual into the base LX model and mid-grade EX, but order the top-line AWD EX-L Navi and say goodbye to this DIY transmission and hello to a continuously variable type that’s only optional in lower trims.
Just the same I found this AWD model more fun to drive than the RWD version due to more responsive handling and better grip through corners. This isn’t unique to the HRV, some others in the class also much more enjoyable to drive with their upgraded AWD systems. It also tracks very well on the highway while delivering an extremely comfortable ride for this class. That previously noted Sport mode allows more revs from the engine before the transmission shifts, although this is a CVT and thus the shifts aren’t real and certainly don’t feel very direct, but rather deliver that rubber band sensation that commonly gets criticized when discussing this type of “gearbox”. Rowing up and down the CVT’s paddles is an equally unsatisfying experience. They can be useful for a quick downshift at times, but really the CVT finds the engine’s optimal rev range more often than not, even when left in regular Drive mode. That’s where I kept it most of the time, because it just felt better, driving smoother and no doubt more efficiently.
Aiding efficiency, the HR.V’s Eco Assist driving coach helps drivers achieve the best possible fuel economy, whereas Honda’s Econ mode goes easier on power application and keeps engine revs to a minimum in order to save on fuel. Driving with an eye to the environment certainly reduces consumption, the HR-V good for an EPA claimed 25 mpg city, 34 highway and 28 combined with the manual and its lone front-wheel drivetrain, or 28 city, 35 highway and 31 combined with the FWD CVT. My as-tested AWD CVT was rated at 27 mpg city, 32 highway and 29 combined. As fun as the manual might be to drive, it’s easy to see how the CVT can quickly pay off at the pump.
Dollars and cents in mind, you can get into a base manual-equipped HR-V 2WD LX for only $19,215 plus freight and dealer fees or $20,015 for the CVT plus another $1,300 for AWD, while its impressive load of features includes 17-inch wheels, auto-off halogen headlamps, body-color side mirror caps, body-color front door handles (the black matte rear door handles are integrated within the black D-pillar/rear quarter window surrounds), a body-color rooftop spoiler, LED taillights, remote entry, an electromechanical parking brake, powered side mirrors with a driver’s side blindspot mirror, one-touch turn signals, power windows, a tilt and telescopic steering wheel with illuminated audio and multi-information/infotainment switchgear plus Bluetooth phone and cruise buttons, while the standard list continues with filtered single-zone auto climate control, five-inch color LCD infotainment with a multi-angle rearview monitor featuring static guidelines, plus four-speaker 160-watt AM/FM/CD/MP3/WMA audio with speed-sensitive volume, Bluetooth streaming audio, two USB ports, an aux jack and HDMI interface. Additional standard kit includes three 12-volt power outlets, rear seat heating ducts, an LED pocket light, cargo area tie-downs, and of course those Magic Seats mentioned earlier.
Standard safety features aren’t that out of the ordinary with four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, electronic brake-force distribution and emergency brake assist, traction and stability control, hill start assist and tire pressure monitoring, as well as all the usual airbags.
The mid-grade 2WD EX model that’s priced at $21,265, for the manual, $22,026 for the CVT and $23,365 for the CVT with AWD, and adds 17-inch alloys, auto on/off headlights, fog lamps, turn signals integrated into the upgraded heatable side mirror housings, proximity-sensing access with pushbutton ignition, variable intermittent wipers, chrome interior door handles, heatable front seats, dual-zone auto HVAC, larger seven-inch color high-resolution touchscreen infotainment with a multi-angle rearview monitor featuring dynamic guidelines, Honda’s exclusive LaneWatch blindspot display that projects a real-time rearward view of the car’s passenger side onto the infotainment display when employing the right turn signal, next-generation HondaLink smartphone integration with text message capability, a 180-watt audio upgrade with six speakers and an additional USB port, illuminated vanity mirrors, a powered moonroof, and rear tinted privacy glass, while models equipped with the CVT include the previously noted paddle shifters.
The top-tier EX-L Navi can be had for $24,690 with FWD or $25,990 with AWD and adds roof rails, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, leather upholstery in black or as-tested gray depending on the exterior color, HondaLink navigation with voice recognition, HD and satellite radio. and more.
No matter the trim the NHTSA awarded the HR-V 5 stars, while its IIHS crash tests resulted in top “Good” marks for moderate overlap front tests, roof strength tests plus crash tests for the head restraints and seats, although only “Acceptable” ratings for the small overlap front and side impact tests, which is pretty decent although not enough for a Top Safety Pick rating like its bigger CR-V brother. That said if Honda offered it with lane departure warning and forward collision warning as is done in other markets it may score higher. On this subject the bestselling Buick Encore gets the revered Top Safety Pick ranking, while the poorest selling Fiat 500X achieved the even more coveted Top Safety Pick + rating.
I don’t think the HR-V’s imperfect safety rating is going to affect sales a heck of a lot, simply because it does most everything else so very well. Yes, this little Honda SUV has struck a chord with new subcompact SUV buyers, its cute pudgy appearance, roomy well-made and impressively flexible interior, and its dazzling array of leading tech toys delivering big. Really, you won’t find an easier vehicle to live with this side of a minivan.
While recommending the HR-V is a given, I leave this review with a parting thought: it only took Honda eight months to achieve fourth place in subcompact SUV sales, so imagine what it can do with four more? Expect big things from this little SUV in 2016.
Story credits: Trevor Hofmann, American Auto Press; Photo credits: Karen Tuggay, American Auto Press; Copyright: American Auto Press.