Honda HR-V (e:HEV) review: Half way home
(Pocket Ribbon) – Say hello to the third-generation Honda HR-V. So what’s so special about this baby crossover SUV? Well, it’s now called the e:HEV, which means it has a true hybrid powertrain.
That means, without the hassle of ever plugging it in for charging, you get the benefits of an electric motor powering the vehicle — well, sometimes. That’s unusual in a car at this end of the market, which improves flexibility on the one hand, but efficiency on the other.
But does that make the Honda HR-V e:HEV feel as sophisticated as its truly modern looks would suggest, or is it more halfway between combustion and all-electric without the real all-inclusive benefits of either one here?
It was in 2016 when we reviewed the second-generation HR-V, and what a difference the next five years have made to the third-generation model. The HR-V in 2022 just looks so much more modern and thoughtful, a true contemporary Japanese take on a modern crossover SUV. It is only really from the side that there is a lot of similarity with the old model.
It’s really this visual flair that will help set the HR-V apart from many of its comparably priced competitors – Toyota Yaris Cross as a hybrid rival that immediately comes to mind; the Mazda MX-30 has some appeal as an all-electric short-haul runner – with its horizontal grille lines cutting through the front and framing squeezed headlights; while the back reflects the horizontal theme, with a full-length light bar that looks good.
Small details add to the contemporary look: the rear door handles are hidden from view, for example by opening higher up on the body frame from the intersection of the rear window, as opposed to the more traditional handles on the front pair of doors; the way the headlights are recessed into the body to add extra pop too; while the eye-catching five-spoke alloy wheels on which our test car drives help it to look good.
Open the driver’s door and inside, too, it’s a medley of relative modernity. Not to the luxury of, say, an Audi, but keep your expectations at this price point and we think Honda has struck a fair balance.
The key points are that the seats are comfortable, there’s plenty of room both front and rear – an insignificant-sounding 4cm knee room has been added to the rear seat for this generation, but this makes all the difference – and the boot offers 316 liters of space (which isn’t huge by any means).
The gear lever is a fairly conventional style for an automatic car, taking up quite a bit of space, but it’s easy to use and there’s also a drive mode adjustment switch nearby.
That’s a clue to Honda’s take on the more classic hands-on approach to the HR-V’s interior with its finish, which uses physical buttons and dials rather than going ultra-modern with touch panels throughout. We’re fine with that, because pressing the heated seat knob or turning the A/C knob will get you results quickly – none of the endless digging you have to do in certain other modern cars (like the VW ID3).
There’s also a 9-inch display mounted on the dash, making the HR-V’s infotainment system much more current than Honda’s outgoing system. That’s a sigh of relief, given that Honda was quite behind in this area in the not-too-distant past.
As we mentioned above, the ability to make quick adjustments with buttons and dials is welcome, but this 9-inch panel is a touchscreen and feels intuitive to tap and select the area you want. Whether navigation, music via tuner/Bluetooth or apps via a smartphone connection – it’s all there.
We used Android Auto a lot of the time and plugged into one of the two USB ports under the dash, as there’s no wireless version available – which is a bit of a shame. Still, the ability to plug in your phone (Apple CarPlay is also available) makes using all of your favorites a breeze.
So the third-generation HR-V is clearly a step forward in many respects compared to its predecessor. The same can be said for his driving style, although that should really be taken with a grain of salt. The use of a hybrid powertrain by the e:HEV has both advantages and disadvantages.
Under the hood, the HR-V e:HEV has a 1.5 liter petrol engine, which usually acts as a generator for the battery, which then powers the engine. Hence, it is a true hybrid powertrain.
That has some big efficiency benefits: we easily got around 50 mpg in mixed conditions without even trying. The electric motor also means smooth acceleration from a standing start and that can really help the car get a little more futuristic and thoughtful.
However, in this setup, which only delivers 106 bph of power, it quickly finds its limits: the HR-V e:HEV is not fast, if you push it too hard, it bypasses the electric motor and gives it over to the engine , that’s whiny, overloaded, kind of like a lactic acid explosion where you’re still trying to do everything.
And this is where the HR-V e:HEV leaves us feeling a little perplexed. As successful as it can be in the city, when you get to a freeway ramp it will be a bit of a struggle to get up to speed, much like driving a 1-litre Ford Fiesta. That engine gets all screaming and bombastic, which is just annoying – especially since it’s so at odds with the initial quietness.
Considering it’s a £26,000 car at the UK entrance, the HR-V knocks on the door of similar hybrid rivals that are more similar – the Toyota Yaris Cross – and all-electric options – the Mazda MX-30 – the last format that will never have that ‘transfer’ or noise problem (except, in HR-V’s defense, won’t get nearly that far on a single ‘tank’).
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There are driving modes available – Normal, Eco, Sport – but there isn’t much difference between them. It’s just not that kind of car we totally agree with, but more of the calm and less of the deafening please.
In the same way that the Toyoya Prius felt like a genius idea at its conception (once we got over its visual style), its relevance slowly faded as other technologies progressed. The HR-V’s e:HEV solution feels like it’s also at a crossroads: the intersection between combustion and all-electric, but without any real big advantage from one or the other.
Yes, the smoothness of city driving is wonderful, the economy is particularly great (about 50 mpg in our hands), and that will be enough to sell this baby crossover SUV to many. But we feel like it’s a car that’s somewhat on the fence – in terms of its driving approach – with its super-modern look that just doesn’t quite fit the full package.
The third-generation HR-V is a definite step forward in many departments, but at this asking price, and with powertrain alternatives and automotive technology moving at such a limiting pace, we wonder if it’s just going to end up kind of stuck at a proverbial crossroads. .
Written by Mike Lowe.