First Drive: 2015 Honda HR-V [Review]

Honda brings Fit practicality to compact crossover segment.

With the expansion of the subcompact CUV segment well underway, it was only a matter of time before compact mainstay Honda brought something to the table. That something is the Honda HR-V.

Based on its successful, practical and versatile Fit subcompact, Honda's HR-V is targeted at buyers who want a small footprint, elevated seating position and hatchback versatility.

What is it?The 2015 Honda HR-V is a global compact crossover designed to take on the ever-growing small CUV segment. It's a Fit at heart, for better or worse, but brings to the table a suite of crossover-specific features to differentiate it from its hatchback cousin.

At the heart of the HR-V beats a 1.8L, four-cylinder engine making 141 horsepower at 6,500 RPM and 127 lb-ft of torque at 4,300 RPM. Some overseas markets will see the Fit's 1.5-liter engine in base models, but it's not available in the U.S. With front-wheel-drive and the manual, the 1.8L is good for 25 mpg in the city, 34 on the highway and 28 combined. With the CVT, those figures jump to 28 mpg city, 35 highway and 31 combined. Add all-wheel-drive and they level out at 27 mpg city, 32 highway and 29 combined.

Power goes to the ground by way of either a 6-speed manual transmission (front-wheel-drive models only) or Honda's now-ubiquitous continuously-variable unit (front- or all-wheel-drive). The 6-speed is available on LX and EX trims. EX-L Navi cars can only be optioned with the CVT.

The HR-V's suspension is fairly typical of the segment and indicative of its subcompact roots. Up front, you'll find MacPherson struts; in the rear, a torsion-beam setup. All models are equipped with (now-universal) electric power-assist steering, and all models come with disc brakes front and rear.

Befitting its tiny footprint, the HR-V is a fairly lightweight vehicle. In FWD/MT form, LX models weigh in at only 2,888lbs. EX models range from 2,917 to 2,933 and loaded-up, EX-L Navi models with AWD cap out at 3,190.

What's the competition?The HR-V slots into Honda's lineup as a competitor to the Jeep Renegade, Kia Soul, Fiat 500X, Nissan Juke and forthcoming Mazda CX-3. Subaru's XV Crosstrek and Mitsubishi's Outlander Sport are also considered competitors, if only in terms of price and demographics.

How does it look?Honda went to great lengths to make the HR-V part of its crossover family, differentiating it from the Fit not just by its ride height but by incorporating styling cues from its bigger siblings, the CR-V and all-new Pilot.

Indeed, with its large grille and upright proportions, the HR-V could be mistaken for a CR-V at a distance. Up close, there's no confusing the two, however. The HR-V's sharper rear cut-off and shorter front overhang set it apart from its big brother.

Overall, the exterior works. The HR-V's simple hatchback proportions lend themselves well to the crossover treatment.

How's the interior?Inside, the HR-V's Fit roots show through. While the seating position is higher and thus the legroom more generous, the HR-V is not a large vehicle. Rear legroom is adequate (and in fact rivals that of hatchbacks that are technically a size class up from the Fit), and its hatchback shape means rear headroom doesn't suffer.

Up front, controls fall to hand with little fuss. The elevated seating provides an excellent view of the road, and Honda's available Lanewatch feature makes merging on the right side a snap. When the right turn indicator is activated, a camera in the right-side mirror is activated, showing the area obstructed by the passenger-side pillars, making it nearly impossible to overlook blind-spot loiterers.

But the HR-V's party piece is its rear Magic Seat. Taken directly from the Fit's bag of tricks, Magic Seat is Honda's term for its 60/40 split and fold-flat seating system, capable of accommodating long objects (center and front passenger seats folded down), wide cargo (rear bench folded flat) and various combinations of the above with a rear passenger (60/40 split as necessary). With all the seats up, the HR-V can hold five people, though you may not want to spend too much time in the rear bench with two people of whom you aren't particularly fond. It's adequate, but not luxurious for three adults.

Does it go?Honda deserves praise for offering a manual transmission in the HR-V's LX and EX trims, but a sport compact it is not. While the 1.5L engine offered elsewhere is probably enough to keep the HR-V from being dangerously slow, it's a good thing the base engine here is larger. No matter the powertrain configuration, the HR-V is not particularly spry. 0-60 comes in less than ten seconds, but not substantially so. There's enough power at the driver's disposal to merge onto highways, but don't expect to win any stoplight races.

Handling and braking are likewise sufficient, with the stoppers bringing in the least praise of the HR-V's stop-and-go parts. They get the job done, but they're soft and not particularly confidence-inspiring. The HR-V is best kept well within the limits of its all-season rubber.

Leftlane's bottom lineThe HR-V is a competent, versatile offering in the ever-growing compact crossover segment. It may lack the Jeep Renegade's off-road prowess and the Juke's turbocharged exuberance, but it makes up for it with practicality and dependability.

Honda HR-VLX (2WD) 6MT: $19,115LX (2WD) CVT: $19,915LX (AWD) CVT: $21,165EX (2WD) 6MT: $21,165EX (2WD) CVT: $21,965EX (AWD) CVT: $23,215EX-L Navi (2WD) CVT: $24,590EX-L Navi (AWD) CVT: $25,840

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