Avatar photo

By Charl Bosch

Motoring Journalist

Honda’s WR-V puppy needs bite to match its bark

Combination of the 1.2-litre petrol engine and five-speed manual gearbox not a happy one.

The small SUV segment is currently the centre of the local market attention as sales and importance have, in recent years, been on similar to the arrival of the hatchback in the early 1970s.

Puppy among the big dogs

In essence, every major automaker has an offering vying for attention; Ford currently holds the crown with the EcoSport, with Volkswagen pursuing closely with the T-Cross.

Hyundai has been making waves with the Venue, sister brand Kia enters the fray later this month with the Sonet and the relationship between Suzuki and Toyota is producing the goods as the Vitara Brezza and Urban Cruiser have received approval despite the initial “who is copying who” controversy.

Honda WR-V

Cute at the front, rather aggressive from the rear

More recently, Nissan revealed the Magnite that resulted in alliance partner Renault creating its own version in the shape of the Kiger South Africa will be getting later this year, while Stellantis offers its contender in the guise of the left-field Jeep Renegade.

It was, however, the long-awaited arrival of Honda to the segment last year that attracted significant attention as the cute-looking WR-V had been a major talking point ever since touching down first in South America and then India as long ago as 2016.

Combining the attributes of the Jazz, on which it is based, with the fashionable attire of an SUV, the WR-V, or Winsome Roundabout Vehicle, has achieved considerable success in the mentioned markets, with the introduction of a facelift last year finally warranting its passage to South Africa sourced from the Tapukara Plant in the state of Rajasthan.

Looking cute

Like the majority of its rivals, the WR-V measures below four metres in overall length in order conform to the sub-four-metre regulations in India, but arguably rates as the least SUV-looking model despite being furnished with silver roof rails and chunky black plastic cladding around the wheel arches, at the base of the doors and on the bumpers.

Honda WR-V

Sporty 16-inch alloy wheels

It is an adorable looking thing with a distinct puppy-like persona brought on by the elongated LED headlights, grille and pronounced bumper, with the aggressive factor being provided by the angular L-shaped vertical taillights, satin silver skidplates, roof-mounted spoiler and sporty 16-inch alloy wheels.

Space to play with lots of toys

Honda WR-V

Interior is skewed towards function rather than style

Inside, the interior errs on the less adventurous side, like the Orchid White Pearl paint finish with an emphasis on simplicity and functionality rather than tech-laden and artistic verve.

The execution is neat though with the materials being good despite a few cheap-feeling areas, while the workings of the seven-inch touchscreen infotainment system are easy to fathom thanks to its layout and shortcut buttons on the side.

Honda WR-V

With the Magic Rear seats down

Being the top-spec Elegance model, a less well-stocked Comfort is also available. The WR-V is, for lack of a better word, crammed with features which, in addition to the Apple CarPlay and Android Auto enabled infotainment system, includes cruise control, keyless entry, a reverse camera, push-button start, a front armrest, rear parking sensors and a six-speaker sound system.

Adding to these are auto lock/unlock doors, the HR-V-esque digital touch panel for the automatic climate control, all around electric windows, a height-adjustable driver’s seat, electric mirrors, a leather wrapped multi-function steering wheel, ABS with EBD and six airbags.

Honda WR-V

Magic Rear seats folded up

The pièce de résistance, though, is the space on offer. Aside from impressive levels of rear head- and legroom, the WR-V follows the Jazz by being equipped with the trademark Magic Rear seats.

In effect, this allows the rears to be folded forward completely or the cushions up against the seatbacks without the need for the straps in order to fit taller items. It remains the biggest attribute of the interior with boot space coming to 363-litres or 881-litres with the rears lowered.

More bark than bite

Up front is where matters start to go south for the WR-V as Honda has elected to offer it only with a normally aspirated 1.2-litre petrol engine.

Honda WR-V

Boot measures 363 litres with the rear seats up

While pumping out a very respectable 66kW of power for a non-assisted engine, the 110Nm of torque and characterised high-revving VTEC nature leaves the WR-V without any poke and feeling horribly lethargic low down, especially at altitude.

Of course, using the rev ranges has the opposite effect as the often-joked-about VTEC kick cuts in, albeit with a very unpleasant strained note that lingers rather prominently, together with a bit too much wind noise, at the national limit.

What’s more, the five-speed manual gearbox, always welcomed by this writer, felt coarse and requires the firmer-than-normal hand to select gear, which will be required a lot to keep in order to keep the engine on the boil.

Honda WR-V

Drop the rear seats, boot space expands to 881 litres

It is unfortunately the biggest area of content as the WR-V rides well and soaks up imperfections with ease, no doubt thanks in part to the 173mm of ground clearance. Adding to this is a light feel to the steering and over the course of its weeklong stay in mixed conditions, a best indicated consumption of 6.0l/100 km that trounced Honda’s claim by 0.4l/100 km.


As high as the expectations were, the WR-V, to put it bluntly, rates as a missed opportunity for Honda to make a considerable impact on the segment competition. As good looking, well equipped and fantastically spacious as it no doubt is, the weak engine and mushy gearbox ruin a promising package that offers a lot for its R327,300.

Honda WR-V

Honda WR-V logo

As Honda is unlikely to bring the South American-spec 1.5-litre petrol or the Indian 1.5-litre turbodiesel to South Africa, the full potential of the WR-V is unlikely to be felt by keen buyers, though, on the flip side, the level of features and price could well mask the powertrain’s shortcomings and turn the WR-V into a serious challenger after all.

Read more on these topics

Honda Reviews and opinion Road Tests