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By Charl Bosch

Motoring Journalist

New Honda HR-V shines but needs one major improvement

Significant effort has gone into the interior and making the exterior more dramatic than before.

A little over three months ago, our colleagues at cars.co.za, asked the question many South Africans in recent months and years had probably also done; “What has happened to Honda?”

As much as theories are bound to emerge in more numbers than the marque’s monthly sales figures, what is certain is that the brand responsible for erstwhile favourites such as the Ballade, Civic, Jazz and CR-V, have no plans on bidding South Africa sayonara anytime soon.

The proof is in the rebranding of the Jazz as the Fit last year and more recently, the updates afforded to the CR-V that remains its flagship if you leave out the Civic Type R that is due to be replaced soon.

HR-V: Chapter Three

At its introduction in 2006, the HR-V represented a new approach for Honda as it adopted a coupe-like design heavily influenced by the now long-gone North American Acura ZDX than looking anything like the cutesy original.

Supposed to have capitalised on the coupe-SUV craze started by the BMW X6, which the ZDX was supposed to rival, albeit at a lower price, the second generation HR-V was without doubt an eye-catcher that sold in fair numbers, but nowhere the level of the Mazda CX-3, Toyota C-HR, Nissan Qashqai and Renault Captur.

ALSO READ: Honda Vezel morphs into European-spec new HR-V

With the newcomer’s launch in Cape Town last week, Honda has taken the same approach as it did with the first two generations, i.e. writing a completely new HR-V chapter that has almost nothing in common with the models that preceded it.

Designed from the ground-up using the same platform as the Fit, the HR-V is longer and wider than its predecessor, but also shorter and more demonstrative of the coupe-SUV than ever before.

Still keen on being a coupe

Looking unlike any current Honda, it sports slimmer, angular looking LED headlights, a more aggressive, now colour coded, grille and its most prominent aesthetic, a sloping fastback roof from the C-pillar back that cascades down the now square rear facia with its full-width LED clusters.

As striking and bold as its forerunner was from the original, the considerably less compact looking HR-V is a certain aesthetic stand-out, though as in most cases, unlikely to be universally accepted. The complete opposite though is the interior.

New Honda HR-V launch South Africa
Sloping roofline a clear indication of the HR-V’s coupe aspirations.

While familiar looking to the Fit in some areas, considerable effort has gone into making the cabin feel premium, but not overly complicated, while still adhering to the minimalist principle.

Simplified and elegant but…

In this regard, Honda has done away with the old HR-V’s floating centre console, replaced the touch-sensitive climate control panel with physical knobs and redesigned the instrument cluster so that the 4.2-inch TFT display sits between the speedometer and tachometer.

The neat arrangement, bolstered by the new Air Diffusion System that directs air to occupants via a dial on the sides of the outer vents rather the conventional, integrated slider, carries on in the use of soft-touch plastics and leather, liberal use of piano-key black inlays and a grippy steering wheel.

New Honda HR-V launch South Africa
Interior both simplistic and modern, but the infotainment system looks dated.

Less impressive however is the eight-inch touchscreen infotainment system. Despite being easy to decipher and no longer integrated into the dashboard, it already looks dated with its design being compared to that of an old box television set by my driving partner.

Somewhat surprising is the HR-V’s boot that is smaller at 304-litres than the 393-litres offered by its predecessor with the rear seats up. The trade-off, however, is a full-size space wheel and as customary, the trademark flip-up Magic Seats for bulkier and/or taller loads.

Kitted to the max

As before, Honda has opted for a two-model grade strategy by retaining the Comfort as entry-level derivative and the Executive as the flagship.

Notable features across both is the mentioned infotainment system that boasts Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, automatic climate control, auto on/off LED headlights, Hill Descent Control, keyless entry and push-button start, Hill Start Assist, rear parking sensors, Vehicle Stability Control and a reverse camera.

New Honda HR-V launch South Africa
Flagship Executive rides on 18-inch alloy wheels.

Reserved for the Executive are 18-inch instead of the Comfort’s 17-inch alloy wheels, leather instead of fabric seats with the driver’s chair being electric, two additional speakers for a total of eight, an electric tailgate, wireless smartphone charger, a panoramic sunroof and Auto High Beam Assist.

Also standard on the latter is Honda’s Sensing suite of safety and driver assistance systems, made-up of six instead of four airbags, Adaptive Cruise Control, Lane Keep Assist, Collision Mitigation Braking, Road Departure Mitigation and a revised Lanewatch system that uses a camera mounted on the left to display possible vehicles in the driver’s blind spot.

The drive

Where matters start to go wrong for the HR-V is the move. The 200km or so launch route, which started in Stellenbosch and meandered through the Cape countrywide as far as Malmesbury, summed-up the preconceived notions we had about the normally aspirated 1.5-litre petrol engine and CVT.

For now the only option until the arrival next year of the hybrid that will directly replace the outgoing HR-V’s 1.8-litre engine, the new double overhead cam (DOHC) 16-valve unit produces 89kW/145Nm, but feels underpowered even at sea level.

As is the characteristics of Honda’s VTEC engines, the mill needs to be revved in order to keep momentum going. While able to settle down to a cruise, the levels of refinement fall to pieces when the need for overtaking arises.

New Honda HR-V launch South Africa
As with the previous generation, the HR-V retains the flip-up Magic Seats.

The CVT meanwhile, which is of a new design, also performs as expected by being slick and well-mannered at slow or town speeds, before becoming a drone fest at higher speed in order to make the most out of the little grunt the engine has.

In fact, the drivetrain rates as the biggest disappointment as the HR-V’s steering feels well adapted and with just enough feel, compounded by a very comfortable ride that dampens imperfections remarkably well.


As much as it delivers on the promise of being a step-up from its predecessor, the downfall of the Honda HR-V is an all too familiar one that is likely to be painfully obvious at altitude.

New Honda HR-V launch South Africa
A moniker that seen three iterations of change.

While undeniably still a practical tour de force loaded with kit and more purposeful styling, it is screaming out for a better drivetrain worthy of its rather lofty price tag.


A choice of four colours are available; Opal White Pearl, Meteoroid Grey Metallic, Coffee Cherry Red Metallic and Brilliant Sporty Blue Metallic with the Comfort’s R469 000 and the Executive’s R554 500 sticker prices including a five-year/200 000 km warranty as well as a four-year/60 000 km service plan.

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