What Is It?
Subcompact SUVs are set to become the next big thing, with multiple new entries on their way next year. One that could certainly make one of the bigger impacts is the 2016 Honda HR-V.
This marvel of interior packaging manages to get the most interior space possible out of its diminutive exterior, matching the passenger and cargo space of SUVs that are considerably bigger on the outside.
Mechanically, it is based on Honda's subcompact Fit and utilizes a version of the Civic's 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine; however, its cabin quality and design are a clear step upward from these less expensive siblings.
What's New About This Model?
The 2016 Honda HR-V is an all-new model for the United States.
How Does It Compare to a Honda CR-V?
Surprisingly, the HR-V's wheelbase is only 0.3 inch shorter than the Honda CR-V's, which certainly helps explain why the backseat has so much legroom. Indeed, a 6-foot-3 passenger can sit behind a similarly sized driver.
That's where the dimensional similarities end, however. The HR-V is 10 inches shorter in overall length, 1.5 inches shorter in height and nearly 2 inches narrower. Although the HR-V's backseat is surprisingly large, the CR-V's remains more family-friendly.
Cargo capacity is one area where the HR-V falls well short of the CR-V, but both are spacious for their categories in this respect.
The HR-V's curb weight was not released, so it's difficult to predict the acceleration differences between Honda's two small SUVs. Available equipment should be quite similar, and after taking a look inside, the HR-V's materials quality (at least in top-of-the-line EX-L guise) seems to be better than the CR-V's. Its interior design is also more eye-catching and less utilitarian.
How Does It Compare to Other SUVs?
Although the HR-V is smaller than the CR-V, it is bigger than its hodgepodge of would-be competitors that includes subcompact SUVs like the equally new Chevrolet Trax, Jeep Renegade and Mazda CX-3.
Most importantly, its 24.3 cubic feet of cargo space should be far and away the best in that aforementioned class, and indeed, matches smaller compact SUVs like the Kia Sportage while at the same time boasting a lower load floor. Backseat legroom should also be better than that of its competitors.
How Is It So Big Inside?
The HR-V is based on the same platform as the subcompact Fit hatchback, which is also blessed with class-dominating interior space. The secret is the placement of its gas tank under the front seats, which allows for a lower rear floor and Honda's so-called "Magic Seat." Not only does this magic entail a low, flat load floor and consequent cavernous space when the seat is folded, the 60/40-split seat bottoms can be raised to provide a spot for a big dog or large piece of cargo.
What Is the Rest of the Interior Like?
Recent Honda models have been high on utility and low on style. The quality of materials also hasn't been much to write home about. This has changed dramatically with the HR-V, which boasts a sleek dash design that's canted toward the driver with futuristic touch-operated controls (on EX and EX-L trim levels) for the climate and infotainment systems.
The functionality of those controls may be imperfect as we have discovered with the Honda Civic, but there's no denying their aesthetic value. They are surrounded by soft-touch dash materials and standard, leatherlike vinyl trim that adds an air of luxury with its stitching (especially in the two-tone color scheme). The EX-L trim gets additional padding and stitched leatherlike trim on the doors.
You don't get the sheer volume of storage bins in the HR-V as you do in the ultra-utilitarian CR-V, but there is still a fair-sized bin under the center armrest and some storage space underneath the center console where the myriad auxiliary audio/data ports and power outlets are also located.
What Kind of Engines and Transmissions Does it Have?
If there is one area where the HR-V may come up a bit short compared to its rivals, it's under the hood. Although it shares its platform with the subcompact Fit, it shares its engine with the Civic. Still, 139 horsepower and 127 pound-feet of torque isn't much grunt (and actually a bit less than in the Civic), and although its curb weight wasn't announced, it's hard to imagine the HR-V being light enough to avoid sluggish acceleration.
A continuously variable transmission (CVT) will be tasked with getting the most out of this engine, and given its behavior in the Civic, it could prove to be controversial. Some of us have found it to be acceptable; others have disliked its responses and the way this gearless automatic transmission drones loudly. There will be a six-speed manual transmission available, but only with front-wheel drive.
Speaking of which, Honda's real-time all-wheel drive will be optional. It operates as front wheel drive until the car senses wheel slippage and sends power rearward to maintain traction.
What Trim Levels and Standard Equipment Are There?
As with just about every other Honda, there will be LX, EX and EX-L trim levels. Standard equipment includes alloy wheels, full power accessories, a rearview camera, Bluetooth phone connectivity and Pandora Internet radio.
Stepping up to the EX trim adds Honda's Lane Watch blind-spot camera and the 7-inch touchscreen interface that we found frustrating to use in the Fit and Civic. Other features on the upper trims include keyless ignition and entry, a sunroof, heated front seats, leather upholstery, satellite and HD radios and a fully integrated navigation system. As in the Civic, there will likely be a much cheaper navigation app available for smartphones that integrates rather imperfectly with the 7-inch touchscreen.
What Safety Features Are Available?
Every 2016 HR-V will come with hill-start assist, stability and traction control, front side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags, a driver's blind-spot mirror and a rearview camera. The HR-V EX is equipped with the Lane Watch blind-spot camera.
Honda anticipates that the HR-V will receive top crash scores from the government and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, but it has yet to be tested.
When Does It Go on Sale?
The HR-V will go on sale in the spring of 2015. Expect driving impressions and further specifications to be released in February.
How Much Does It Cost?
Pricing will be released in February. Expect prices to start around $20,000 for a base LX, with upper trim levels passing the $24,200 entry-level Honda CR-V.
What Competing Models Should You Also Consider?
Chevrolet Trax: Chevy's subcompact crossover is a hair smaller on the outside than the HR-V in most dimensions except height, while providing considerably less cargo space. Safety equipment is generous and its small turbocharged engine may provide punchier acceleration than the HR-V. It also goes on sale early next year.
Mazda CX-3: Also introduced at the 2014 Los Angeles Auto Show, the CX-3 follows the same formula as its Mazda siblings: sleek styling, sharp handling, fuel-efficient engines and a well-made cabin. Passenger and cargo space are likely to trail the HR-V.
Nissan Juke: The Juke is considerably smaller and less utilitarian than the HR-V, but its funky styling, responsive handling and powerful turbocharged engine should appeal to those folks who care more about "sport" than "utility."
Subaru XV Crosstrek: It may be a compact hatchback with raised ground clearance, butch body cladding and standard all-wheel drive, but the Crosstrek nevertheless provides a similar value and size as the HR-V but with better go-anywhere-in-any-weather credentials.
Should You Wait for It?
Honda anticipates that the HR-V will steal 15 percent of future CR-V buyers who don't need the bigger SUV's abundant room and would welcome the lower price. If that sounds like you, then the 2016 HR-V will absolutely be worth the wait. And in general, if such a subcompact SUV sounds like your cup of tea, waiting is an absolute must, as most members of this fledgling class are still months away.