Quick Summary The 2016 Honda HR-V is the versatility and utility champ in the increasingly populated subcompact SUV segment. It also boasts excellent fuel economy, sharp handling and generous features content. However, its gutless and noisy powertrain, insufficient front-seat adjustment and occasionally frustrating interior controls prevent it from being a class leader. Instead, it is one of several to strongly consider and garners a "B" rating from the Edmunds editors.
What Is It? The 2016 Honda HR-V is an all-new, four-door subcompact SUV that slots below the popular Honda CR-V in both size and price. At 169.1 inches long, the HR-V is about 10 inches shorter than the CR-V and a couple inches longer than the Chevrolet Trax, another subcompact SUV. The base price of the HR-V is $19,995, which is about $4,300 less than the least expensive CR-V, which starts at $24,325.
All HR-Vs are powered by a 1.8-liter, four-cylinder engine rated at 141 horsepower and 127 pound-feet of torque. There's a choice of either a six-speed manual transmission or a continuously variable transmission (CVT). Front-wheel drive is standard, but an on-demand all-wheel-drive system is optional with the CVT only.
There are three levels of trim: base LX, midgrade EX and loaded EX-L with navigation. The base model is surprisingly well equipped with features like 17-inch wheels and tires, a rearview camera, Bluetooth phone connectivity and a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel with satellite controls.
Notable upgrades standard on the EX include heated seats, multiple USB outlets, automatic climate control and keyless ignition and entry. As the name implies, the EX-L with Navi adds leather seats and a navigation system along with satellite radio, roof rails and an auto-dimming rearview mirror. It tops the range with a sticker price of $26,720.
How Does It Drive? The HR-V has the precise, confident feel of a larger, more expensive vehicle despite its diminutive size and the fact that it's related to the rather tinny Honda Fit subcompact hatchback. The HR-V isn't skittish over rough roads, and sudden dips in the pavement don't upset the suspension. It provides a comfortable ride that could easily be described as the class best (although certain trim levels of the Jeep Renegade give it a run for its money).
It's also a fun little handler whether on curvy roads or city streets. Although there's no shortage of body roll (it is an SUV, after all), it feels pleasantly small and light when you toss it about, with quick steering that provides excellent feedback. It's not quite as enjoyable to drive as the Mazda CX-3, but it's not too far off and its nimble nature is certainly a reason to opt for it in lieu of a bigger SUV (not to mention its more parking-friendly dimensions and visibility).
However, one reason why you might want to think twice is its power, or lack thereof. Not only does it have a rather paltry 141 hp (just barely above the class low Chevy Trax), but much of that power doesn't arrive until the 1.8-liter four-cylinder winds up to higher engine speeds. The result is loud droning noises from the CVT, and vibrations felt through the steering wheel and gas pedal. Even though its 0-60-mph time of 9.7 seconds isn't that much slower than others in the segment, in real-world driving, its dearth of low-end power (a meek 127 lb-ft of torque at a lofty 4,300 rpm) makes it feel substantially slower.
The brakes are more powerful than we were expecting, however. They stopped the HR-V from 60 mph in a tidy, class-average 124 feet, but without the sort of brake fade after multiple stops that we've come to expect from Honda.
What Fuel Economy Does It Get? With front-wheel drive and the CVT, the HR-V returns an EPA-estimated 31 mpg combined (28 city/35 highway), which is superb for something called an SUV. Opting for all-wheel drive, as our test vehicle had, lowers those estimates to a still-excellent 29 mpg combined (27 city/32 highway). On the Edmunds evaluation route, it returned 31.9 mpg, while averaging 27.5 mpg in two weeks of mixed driving.
By both the EPA estimates and our own testing, the HR-V thoroughly trounces competitors like the Jeep Renegade and Kia Soul, but matches the Mazda CX-3 that manages to also boast class-leading acceleration. The Subaru XV Crosstrek is similarly frugal, but slow.
How Much Room Is There Inside? To put it simply, nothing in the subcompact SUV segment comes close to the utility and versatility offered by the Honda HR-V. The front-drive-only Kia Soul may technically better it in terms of cargo volume dimensions, but in practice, the HR-V is more useful.
The reason is the same "Magic Seat" found in the Honda Fit, which is mechanically related to the HR-V. The backseat flips up to reveal a flat load floor to store and secure especially tall objects, or even allow a big dog to lie down without getting the backseat dirty. The backseat also folds completely flat and low into the floor (the result of the gas tank being under the front seats), creating a lower and more cavernous cargo area than its competitors.
The backseat is also impressively spacious for passengers, with plenty of leg- and headroom. The seat is firm but comfortable, and provides decent under-leg support. We also found that a rear-facing child seat easily fits, with sufficient room remaining for an average-size front passenger. In the Renegade, the non-driving parent had to sit in the backseat.
Unfortunately, we found the situation up front less accommodating. The six-way, manual-only driver seat does not adjust nearly enough for taller drivers to have sufficient legroom and/or thigh support. It either doesn't slide far enough back or is mounted too low, but either way, male drivers of even average height reported being uncomfortable while driving the HR-V. The seats themselves are a bit narrow, with firm cushions and decent side bolstering, but some drivers found the non-adjustable lumbar to be overly aggressive.
What Is the Rest of the Cabin Like? The HR-V cabin is far more stylish than the rather drab and utilitarian CR-V's. The attractive simulated leather trim covering parts of the dash and center console is not only padded, but provides a premium look compared to the otherwise run-of-the-mill plastics elsewhere.
On the other hand, its added style compared to the CR-V coincides with a less useful cabin up front. The rather high center console houses large, nifty cupholders with two bottom heights for multiple cup sizes, but the bin underneath the center armrest is on the small size. Worse, though, is the forward bin, where the multiple smartphone plugs and power outlets reside. It's underneath the center console, requiring an awkward lean forward to grab whatever is stored in its cavelike nether regions.
Honda's touchscreen interface that's standard on most HR-Vs is also far from being one of our favorite infotainment systems. Inputs can require multiple attempts, and certain menu icons are not only a bit small but are also poorly labeled. We're also not fans of any system that lacks a volume knob. The HR-V's touchpad toggle is especially slow to respond, and the presence of a steering wheel volume control is a work-around, not a substitute.
Actually, there aren't any knobs to be found inside the HR-V at all, as even the climate control system relies on touch-operated controls. We found these work better than those for the infotainment touchscreen, but not as good as old-fashioned buttons and knobs.
How Safe Is It? No crash test results are available for the HR-V as of yet. Honda says it expects a perfect five-star score from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) and a "Good" rating, the highest possible, from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
Along with the usual features like antilock brakes, stability control and multiple airbags, all HR-Vs also come standard with a feature Honda calls "Motion Adaptive" electric power steering. It's able to work with the stability control system to sense when the vehicle is heading the wrong way during an evasive maneuver and gently prod the driver in the right direction through resistance in the steering wheel.
All models also get a rear back-up camera, while EX and above models add Honda's Lane Watch system. It shows your blind spot on the dashboard screen when the passenger side turn signal is activated. It takes some getting used to, but is worthwhile if you have trouble seeing vehicles on your right-hand side. Having said that, the HR-V's visibility is very good, even without the electronic aids.
What Competing Models Should You Also Consider? With real-world power, driver comfort and infotainment control, the Jeep Renegade also has the added benefit of realistically being able to venture off road. Its fuel economy and cargo capacity trail that of the HR-V.
The Mazda CX-3 matches the HR-V's excellent fuel economy, but is a bit more fun to drive and is substantially quicker. On the other hand, it has a fraction of the Honda's backseat and cargo space.
Straddling the line between compact hatchback and subcompact SUV is the Subaru XV Crosstrek. Its interior space and comfort, excellent fuel economy and rugged nature made possible by its standard all-wheel-drive system and abundant ground clearance make it a must-consider for those outside the urban confines.
Why Should You Consider This Car? If you're looking for the elevated ride height, cargo versatility and available all-wheel drive of an SUV, but would like to pay less at the dealer and at the pump, the Honda HR-V delivers. It's a sensible little urban runabout, especially for those who think their current SUV is more than what they really need.
Why Should You Think Twice About This Car? The HR-V's underpowered engine and CVT produce glacial acceleration, lots of noise and excessive vibration. If you're 5-feet-10 or taller, there's also a good chance you won't be comfortable in the driver seat.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.