Honda's success with the CR-V (Comfortable Runabout Vehicle) that had seen its sales outperforming that of cars in the US market last year, among strong achievements in other markets, has led the carmaker to look down the line. That is, a compact version to expand the market potential further.
This has spawned the creation of an all-new model, the Honda Vezel, which was displayed at the Tokyo International Motor Show 2013 before being sold in Japan.
For markets outside Japan, Honda decided to give the Vezel Crossover or SUV (sports utility vehicle) a different name based on feedback from the regions that its range of vehicles are sold.
The name HR-V (which Honda Malaysia wants to interpret as Hip & smart Runabout Vehicle) was eventually chosen although this model is not a direct evolution of the earlier model, which had a model span of about seven years (1999-2006).
The new HR-V is developed from the extended floorpan of the Jazz and City while the earlier model was developed from a different platform (that of the Honda Logo, a compact hatchback sold in Japan).
This has given the HR-V a wheelbase of 2,610mm or 10mm longer than the current Jazz although by body dimension, the HR-V is a much bigger vehicle being a Crossover.
It would be more relevant to see how compact it is against the CR-V although the HR-V is only 10mm shorter in wheelbase: at 4,294mm in length, the HR-V is 296mm shorter, 48mm narrower at 1,772mm in width and 80mm shorter in height at 1,605mm.
More importantly, it is lighter too, varying from 1,255kg to 1,292kg depending on models,against the CR-V that ranges from 1,490kg to 1,560kg.
That is because the HR-V is designed to be powered by a smaller displacement engine of 1.8-litre, this being the one similar to that in the Civic 1.8: a four-cylinder single overhead camshaft 16-valve engine with i-VTEC (intelligent variable valve timing).
The Thai version is rated at 141PS at 6,500rpm and 172Nm at 4,300rpm, while the HR-V for the Malaysian market would be tuned differently to accommodate the lower Euro fuel quality and thus has slight power output differences.
Honda Malaysia is opting for the front-wheel drive model although the AWD (all-wheel drive) variant may be brought in later if there is a demand for it while the transmission is the continuously variable transmission (CVT).
We were part of the Malaysian media team that was given a “teaser” drive in three variants of the HR-V in Thailand, covering slightly more than 220km on a roundtrip between Chiangmai and to Chiangrai.
It takes on an individual look that should stand the HR-V out on its own against the CR-V and give it the ‘hip’ image that might appeal to the younger group that is targeted at.
The sharper waistline adds a more aggressive stance and we like the way the rear door handles are located; at C-pillar or the point where the door tapers towards the C-pillar.
We recalled having seen this door handle location on the Alfa-Romeo 156 model and this styling should still be a nice novelty today.
Stepping inside, we were impressed by the roomy interior: even if there is a tall driver or front passenger and the seat is adjusted to its rearmost, we found the legroom still good when sitting at the rear.
The rear 50:50 split seatrests also came with some limited tilt (or rake) adjustment to make travelling that little bit more comfortable for the rear folks.
Another useful feature is the High Deck Centre Console with Storage space, which although is not entirely new in concept, it does offer merit in keeping items such as handphones out of sight from thieving eyes.
On the other hand, it might not be as easy to reach without taking your eyes off the road and that can be a safety issue.
With the better power-to-weight advantage the HR-V enjoys over the CR-V (1.8 to 2.0-litre model), the uptake of speed on accelerator input is generally quicker, especially during overtaking.
The CVT roar, which is a characteristic of its design, might have intruded into the passenger compartment during hard acceleration but it was largely tolerable.
For normal driving, the CVT operation stayed quiet and best of all, smooth in moving from ‘gear to gear’ as it is electronically selected.
We like the way that the CVT is engineered to “downshift” when we lift the foot off the accelerator when approaching a tight corner or slower traffic.
There was no hard retardation but a gentle slowing down motion that provided for smooth coasting without needing to hit the brakes, unless we had to for some reason or other.
The one-touch turn indicator was also a useful feature: just tap on the indicator either up or down as per the direction you want to go and the appropriate side indicators will blink for a short while to tell others of your intention.
Good body aerodynamics also speak volumes as we could converse without raising our voices (we had three on board) at speeds beyond 140kph.
We could hardly hear the wind turbulence - either front or rear - which was being generated around the body and this experience was a strong testament to its good insulation from external noises.
For the winding stretches, some of which were taken at a quick trot, the HR-V displayed a steady footing with little body roll, shoring up our confidence although we were driving on unfamiliar territory.
Interesting features include the auto brake hold feature.
Once selected, it will hold the brakes when you come to a stop in a stop-and-crawl situation, releasing them when you step on the accelerator.
The HR-V also comes with Electric Parking Brake that is activated and deactivated through a button on the base of the gearshift console.
At the time of the drive, we were not told of the price but were left speculating on what could be an attractive one between that of the top City model and the Civic.
With few peers in the market, Honda Malaysia could just be on the roll again in 2015 with the HR-V, adding strongly to its ambition to sell 85,000 cars.
Bookings had been said to be most encouraging (running into the hundreds) during the pre-launch road shows, especially when the price is not even known yet.