Take 5 with Honda HR-V

By GEORGE WONG | 16 September 2015

When it rains, it pours. Mostly true in Malaysia. Coupled with poor drainage, litterbugs and apathy aplenty, it’s a sure-fire recipe for flash floods in more places than you care to know.

We stumbled upon one such near the former Rothman roundabout in Petaling Jaya recently following a late afternoon thunderstorm. And was delighted – that our transport of the day was able to ford through this stretch without drama. And looks good doing so.

Much has been said and written about the Honda HR-V since our first encounter with the car in Thailand through to its launch and the follow-up Langkawi media drive.

So now on regular local roads, away from the rest of the media horde, we are alone with the car. What are we to make of one of Honda’s bestseller in Malaysia?

Honda HR-V

The HR-V or Hip and Smart Runaround Vehicle is putting a big smile on Honda officials; it’s popular enough that the waiting period for the Japanese crossover has stretched to five months. Honda is simply tuning in and serving the growing public appetite for such vehicles that have car-like handling and an SUV body, with prices that are markedly lower than those of large SUVs. This trend is not unique to the local scene but is one that is gaining momentum in many markets around the globe.

While the HR-V draws young and old alike from all walks of life, we think the thirty-something family man of four will find it especially appealing.

What does he get for his money? Let us count the ways. Five actually.


Utterly trendy

The driving force in the birth of the HR-V was, in Honda’s own words, to appeal to “active people who enjoy both their work and home life...these people have a high sense of balance between fashion and practicality.”

With a bold face and coupe-ish roofline, the HR-V is undeniably stylish and moulded to be easy on the eye. In a nod to the Italians (think Alfa 156), the rear door handles are hidden to make as if the HR-V is a two-door coupe-like car. “How come Honda didn’t make it four doors?” asked a colleague.

That, perhaps, sums up the designer’s success in making the vehicle look like a jacked-up coupe with two “stealthy” rear doors.

The higher riding height and visibility also make it an attractive proposition.

Halogen lighting is standard except in the top-spec HR-V, which continues with halogen for high beam but LED for low beam.


Variable pricing

The HR-V straddles multiple price points and offers enough choices. Three grades – S, E, V – are available to fit different budgets. Customisation is priced affordably, with four optional packages to make the car stand out, inside and out. Each package varies in price from around RM1,533 for the Urbane Utility Package to RM3,983 for the Sport Aero Package.

Being locally assembled at Honda’s plant in Malacca, the HR-V is all-around cheaper, too. The S, E and V versions are (on-the-road with insurance and GST) RM98,689.79, RM108,026.50 and RM118,228.50 (this test unit).


Cabin of versatility

Inside, there’s much to be happy about. A roomy cabin offers plenty of space for occupants to get comfortable.
The 5-seater is ideal for a family of four to clamber in for a night in town or a weekend escapade outside city limits. In such instances, this would be a good-sized carriage without spending more than is necessary in these days of rising costs and a weakened currency.

Storage-wise, the HR-V is not a one-trick pony. Like the Jazz, the HR-V delivers more value with flexible space that can be set up in four ways.

Boot storage is large, with loading made easier by a low floor boot and wide opening.

Back seats can by default laid down to open up more room. Like the Jazz hatch, the delightful feature is the ability of the rear bench seats to be folded upwards to take in tall items such as potted plants or a musician’s cello. Being durian season every day, we figured the boot could even pack enough of the thorny fruit to feed a neighbourhood – if you don’t mind the lingering in-cabin odour the day after.

While some crossover interior are downright plain, that’s not the case with the HR-V, which boasts a modern, clean look about it as some of the key controls are touch-sensitive panels rather than knobs or switches. Apart from having seven cup holders to house drinks for the thirsty, the interior highlights include a high deck centre console with armrest; a cleverly designed console pocket under the centre console with HDMI/USB/accessory ports; and wide-flow air-conditioning vents that streams cold air straight at the front passenger and towards the rear.

Note that seats are half-leather in the top V-grade test unit while S and E variants get full fabric seats.


Good kit and fuel efficient  

Standard across the three variants are the ECON Mode button for frugal driving, tilt & telescopic steering wheel, day/night rear view mirror, vehicle stability control, electric parking brake and child seat Isofix points. Hill Start Assist and Automatic Brake Hold are also standard and are particularly useful for less experienced drivers as they prevent rollback on slopes and reduce the hassle of trudging through stop-go traffic.

Opt for the top-spec V-grade, as the majority of Malaysian HR-V buyers have, and enjoy more niceties such as cruise control, wide-angle rear view camera, six airbags, voice recognition steering switch control, two USB and one HDMI ports, plus a 7-inch infotainment screen.

The HR-V is sold only as a front-wheel drive model as Honda Malaysia doesn’t see it doing much time, if any, off-road.

We agree. Plus not offering a 4X4 version keeps the fuel consumption and prices down.

The HR-V does what it does best, being a people and cargo carrier in a fashionable package. Performance is not what it’s known for, so don’t expect Civic Type R speed and keen driving dynamics.

All three variants get a 1.8-litre engine derived from the Civic that doles out 140hp at 6,500rpm and 172Nm at 4,300rpm. With a nearly 1.3-tonne body, it takes over 9s to go from standstill to 100kph. Hardly a point to crow about.

Still for the masses, what little performance the HR-V offers is enough, made up for by the level of equipment found in the car.

Driving the HR-V is pleasant and mildly exciting in turns. It makes the most of what available resources it has, ably picking up speed at a dab of the accelerator and easily overtakes slow-moving traffic.

Suspension holds up firmly, resulting in little body roll through corners and a ride that smoothes out the occasional stretches of rough asphalt.

Based on the Jazz platform but significantly bigger, the HR-V goes uphill without feeling like a sluggard but a little more shove would have been welcomed.  Handling is muted yet precise while braking is progressive but firm and decisive. At cruising speeds, the cabin is relatively quiet but the typical drony noise of the CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission) starts intruding when the car is pushed hard.

Honda engineers have done a good job in reining in the “rubber band effect” of the CVT as a casual drive might give the impression the HR-V comes with a regular slush box that holds the engine speed to make the most of the power and torque range.

As a CVT-based car, official fuel consumption is rated at 6.6l/100km, but realistically you would get 8-9l/100km, which is decent numbers in this class.

Ownership of the HR-V comes with a confidence-boosting five-year warranty with unlimited mileage, up to six free labour services and service interval extended to every 10,000km.



It’s a Honda

Yes, it most certainly is and by virtue of that will continue to retain strong residuals. Needs and priorities change over time. As a family man with a growing brood or expanding needs, if you decide to sell the car four years down the road, hey, it’s a Honda, it will hold its resale value well. And while you are scouring the field, perhaps, a bigger Honda is on your shortlist?

As a side note, it would indeed be interesting to see how the much anticipated Mazda CX-3 compact crossover stacks up against the HR-V once it arrives later in the year. Mazda is a resurging brand to watch. After years of wallowing in the rut locally, the Yokohama-based car maker is coming back with a vengeance and the 2.0-litre CX-3 should give the HR-V a run for the money.

In the end, it’s all the better for consumers who get more quality choices. And that’s the way to play it.




CarSifu's Rating: 7.4