The latest Honda HR-V lacks the fun factor, but it ticks most of the other boxes.
The Honda HR-V returns for the 2023 model year as a new generation that carries over very little from the previous model. When designing the new HR-V, Honda kept the two most prominent and most nagging criticisms of the previous generation in mind: its weak engine and lack of useable space for rear passengers. But changes are not limited to addressing just these issues; on top of more room in the cabin and a bigger 158-horsepower 2.0-liter engine, the new HR-V now rides on the Civic platform with independent rear suspension for a better ride and handling.
In the Honda stable, the HR-V stands out for its versatility, fuel efficiency, affordability, and the coveted and hard-to-secure Top Safety Pick Plus from the IIHS. But it competes with other popular models in the packed sub-compact crossover class, such as the Mazda CX-30 and Kia Seltos, so our week-long test drive with a top-spec HR-V was the perfect opportunity to compare.
The design of the new Honda HR-V is more minimalist than before and moves away from looking like a mini CR-V. Honda has moved away from trying to push a sporty look on the small crossover, and now it's a more elegant-looking vehicle with LED headlights and brake lights with body-color door handles and side mirrors as standard.
The LX and EX-L ride on 17-inch wheels as standard, with the latter getting Gloss Shark Gray-style wheels to set it apart. The Sport comes with 18-inch Gloss Black items, a sportier-looking grille, gloss-black mirror caps, and a chrome exhaust tip, but apart from that, but not much more to differentiate it from other trims. A power moonroof is standard only on the top EX-L trim.
Compared to the old model, the Honda HR-V has noticeably increased dimensions. It's grown in length by over nine inches to 179.8 inches, but the wheelbase is only 1.7 inches longer. That 1.7-inch increase is significant, though, as it increases legroom for rear passengers.
If you've been inside the latest Honda Civic, the new HR-V will be familiar with its honeycomb trim stretching across the dashboard to hide the air vents and a landscape-oriented infotainment screen set above it. It's a much more cohesive interior than before, even if it's a bit of a reach for the driver to access the touchscreen. The infotainment display is a seven-inch touchscreen on the bottom two trims but frows to nine inches on EX-L models.
The infotainment setup is familiar Honda territory with wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and a 180-watt four-speaker sound system on the base model. Mid-range Sport models get two additional speakers, and the EX-L gets the bigger screen, wireless functionality for CarPlay and Auto, SiriusXM, and HD Radio, and an eight-speaker sound system.
Overall, the quality inside is a step up for the HR-V, including the seats - the rear seats in particular. In the previous generation, they were only of much use for strapping in a baby car seat, but now there's enough legroom for children to grow into teens.
Replacing the previous generation's 141-hp four-cylinder 1.8-liter engine with a 2.0-liter unit making 158 hp isn't a huge upgrade, and it results in a 0-60 mph time that's much the same as before. The continuously variable transmission (CVT) is smooth - Honda makes some of the better CVTs - but it can't make up for the engine's lack of acceleration and passing power. However, around town, it's responsive, and you can hustle those shortcuts with ease.
Fuel efficiency isn't an improvement either; instead, it drops by two miles per gallon for both front-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive variants. For 2023, gas mileage for FWD HR-Vs comes in at 26/32/28 mpg on the city/highway/combined cycle, while the AWD manages 25/30/27 mpg. Through our week with the AWD EX-L, we didn't quite get that 27 mpg, but there were a lot of hills on our drives.
The HR-V excels in the city and, surprisingly, on the freeway. On tight back roads, the engine has to work hard to keep a nice pace, but on more open roads, it's simply a pleasure to cruise in, considering it's pretty small. On the freeway, the suspension eats up those high-frequency ridges, lumps, and bumps, and the engine enjoys just cruising along. The big upgrade is how Honda has improved its sound suppression for all its cars, and it's most noticeable in the HR-V with the lack of road noise in the cabin.
Around town and on backroads, the steering is confident and quick, which is a by-product of being on the Civic's platform. We didn't get the urge to play in Sport mode much, but it certainly sharpens throttle response, and the HR-V puts in a good account of itself in its hatchback-like handling. Ride quality off the freeway is standard fare - not too soft and not too hard, meaning it deals with badly maintained road surfaces just fine, and there is minimal body lean in corners.
For $24,100, the base model FWD HR-V is a good deal and a great little commuter car. It'll also see out the start of a family until kids enter their teens as an economical little family car. We would ignore the Sport model because, well, this is not a sporty car, and by adding 18-inch wheels over the standard 17-inch units, it unnecessarily ups the cost of maintenance when it comes to replacing tires.
The highest trim level is the EX-L, which starts at $27,650 with FWD (add $1,500 if you want AWD), and it's the trim level we would go for if we were committed to owning it for well over five years and laying down the miles. What the HR-V lacks is the fun factor, but most people won't care, as Honda got all the basics right otherwise. As an everyday small car, there's a lot to love about the new HR-V. If you're looking for something small and regular freeway drives are in the car's future, then that might tip you over the edge when compared to the competition.
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