2015 Honda HR-V road test
THE hottest of property is found in Australia's sports utility vehicle segment, and the Honda HR-V is the latest player trying to cash in.
Sedans and hatches of all sizes are falling out of favour, yet the SUVs are proving to be the new black.
Fuelling the fire is the rapidly-expanding sub-compact division - also known as crossovers. While not passenger cars or full-blown off-roaders, they are essentially high-riding wagons.
The Honda HR-V was a timely arrival for the Japanese marque which has battled through everything from natural disasters to financial woes. Also copping criticism for being boring, this offering - which starts from $24,990 - has breathed new life into the marque.
Exceeding expectations is a specialty for the HR-V.
While it sits in the sub-compact department, it has internal sizing closer to a mid-size SUV. Four adults can find reasonable accommodation as long as those up front don't slide too far back - allowing ample knee and leg room for those in the rear seats.
Combine that with generous boot space and it's a useful family chariot.
The interior is relatively bland, and typically conservative Japanese. A long dash air vent for the front passenger and very few buttons make for straightforward operations.
Raising the tone is the colour touch-screen for stereo and phone controls, which also has the ability to play MP4 movie files (when stationary).
The VTi comes with the most basic of trims, and it proved hardy when doing family duties while the seats were supportive enough in all the right spots.
On the road
Paired exclusively to a 1.8-litre four-cylinder petrol engine, the little SUV cut a swathe through metropolitan, highway and rural travels.
It may not be a sports car, but the HR-V never disappointed when it came to daily driving duties on suburban roads.
When pressed, the continually variable transmission showed some signs of flaring (when the engine revs hard under acceleration with little result) but via steady use of the throttle had no trouble with steep inclines or pulling away from the lights with vigour.
Varying conditions saw the HR-V prove itself one nimble offering, and lifted itself to one of the most adept dynamically in this segment.
What do you get?
This is the entry-level model and comes with cruise control, full Bluetooth connectivity, CD stereo with 17.7cm colour touch-screen and HDMI/USB/auxiliary jacks, reversing camera, 16-inch alloys, climate controlled air con, six airbags (including full length curtain) and a full technological safety suite with the likes of stability control and anti-lock brakes.
There's no sat-nav even in the high-end models, and for this price Honda should really have it to tick a vital box for the tech-savvy buyers in this genre.
Not long ago there was really only the Mitsubishi ASX ($24,990) in this genre, now there has been an explosion of competitors including the Mazda CX-3 ($19,990), Renault Captur ($22,990), Ford EcoSport ($20,790), Holden Trax ($23,990), Peugeot 2008 ($22,490) and Suzuki S-Cross ($22,990).
Some highway travels helped the HR-V deliver just over seven litres for every 100km, which is pretty close to the official figure.
Honda has strong resale value and an enviable reputation for reliability. Capped price servicing is available if you return to the dealer for maintenance and with prices below $300 it's mid-scale in terms of costs.
Swallowing a boxed clothes line, a few other trinkets while still having one cherub in his car seat, the HR-V may be small on dimension but it's big on internal smarts.
At the heart of its appeal is the "magic seats" made famous in the Jazz hatch. There are up to 18 different seating configurations for accommodating various cargo items, and when you drop the rear seatbacks via the 60-40 split they fold flat and low.
Getting stuff into that boot is made easier with an 1180mm opening, and we know of one cyclist who made the HR-V purchase for its ability to easily swallow two adult bikes with the front wheel removed.
The dual cup holder up front survived the toughest of tests. A take-away coffee without a lid remained steadfast courtesy of the brilliant design. A small arm hugs the cup in place, while the base can be lowered and raised depending on cup size.
Larger drink bottles can fit in each door, and there's a useful centre console along with a space near the 12-volt plug, HDMI and USB ports.
The integrated rear door handles into the back pillar offer a coupe-like silhouette, and while the HR-V has some cool lines it remains sleek without being a design stand-out.
Sales of SUVs are the driving force behind a growing market, picking up the losses from traditional hatches and sedans.
The HR-V has emerged as one of the best buys. While it doesn't have the looks of the new Mazda CX-3, or a turbo powerplant like the Holden Trax, it does offer unrivalled internal flexibility in the sub-compact SUV segment.
Entry level pricing is higher than most of the competition, although the Honda brand cachet may be strong enough to sway buyers.
What matters most
What we liked: Magic rear seats and boot space, easy to drive, suitable for growing families.
What we'd like to see: Sat nav as standard, traditional dials and buttons instead of digital air-con controls.
Warranty and servicing: Three-year/100,000km warranty. Capped price servicing is available, and intervals are annual or 10,000km, prices are $284 for the first service and then $298 thereafter.
Model: Honda HR-V VTi.
Details: Five-door front-wheel drive sub-compact sports utility vehicle.
Engine: 1.8-litre four-cylinder petrol generating maximum power of 105kW @ 6500rpm and peak torque of 172Nm @ 4300rpm.
Transmission: Continuously variable automatic.
Consumption: 6.6 litres/100km (combined average).
Bottom line plus on-roads: $24,990.