Review: 2016 Honda HR-V

May 05, 2015 08:30 AM EDT | Jeff Jablansky

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After introducing the Fit subcompact hatchback and moving the CR-V sport-utility vehicle upmarket, Honda had a problem: There was a hole in its lineup for an affordable SUV.

Enter the HR-V, a five-door crossover born specifically to fill that niche, and bring more Honda drivers into the fold. It's a rapidly evolving market segment, and a reinvented one for Honda, which pioneered the cute 'ute almost 20 years ago with the original CR-V.

We recently had the chance to spend time evaluating the HR-V in and around Miami prior to an early-May on-sale date:

What is it?

The HR-V is a raised crossover based on the Honda Fit platform, but it has its own distinct identity. Smaller than a CR-V but larger than the Fit, the HR-V is a gateway vehicle meant to do the old job of the Civic and Accord: Attract young buyers to the brand and then cultivate them through a lineup of larger sport-utility vehicles.

Instead of HR-V, "CrossFit" would be a most fitting name.

There is a strong visual connection to the Honda brand through styling cues front and back, and the HR-V curiously blends coupelike styling with the stance of an SUV. It's quite becoming.

How does it drive?

Like the Fit, which is to say with pleasant road manners and a steadfast but carefree view toward the road ahead. A 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine borrowed from the Civic, not the Fit, accommodates the HR-V's extra 300 to 500 pounds, for the front- and all-wheel drive crossover. Output is a respectable but not drool-worthy 141 horsepower, and there are no turbochargers or superchargers attached. All trim levels are available with a continuously variable automatic transmission, and a 6-speed manual is available on all but the top FWD trim levels.

No complaints on the road, then, where the HR-V does a fine job of smoothly managing the power to either two or four wheels. We noticed a pronounced difference between the manual and CVT models, in that the manual-equipped models felt noticeably less peppy than their counterparts. The transmission is smooth and refined, but the CVT seemed better equipped to put down the naturally aspirated power. Neither model is really that fast.

If you've driven the Fit, you'll immediately recognize and appreciate the tightness of the HR-V's steering and firmness of its brakes. It's at its best slicing through holes in traffic, rather than set in cruise control on long highway journeys. Honda's LaneWatch camera tech, available on uplevel HR-Vs, comes in handy during quick passing maneuvers.

There were no apparent shortcomings in the driving experience, save for lack of passing power. We bet that Honda's upcoming turbocharged four-cylinder unit would fit under the HR-V's hood.

What's it like inside?

Functional and purpose-driven. The HR-V's seating configurations expand upon the versatility of the Fit, from folding seatbacks that make a flat loading floor to (separately) folding cushions that allow for tall objects. Be prepared for frequent trips to gardening and furniture stores to purchase things you definitely do not need—but can now fit in the back of the car.

What's its specialty?

Making the most of its interior space. Flip up the second row bench seat to reveal a flat loading floor beneath and nearly six feet of vertical space for tall items. Fold the seatback down, instead, and the space behind the front row acts as a rectangular packing box for items of all sizes. Several permutations later, thanks to split-folding and adjustments, the HR-V proves its worth as a cargo hauler. Total cargo volume is approximately 60 cubic feet, besting the room behind the Honda Pilot's second row by 10 cubes.

Most innovative feature?

See: What's its specialty?

How's the competition?

This is one of the fastest-growing segments in the market. Chief among the HR-V's competition in the small crossover/SUV category are the Chevrolet Trax, Fiat 500X, Jeep Renegade Nissan Juke, which all ring in around $20,000 to start. The 2016 Mazda CX-3 is not far behind. The HR-V will also compete for the attention of Fit and CR-V buyers within the Honda showroom, who like the respective attributes of each model and would prefer not to gamble on a new nameplate.

After our first drive, we'd have no problem recommending the HR-V to anyone looking for a small SUV and previously went straight to the CR-V—although the two are closer in price than you might guess.

Overall:

Call it CrossFit.

Highs:

The right size, packaging, driving dynamics, and—above all else—timing.

Lows:

Slow, unintelligible infotainment system; small cargo area; lacks tech advancements

The ideal setup:

Bare bones or almost fully loaded. The base HR-V is a great jumping-off point, at about 20 grand, and it offers almost everything a modern driver might ask for: a backup camera, Bluetooth and USB connectivity, and an LCD display for audio controls. Skip the Navi package—unless you absolutely cannot live with satellite radio, which is bundled in—and use a proper aftermarket navigation system instead.

By the numbers: 2016 Honda HR-V

MSRP: $19,995 (includes $880 destination charge)

Power / drive wheels: 1.8-liter, 141-hp four-cylinder engine / front or all-wheel drive

Transmission: 6-speed manual transmission or continuously variable automatic transmission

EPA fuel economy: 28/35 (FWD, CVT), 27/32 (AWD, CVT) city/highway

In showrooms: May 15

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