Honda HR-V (e:HEV) review: Halfway house

(Pocket-lint) – Say hello to the third-generation Honda HR-V. So what’s so special about this baby crossover SUV? Well, it’s now called the e:HEV, meaning it’s got a proper hybrid powertrain.

That means, without the faff of ever plugging it in to charge, you’ll get the benefits of an electric motor powering the vehicle along – well, some of the time. That’s unusual in a car at this end of the market, helping smoothness on the one hand, but efficiency on the other.

But does that make the Honda HR-V e:HEV feel as advanced as its truly modern looks suggest, or is it more halfway house between combustion and all-electric without the true all-in benefits of either here?

Our quick take

In that same way that the Toyoya Prius felt like a stroke of genius at its conception (once we got over its visual style), its relevance slowly faded as other technologies advanced. The HR-V’s e:HEV solution feels like it’s sat at a crossroads too: the intersection between combustion and all-electric, but minus any real major benefit of going one or other.

Yes, the smoothness in city driving is lovely, the economy is particularly great (circa 50mpg in our hands), and that’ll be enough to sell this baby crossover SUV to many. But we feel as though it’s a car somewhat on the fence – in terms of its drive approach – with its super contemporary look just not quite matching the full package.

The third-generation HR-V is a clear step forward in many departments, but at this asking price, and with powertrain alternatives and car tech moving at such a bounding pace, we can’t help wonder if it’ll just end up somewhat stuck at a proverbial crossroads.

Honda HR-V (e:HEV) review: Halfway house

Honda HR-V (e:HEV)

For

  • Visually a very big and positive step-up from the HR-V of old
  • Infotainment system finally steps into the present day
  • Decent economy (50mpg approx in our real-world tests)
Against

  • The handover from electric to combustion is lacking
  • Not the pep of an all-electric rival
  • Pricier than nearest rival (Yaris Cross springs to mind)

Design

It was back in 2016 when we reviewed the second-generation HR-V, and what a difference the five-or-so years since has meant for the third-generation model. The HR-V in 2022 just looks so much more modern and considered, a real contemporary Japanese vision of a modern crossover SUV. It’s only really from a side view that there’s much similarity to the old model.

It’s really this visual flair that will help set the HR-V apart from many of its similar-priced competitors – Toyota Yaris Cross as a hybrid rival springing straight to mind; the Mazda MX-30 having some appeal as a short-distance all-electric runner – with its horizontal grille lines cutting through the front, framing those squinted headlights; while the rear echoes the horizontal theme, with a full-length lightbar looking the part.

Little details further the contemporary look: the rear doorhandles are tucked from view, for example, opening higher up the body frame from the rear window intersection, unlike the more traditional handles on the front pair of doors; the way the headlights are sunken into the body to add extra pop too; while the eye-catching five-spoke alloy wheels that our review car is riding upon help its good-looking appeal.

Interior

Open the driver door and it’s a medley of relative modernity inside too. Not to the luxury extent of, say, an Audi, but maintain your expectations at this price point and we feel Honda’s struck a fair balance.

Key points are that the seats are comfortable, there’s ample room both front and rear – an insignificant sounding 4cm of knee room has been added to the rear seats for this generation, but this makes all the difference – and the boot offers 316-litres of space (which isn’t exactly massive by any means).

The gearstick is a fairly conventional style for an automatic car, using up a fair wedge of space, but it’s easy to use and there’s a drive mode adjustment toggle nearby too.

That’s a clue as to Honda’s take on the HR-V’s interior’s more classic hands-on approach with its finish, utilising physical buttons and dials rather than going ultra-modern with touch panels everywhere. We’re just fine with that as hitting the heated seat button or twisting the aircon dial brings rapid results – none of the endless digging you have to do in certain other modern cars (such as the VW ID3).

Tech

There’s a 9-inch display mounted on the dash too, bringing the HR-V’s infotainment system into a far more up-to-date state than Honda’s outgoing system too. That’s a sigh of relief, as Honda has been really quite behind in this department in the not too distant past.

As we said above, the ability to make quick adjustments with buttons and dials is welcome, but this 9-inch panel is touchscreen and feels intuitive to tap and select your desired area. Whether navigation, music via tuner/Bluetooth, or apps via a smartphone connection – it’s all here.

We used Android Auto much of the time, plugging into one of the pair of USB ports below the dash, as there’s no wireless version available – which is a bit of a shame. Still, having the ability to plug your phone in (Apple CarPlay is also available) makes using all your favourites a breeze.

Drive

So the third-gen HR-V is clearly a step-up in many regards compared to its predecessor. The same can be said of its drive style, too, albeit that has to be taken with a pinch of salt really. The e:HEV’s use of a hybrid powertrain brings both benefits and downfalls.

Under the hood the HR-V e:HEV has a 1.5-litre petrol engine, which most of the time acts as a generator for the battery, which then powers the motor. Hence it being a true hybrid powertrain.

Pocket-lintHonda HR-V review photo 2

That has some big benefits to efficiency: we’ve been easily achieving approximately 50mpg in mixed conditions driving without even trying. The electric motor also means smooth acceleration from standing and that can really help the car feel that bit more futuristic and well thought-out.

However, in this setup, which delivers just 106bph of power, it quickly finds its limits: the HR-V e:HEV isn’t fast, if you push it too hard it’ll bypass the electric motor, handing over to the engine, which is whiney, overstretched, a bit like a lactic acid explosion where you’re still trying to go all-out.

And this is the point where the HR-V e:HEV leaves us feeling a little perplexed. Successful as it can be for city driving, get to a motorway sliproad and it’ll be a bit of a struggle to ramp up to speed, much like driving a 1-litre Ford Fiesta. That engine gets all shouty and bombastic, which is just irksome – especially as it’s so at odds with the initial calm.

Given its a £26,000 car at the entry point in the UK, the HR-V is knocking on the door of similar hybrid rivals that seem more attuned – the Toyota Yaris Cross – and all-electric options – the Mazda MX-30 – the latter format which will never have that ‘handover’ or noise issue (except, in the HR-V’s defence, won’t get nearly as far on a single ‘tank’).

There are drive modes available – Normal, Eco, Sport – but there’s really not a great deal of difference between them. It’s just not that kind of car, really, which we’re totally fine with, but more of the calm and less of the ear-thrashing please.

To recap

While the e:HEV is clever for smooth city driving and great efficiency, the handover to the engine is loud and the car feels overstretched. It’s this drive quality that lets the third-gen HR-V down, otherwise this baby crossover SUV is streets ahead of its predecessor in terms of visual style and infotainment quality.

Writing by Mike Lowe.

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