Review: 2023 Honda HR-VJul 12nd, 2022
In case you haven’t noticed, SUVs are taking over the world. A vehicle class that was once for outdoor, off-road adventurers is now the vehicle of choice for more families than the four-door sedan. We all seem to love the raised ride height which makes getting in and out of these vehicles easier; the ease of accessing cargo areas through a big hatch instead of a trunk; and the image they help us portray: active, outdoorsy, the best version of ourselves.
As SUVs have evolved, the compromises they used to come with have largely disappeared. Modern SUVs mostly drive like tall cars now, with none of the truckishness of early models; you no longer have to sacrifice comfort or ride quality to ride high. The latest SUVs are almost as economical as similarly-sized sedans, and meet the same safety and crashworthiness regulations.
SUVs are now so mainstream as family transportation that many have shed their off-road pretensions as well, losing the chunky (and fuel-sucking) off-road tires and blocky body cladding. They’re now just practical, tall-format cars with lots of room, compact footprints, and decent dynamics. Indeed, many don’t even come with four- or all-wheel drive, the traditional mechanical signifier of off-road toughness – cementing the fact that they’re now just family transportation.
The Honda HR-V, smaller brother to the CR-V, Canada’s best-selling SUV, is a perfect example of this trend. Newly redesigned for the 2023 model year, the HR-V is a compact urban-focused SUV, a perfect fit for the everyday lives of young families dashing between work, home, and everything in between. It doesn’t pretend to be capable of climbing mountains or fording rivers – though it has enough ground clearance for cottage trails – and is all the better for it.
Compared to the previous-generation HR-V, the latest model is more conventional. Based on the same components set as the latest Civic, its exterior dimensions are significantly larger than before – almost the same size as the CR-V, in fact – which makes for a more spacious front cabin. What’s lacking in the new HR-V are some of the clever touches that distinguished the old one. For instance, the “magic seats” in the rear are gone, which actually results in less cargo space despite the larger exterior, although there’s still plenty of room for new families and all their gear.
On the other hand, the cabin is a clear step up from the previous HR-V in terms of quality and features. The front seats are terrific, almost luxury-car like in terms of the comfort and support they provide; adjustment remains manual, but it’s easy to find a great driving position. The centre console has a huge lidded bin under the armrest, with two additional open storage spaces. There are four USB charging ports up front. And the dashboard is beautifully designed, with a mesh stripe cutting across it that integrates numerous controls as well as cleverly integrated air vents.
Special mention must be made here for the HR-V’s excellent ergonomics. If you’re coming from a European car in particular, Honda’s clear and simple approach to displays and controls will be incredibly refreshing. There are gorgeous knurled metal knobs for climate and volume control, so much simpler and easier to operate than touch and swipe controls. The steering wheel has physical, not capacitive, buttons to operate the cruise control, active safety systems, and audio. And the touch screen perched on top of the dash has big, simple graphics and a matte surface, meaning it doesn’t accumulate fingerprints like the high-gloss surfaces in more expensive cars.
Simplicity doesn’t mean the HR-V lacks any functionality, though. In fact, the list of standard features is comprehensive. Active safety features on all trim levels include forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, active lane keeping assist, blind spot monitor, active cruise control, and more –features you’d normally pay extra for on more expensive cars. On the infotainment front, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are standard, wired on base cars, and with a wireless connection and wireless charger on higher-end models. It all works seamlessly, too: it takes mere seconds to establish a connection with your phone, the system is very responsive; and the wireless charger doesn’t overheat your phone like a lot of other cars.
On the propulsion front, all 2023 HR-V models come with a 2.0-litre four-cylinder featuring Honda’s i-VTEC technology connected to a continuously variable transmission. Together, they deliver impressive fuel economy while providing plenty of zip around town and enough passing power on the highway. The CVT has a bit of a rubber-band feel to it, as it continuously varies the gear ratios to keep the engine operating at the optimum revs for acceleration or fuel economy, but you quickly get used to it. The engine’s overall level of refinement is good, too: it’s smooth and quiet and doesn’t sound harsh at higher revs.
All HR-Vs are fitted with 17-inch wheels with tall-profile, all-season tires, which look small in relation to the enlarged body. While you’d never say that the HR-V is sporty, it’s a satisfying, fun steer along winding roads as well. In the best Honda tradition, the steering is responsive, nicely weighted, and with good feel, supported by suspension that’s clearly been set up by people who like to drive.
You’ll also appreciate how nice the HR-V is to drive in the city. The small wheels’ tall sidewalls deliver very good ride comfort for a family vehicle, and provide great insulation from potholes and poor surfaces. The turning circle is fantastically tight, turning most three-point turn situations into a single sweep of the wheel. Outward visibility from the cabin is excellent, too, providing extra confidence. It’s a fun, friendly companion in every driving situation – even the chimes and buzzes as you get into the car and start it up have a friendly, cheerful sound.
Pricing for the latest HR-V starts at under $30,000 for the very well-equipped front-wheel drive version with cloth seats, with a loaded-up version with all-wheel drive and leather topping out at under $38,000. Compared to similarly-equipped Civic sedans (which aren’t available with all-wheel drive), the HR-V is about $2,000 more expensive – not a huge premium for easier ingress and egress, a large and versatile cargo area, and SUV looks. It’s also about $3,000 less than the larger CR-V, with similar space up front, if less so in the rear. Given the HR-V’s breadth of capability, its economical running, and what is likely to be excellent resale value, it’ll no doubt join the Civic and the CR-V (both the best-selling vehicles in their classes) near the top of the Canadian sales charts.