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Four Years with the HR-V: A Comprehensive Owner's Review

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Consider Me Mistaken:




Roughly four years ago, our family took delivery of the (then new) 2016 Honda HR-V EX-L w/Navi. It was our first Honda, and first CUV. We purchased the vehicle in hopes of downsizing from the mid-size SUVs and sedans that had long dominated our driveway, and it just made sense to find something that was simple, reliable, and practical. The Honda fit the bill quite nicely; at the time, its only real competitors were the Chevrolet Trax/Buick Encore, both of which weren't quite to our taste. You could argue the Mini Cooper Countryman, Fiat 500L, Nissan Juke, and KIA Soul were also competitors, but all either lacked features or were classed differently from the HR-V.

We'd had experiences with the HR-V and Vezel prior to purchasing it in 2015, when it because available in the United States. The vehicle had debuted in 2014 to many global markets, and was an instant success in most. And why wouldn't it be? It came in a well-mannered package with good fuel economy and excellent versatility. I figured the same could be said for the North American models, once they became available. Our buying experience was average, the test drive was brief, but there weren't any glaring issues at the time. I did lament the loss of the rear-center arm rest, a feature that other markets did have, and the lack of Hybrid and Turbo power trains was a little unfortunate, but this was ultimately meant to be a fuel-sipping family vehicle. The frugal R18 and smooth CVT would do a good job of keeping the AWD in check.

Things changed soon after purchase, however. After days, weeks, and eventually, months spent driving the vehicle, we became acutely aware of its flaws, misgivings, and omissions. For the longest time, I felt infuriated - how could Honda remove such critical features and amenities, make such questionable decisions, and sell it to us for nearly the same price as a CR-V? There was no rear-center arm rest, the rear bench did not recline, the rear doors were far too wide, and the exterior belt line meant the rear windows were long and narrow. The front center console had no physical controls for the HVAC and Infotainment, the touchscreen angle was always catching the glare of the sun, the front-center arm rest was too far back and too narrow, the cup holders were too deep and improperly sized, the shifter was too high, and the I/O was too low - I could go on! And I did go on. For a long time, I felt duped - it was not the same HR-V we'd experienced in other countries. But we've had time to mellow, time to reflect on how the vehicle has treated us, and how we've benefited from owning it, and so far, it has been an easy ride.


Ownership & Maintenance:




This is the easiest part to get through; the North American HR-V comes exclusively with the R18 SOHC 1.8L i-VTEC i4. It is a tried-and-true engine, making serviceable power and good fuel economy. Buyers had a choice of a 6-speed manual transmission (available only on base LX FWD models), or a CVT automatic transmission (available on all trims with FWD or AWD). The EX-L w/Navi paired our model with the R18, CVT, AWD and a leather-appointed interior with Honda's own Satellite Navigation system (no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto here). Fueling the car is inexpensive as the car easily returns high twenties and low thirties in MPGs. The tank, while small, suffices for two weeks on our mixed highway and city driving, and usually costs about $20-$25 per refuel. Note that it takes regular unleaded gasoline, which is the lowest cost 87 octane.

It takes 0W-20 oil, which is plentiful and affordable, and with Honda's OEM filter never costing any more than $10, a Mobile 1 Full Synthetic oil and filter change will never exceed $40, and will likely cost about the same at any service center or dealership too! Other filters (air, cabin, etc.) are all very affordable, wipers are standard sizes and mounts, headlights and fog lights are standard size halogen bulbs, interior lights are all standard, tires are small eco-friendly variants from Michelin, and have a long wear period (and are not directional, so rotations can be done frequently and easily), brakes are strong and powerful, but also very inexpensive and fairly straightforward to service, all fluids are non-specialty, and everything is easily accessible under the hood and under the vehicle. No complaints here!

The greatest concern comes with CVT maintenance intervals; at approximately every 30,000 miles CVT-equipped models require a regular service. As we do frequent city driving in stop-and-go traffic, we're considering lowering that to 25,000 miles instead, just to ensure longevity. For the most part, CVTs have returned fairly long lifetimes, but again, the do require more frequent attention. Still, if you're a DIY mechanic, you'll find that they're even easier to service than a traditional torque-converted automatic, so as long as you're keeping up, there isn't a whole lot to go wrong.


Drive & Performance:




This is a compact family-oriented SUV, so it drives about how you'd expect; the ride is solid and composed, but can sometimes be harsh with its stiff springs and low resistance tires. It can handle sand, dirt, gravel, and light soft-roading well, but go too far off the beaten path and the path will beat you back. Given a nicer set of tires with more aggressive tread and better composition and properties, I can imagine this being quite a compact beast off the road and in inclement weather, but that comes at the expense of fuel economy and tire longevity. Still, on smooth, even pavement, this will ride no different from the best in its class. Be warned, despite having stiffer spring rates, the HR-V does still exhibit strong body roll on steep corners. It will handle the corner, but I wouldn't push it too far without stickier tires and a more robust suspension setup.

Handling is quite strong otherwise - inputs are direct and immediate with no play and no dead zones. That can be good and bad as the steering does require minor corrections on the highway, and it can be somewhat oversensitive at times, but it is light, composed, and eager nonetheless. Brakes are, like I said, strong. Very strong. I have no doubt this vehicle will stop when you demand it. The pedal is light, so you may find yourself applying a little too much pressure at first, but at least it stops! The OEM-grade pads, rotors, lines, and fluids are a little on the inexpensive side though, so you may find fade comes sooner than expected. I would strongly recommend going for high quality aftermarket components whenever you need to service your brakes, as they may perform equally as well and last longer too.

Acceleration is honestly quite meager. The pairing of a SOHC inline-4 with continuous AWD and a CVT transmission can sap a lot of the power, but that comes at the benefit of fuel economy. Most owners will not be bothered by the 0-60 times, but highway passing can require some slight planning and merging onto freeways with limited on-ramps may be tricky. Otherwise, it can dart in and out of urban traffic without flaw and has respectable top-end due to the inclusion of Honda's i-VTEC technology. Low-end grunt is lacking though, so play it safe on mergers and passes.

I think where the HR-V really shines is as a lightweight adventurer; if you frequent beaches and hiking stops, the HR-V will handle the sand, dirt, and gravel very well. If you live in snowier climes, the high clearance will keep you above the worst of it, and the AWD will help you get going from a dead stop. ABS can be a bit touchy in inclement weather, so it's best to lightly pump yourself if you don't want the system overreacting and picking up a skid, and the stability program can be turned off with a single button if you need to get out of a tricky situation without the unpredictable nature of computers.


Ergonomics & Quality:




This is where the Honda has to take some hits; the HR-V is Honda's lowest cost SUV and it represents the entry-level of vehicles in their lineup, alongside the Fit, which it (roughly) shares a platform with. Honda does a good job of keeping style unobtrusive and minimal. The HR-V is quite handsome and isn't as overbearing as the Juke or C-HR it competes with. They did cut some corners on the lighting though - you won't find LED DRLs on pre-2019 models, nor will you find HIDs or LEDs for the headlights. Inside is much the same, there are only incandescent bulbs to illuminate the cabin, and don't even bother looking for ambient lighting features as Honda offers none whatsoever. Still, this makes bulb maintenance inexpensive, at the cost of longevity. Door handles and doors are fairly solid, though hinges are intentionally tight to feign the sense of weightiness and heft. The rear door has a concealed handle located around the C-Pillar itself, so children and shorter individuals may have difficulty reaching it. You'll also find that the rear doors are really quite long, and the exterior belt line makes the rear windows quite high and narrow, so be wary of passengers exiting the back door and banging against things nearby and poorer visibility than average.

The tailgate matches the belt line, so the back window is also quite narrow, but is perfectly rectangle and offers a decent wide view of everything behind you. Honda does include a reverse camera as standard (all cars do now), but it's quite grainy and the resolution is unimpressive. Nighttime viewing can be a struggle, especially with the minor tint on the rear windows, but the vehicle's mirrors are, thankfully, very large.

Inside, the ergonomics are quite good too, seats are comfortable, mostly supportive, a little on the wider side to accommodate our American backsides, but you won't find any adjustable lumbar to thigh extensions. There are no power seat options available, even on new 2019 Touring models, which is a disappointment at the near-$30,000 mark. The rear bench does technically recline, but that's only if you consider 1.5-2" of travel a "recline." The rear seat also lacks a center arm rest and features very limited storage despite the size of the doors. Honda does make up for this with their excellent Magic Seat system, so I suppose those omissions can be forgiven.

Back to the front, buttons are high quality and easily readable and reachable, but you won't find many. Honda completely omitted physical, tactile controls on their HVAC and Infotainment displays, making radio and temperature adjustments a practice in futility if you intend on keeping your eyes on the road. They look very nice, very clean, and very minimal, but you do have to drop your eyes very low down on the center console to see any of the A/C controls, which may prove dangerous on the road.

You'll also find that the touchscreen is located at a nice, reachable angle, but isn't shielded with a hood, so will often catch the glare of passing street lights or sunlight. Honda does have a very good anti-glare coating on the display glass though, so the light is diffused nicely and doesn't blind you, you just tend to lose sight of the display under harsh light. Owners will note the lack of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto on these older HR-V models, though more modern vehicles are integrating them very nicely. There is also no Spotify, Apple Music, Google Play Music, Tidal, SoundCloud, or Bandcamp integration, but I really did not expect that at this price range. Pandora integration works, but has sometimes crashed when paired with my iPhone 8 Plus. It seems to be exclusive to my 8 Plus as my previous SE works seamlessly.

The center console has some nice amenities, like a traditional shifter, two large cup holders with adjustable sizes, an adjustable center arm rest, and center storage, but none are done particularly well; the top of the console narrows far too much, so the cup holders are placed longitudinally rather than transversely, meaning that the arm rest will cover one holder when fully extended. The arm rest also does not ratchet into a higher or lower position, so your elbow tends to rest somewhat low on it. The center storage under the arm rest is equally disappointing with almost no usable space beyond a tire pressure gauge, a pen or two, and maybe a charging cable for your phone. Access to the car's I/O, including two USB ports, one HDMI, and one 12V are all located below the center console are a difficult to reach. They are covered nicely and are lit by a soothing white light at night, but you cannot reach them while driving (not that you should be, it's just very far down). Don't expect wireless Qi charging here.

You will notice quality tends to cheapen the farther you travel down - plastics tend to harden near the bottom of the doors, the upper dashboard is hard and hollow, the door cards have a fair bit of give to them, and there is a general sense of hollowness in the vehicle. The vehicle is "carpeted" with a fibrous plastic material (I hope they used recycled materials) and the headliner is a compressed, semi-fibrous material that I cannot imagine will last when damp. The floor mats are the same plastic fiber material (albeit far thicker), and both the carpet and the mats are extremely difficult to vacuum. Edges of the "carpet" pulls up when vacuuming and fine dirt and debris gets trapped in the fibers, but once they clean up, they do clean up nicely, and it doesn't take much to remove stains from the carpets and leather.


A Few Last Words:




So sure, there are many things I believe the HR-V can improve on. Honda has slowly trickled in more features and amenities from their foreign Vezel/HR-V models, so I would strongly advise going for the 2019+ models, even if the cost savings of going 2016-2018 are tempting. Regardless of what you do, you will find an excellent daily driver vehicle here, great for small families and urban/semi-urban environments. The fuel economy is a good trade-off for performance, but the HR-V's competent manners will get you going (almost) no matter what. If you frequent beaches and hiking spots, the HR-V will tackle the sand, dirt, gravel, inclines, and declines without complaints, and will generally take a beating on soft roads pretty well. With a nicer set of tires, a beefier suspension, and a skilled driver behind the wheel, I can see these going quite far, but just understand the limitations of this car-based platform. For those that intend on this being their on-road companion, there won't be many complaints. Kids may lament the lack of rear USB ports, but buying a 12V car adapter with two or three ports will solve that quickly. The Magic Seats are an absolute must, in my opinion, and really sets the HR-V apart from the competition.

The drive and quality aren't anything to write home about, but this will be one of the easiest and least expensive vehicles to own (in the class) long-term. They are dependable, they are plentiful, and they are completely straightforward. Budding DIY mechanics can revel in the simplicity and ease of access, and owners that want to save on service will find an under-hood experience that is as far from daunting as you can get.

At times I do wish there were more to the car (I'll keep going back to the rear arm rest and rear bench recline), but it's a good package for nearly all drivers.

Even more enthusiastic drivers won't be disappointed - these will serve you well during the week and allow you to appreciate your weekend and summer cars even more!

Edited by DarrenPersad
Added images and corrected wording.
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