The utility vehicle marketplace is a pretty crowded space these days, thick with offerings by automakers looking to roll everything into one magic whip. They're responding to a buying public looking for a product to fulfill all of their whims: Is it comfortable and efficient enough to roll everyday? Can I haul my stuff/friends around in it? Is it so big I need two spaces to park it? Does it have any get up and go? Is it easy on the eyes? Will it break the bank? The requisites amount to a tall order for any OEM, but they all seem to have a take or two, or three, on the subject, and therein lies the opening for the latest crossover ute from Honda, the 2016 HR-V.
Meant to run with the likes of smaller fare such as the Nissan Juke, Subaru XV Crosstrek and Mazda CX-3, the HR-V slots in under the CR-V in Honda's SUV/CUV lineup. We're told it shares some engineering and features with the Fit, but unlike the subcompact (or the ungodly ugly Juke) the HR-V is a much more handsome proposition.
Under the hood is a 1.8-liter single cam i-VTEC inline-4 - we're thinking probably the R18 - creating 141 horsepower and 127 lb.-ft. of torque at their respective peaks at the flywheel. Depending on trim, that energy is routed through either a CVT or six-speed manual transmission, and the HR-V comes in either FWD or RealTime AWD. The chassis sports a MacPherson strut front suspension and an H-shaped torsion beam setup out back, akin to what the latest Civic Type R rocks. Needless to say, a performance monster the HR-V is not.
But that's ok, because that's not what Honda was looking to make here. The name of the game with the HR-V is function, and you get plenty of it; Exhibit A is the configurable rear seat, which many of our Fit-loving fans will recognize. Users can set up the second-row seating in one of five modes (Normal, Split, Tall, Utility and Long) freeing up enough space to carry everything from bikes and surfboards to potted plants.
There's a fair amount of gadgetry included in the HR-V, too. We dug the multi-view rear camera, LaneWatch blind-spot detection system, e-parking brake and even the climate control touch panel (no more buttons! The future is here!) We were less stoked on the so-called "console pocket," which places USB and HDMI ports and a power outlet sort of under the shifter on a second level of the center console. Not only is it out of sight, and to a degree out of mind, but it's also not easy to reach into from either the driver or front passenger seat.
Honda planned a short drive for us up the Los Angeles-area coast, starting from Venice and going up to Malibu and back along State Route 1. Admittedly, the hop's biggest challenges were negotiating traffic, as well as some mildly hilly parts, both of which the HR-V took with deft and confidence. There is no real reward for driving this car hard; then again that's not what it's for. We imagine a more legitimate test might be to load up our little CUV with cargo and see how it does on steeper inclines, but let's face it, we were just happy to get out of the office for an afternoon and enjoy an at times spirited drive along the beach.
We like the HR-V. It isn't love - that's reserved for more radical rides - but it is definite admiration for the crossover, in an era where the market is saturated with similar fare. Honda's all-new 2016 HR-V compact crossover will come in eight different exterior colors and four different interior schemes, and hits showroom floors May 15, featuring a price tag starting at $19,995.