The SUV-ification of the automobile market continues apace, with buyers in even the smallest segment now deciding that they, too, want the higher seating position and (in all-wheel-drive versions) the bad-weather capability afforded by a crossover-type vehicle. Honda is showing more hustle than usual with the new 2016 HR-V, getting into this game in the still-early innings. The Nissan Juke, the Mini Countryman, and the Buick Encore were the pioneers but in the past year the size of the field has more than doubled, with new entrants such as the Chevy Trax, the Jeep Renegade, the Fiat 500X, and the upcoming Mazda CX-3. The HR-V crossover, which slots in below the wildly popular CR-V in size and price, promises to be a strong entrant in this burgeoning field.
Whereas the CR-V is based on the Civic, the HR-V shares its platform with the Fit subcompact. The HR-V, however, is a whole order of magnitude more solid- and substantial-feeling than that waif-like little box. The cabin is much wider, the windshield isn’t miles away, and the interior design and materials are better. If you never looked behind you, you could easily be convinced that this is a new CR-V.
Honda offers a six-speed manual in front-wheel-drive LX and EX models, and it provides the sensation of livelier acceleration. We like that the stick is easy to shift, but the clutch travel seems long and the throws a bit ropey. Unfortunately, the manual is at a real disadvantage in fuel economy. According to the EPA, the automatic returns 28/35 mpg with front-wheel drive, beating the manual by 3 mpg in the city and 1 mpg on the highway; the CVT-only AWD model nets ratings of 27/32 mpg. All of those figures are at or near the top of the class.
On our straight, flat, and traffic-choked drive route in South Florida, the HR-V didn’t display much verve for cornering—although it didn’t have much opportunity to do so beyond an aggressively taken on-ramp or two. The HR-V’s electric power-steering system, though, does offer reasonable effort, and the suspension capably soaks up road irregularities.