Last week at the LA Auto Show, Honda introduced its versatile HR-V compact crossover to North America.
Bridging the gap between the subcompact redesigned Fit, and also refreshed larger CR-V, Honda’s new “segment buster” is being made in Celaya, Mexico in non-hybrid configuration, although last year it launched a hybrid variant in Japan.
The gasoline powertrain in this “coupe-like” crossover is up-sized for this market to 1.8 liters over 1.5 liters in Japan, and U.S. fuel efficiency numbers and price have not been announced.
As for the hybridization possibility, Honda’s product specialists seem to be left wondering like the rest of us, waiting until Japanese decision makers let everyone know what’s in store.
Honda has noticed that a company called Toyota utterly dominates the hybrid market with 67 percent share, but Honda has not been asleep.
In Japan, the 1.5-liter “Vezel” hybrid as it is called gets a one-motor i-DCD hybrid system that the pie-in-the-sky Japanese test cycle says is good for 63.5 mpg.
That system is also used in the Fit Hybrid there, which edges out Toyota’s Japanese market version of the Prius c – a car rated in the U.S. at 50 mpg – so there is vast potential.
While the boilerplate answer from most automakers is they can’t comment on “future product,” Honda was refreshingly willing to speculate the Accord Hybrid’s two-motor system may be an ideal retrofit for a U.S. market HR-V hybrid.
The Accord Hybrid is rated 47 mpg combined, and if they shoehorned that into the HR-V it would really bust the segment, and could be exciting times indeed for anyone who still cares about saving fuel now that gas prices are temporarily below $3.
Very Well Rounded
Honda is particularly proud of its HR-V, and its fortification of its “light truck” segment – with what is actually a crossover sport utility vehicle.
Describing it as a “Swiss army knife” that utilizes space so well that it competes with vehicles in the next-larger size class, Honda may not be exaggerating.
The HR-V builds on lessons demonstrated by the Fit and its rear “magic seats” which fold to carve out more room as needed. We really liked the 2015 Fit, and lamented for it also because Honda has not brought its super duper hybrid variant to these shores.
So it, the HR-V, and other Honda vehicles including possibly the CR-V are on the hybridization waiting list. The HR-V could especially be a hit, as it’s larger, not expected to be very expensive, and able to stuff lots of things in the cargo area measuring 24.3 cubic feet with rear seats up; 58.8 cubic feet with rear seats down.
Fuel mileage is an open question for the conventional HR-V, but Honda suggested it would be between the CR-V’s 27/34, and the Fit’s 36/41 – figure mpg around lower 30s combined.
Assuming that’s the case, even in non-hybrid form, it would rank among the best SUVs. The highest mileage in the country is the new Lexus NX 300h, rated 33 combined, and the Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid is rated 31. The non-hybrid CR-V is 29 in front-wheel drive.
The HR-V’s fuel sipper status will be accomplished with a 16-valve four-cylinder SOHC engine. It uses Honda’s i-VTEC valvetrain and is rated 138 horsepower at 6,500 rpm and 127 pound-feet of torque at 4,300 rpm.
Transmission options include a continuously variable transmission (CVT) using shift logic called “G-design” and a six-speed manual.
Honda’s Real Time AWD – which works via a viscous coupling connecting front and rear drive wheels, and needing no driver input to function – is available, as is a front-wheel drive version.
Sadly, Honda chose to make the manual transmission only available for front-wheel-drive. Snow belt drivers wanting this car will likely opt for the CVT, and have to forego the manual even if they wanted it.
The CVT should be rated for higher mileage, at least on paper, but some people still prefer to shift the old fashioned way. Paddle shifters will be optionally available to mimic gear steps on the CVT.
The HR-V will bridge the Fit-and-CR-V gap in price too, but as a modestly priced car, it features design, materials, and quality Honda hopes will satisfy those who can’t spring for the Lexus NX 300h.
Trim levels are the usual Honda nomenclature – LX, EX, and EX-L with powered locks, tailgate, and windows standard. Also included on all models are electronic parking brake, rearview camera, alloy wheels, tilt and telescoping steering wheel with audio and cruise controls, Bluetooth HandsFreeLink phone interface and Pandora radio.
Rounding toward upscale for higher level models are more features including 7-inch touchscreen infotainment, and Honda’s quite-effective LaneWatch which puts a rear-view camera on the right-side mirror to show clearly what’s behind. Manufacturers have shown cameras in lieu of mirrors before, but government rules forbid them. Honda gets around it by offering both a camera alongside the mirror. It works.
Also available are Smart Entry/Push-Button Start, paddle shifters, SiriusXM radio, HD Radio and Honda Digital Traffic, heated front seats, a power sunroof, embedded navigation and leather trim.
Interior room for passengers – not just groceries and what not – seems doable. Front legroom is sufficient, and rear is OK too, though when we slid the driver’s seat back without warning, a passenger in the back had her knees just touched by the seat back.
Wheelbase for the HR-V is 102.8 inches, length is 169.1 inches, width is 69.8 inches, height is 63.2 inches; passenger volume for the LX is 100.2 cubic feet, and the EX and EX-L are 96.1.
Honda expects the car to ace its crash test – pun intended – thanks in part to its “Advanced Compatibility Engineering” (ACE) front body structure designed to sacrifice its life in a crash, so you won’t have to.
Federal crash test results are not announced yet, but Honda is predicting five stars across the board and will bake in a number of safety and driver aids.
These include four-channel ABS with Brake Assist and Hill Start Assist; Vehicle Stability Assist with Traction Control, dual-stage, multiple-threshold front airbags, driver and front passenger side airbags, side-curtain airbags for all outboard seating positions, and tire pressure monitoring system.
Honda has been described as having lost its way in some respects, and lagged behind Toyota after launching America’s first hybrid in 2000, and with design and quality issues here and there.
But overall, the company has remained strong, some of its vehicles are tops in segment, and its engineering capability appears never to have diminished.
There’s no word on when to expect a hybrid HR-V, just that it is quite possible, and it would not be surprising if it came not very long from now, in light of market and regulatory demands.
Officially, Honda’s Jeff Conrad, senior vice president and general manager, talked up the product at hand, calling the non-hybrid HR-V an efficient, “fun-to-drive package.”
“It’s everything a small crossover should be with the dynamic sculpting and vibrant character lines of a sporty coupe, anchored in the confident, capable stance of an SUV,” said Conrad.
We say, great. Now can Honda please bring in the hybrid technology it reserves for its home market to the U.S.?
And it would be terrific if they price it below Lexus-level like the highly contented $30,000-$36,000 Accord Hybrid presently is, so it might transcend quasi-niche status for primarily upper income earners. If they did that, Honda’s hybrids could present alternatives for more modest income brackets – and the people who most-need to save money on fuel.
With fuel-efficient powertrains that now beat Toyota in other markets, the U.S. hybrid market could be Honda’s game to lose, or assuming it does have a plan to regrow its hybrid market share, it may be biding its time for reasons known in detail only to its product planners.
Meanwhile the HR-V will be more economically priced than a hybrid variant would be when it’s launched at U.S. dealers next spring, and even in non-hybrid form it should strike a useful balance between fun, utility, and economy.