Every week, I’m driving something different. Just yesterday, I shuffled out of a Fiat 500X Trekking AWD into a Mercedes-Benz GLC300 4Matic for a true back-to-back nine-speed automatic transmission comparo. (Mercedes-Benz wins.)
But in the real world with real money, our family vehicle is a 2015 Honda Odyssey. It’s not our first Honda; it likely won’t be our last. I consider the Accord to be the best midsize sedan on the market. I managed to enjoy a week with the new Honda Pilot despite a troupe of electronic gremlins. I believe the Integra GS-R is the ultimate expression of all that was right with the auto industry. Yet I am not remotely close to succumbing to the notion that Honda can do no wrong.
Crosstour? It’s ghastly and expensive. CR-Z? Sadly, it’s boring and not terribly efficient. Second-gen Insight? A lackluster response to the all-conquering Prius.
HR-V? Quite successful, but also loud, uncomfortable, slow, overpriced, and frustrating.
Priced (in the United States) at $26,890, the 2016 Honda HR-V EX-L Navi AWD is incomplete and unfinished. There are reviews aplenty for those who wish to read about the HR-V’s positives: we published on GCBC last week; Alex Dykes’ thorough video review went live in April.
Yet besides the very concept of the Fit-based HR-V — and the little Honda’s subcompact crossover rivals — and a handful of niggling issues, there are five chief issues, which on their own could be deal breakers for a large number of buyers.
Sure, the HR-V is popular, and sales have decreased during its tenure only because availability is scarce. Yes, subcompact crossover sales are taking off, essentially doubling month after month. But it’s worth noting that traditional compact SUVs/CUVs such as Honda’s own CR-V, a perennial best seller, attract many thousands more buyers.
That won’t always be the case. After all, the nascent subcompact crossover segment is hurrying to make headway. But the HR-V serves to highlight the reasons a typical buyer’s search for an affordable, practical, flexible, efficient vehicle does not presently end with a subcompact crossover purchase.
#1: DRIVER COMFORT
Of course, driver comfort is subjective. My body type, a lanky frame stretching nearly six-feet tall, is not necessarily yours. But in this leather-clad HR-V’s driver’s seat, the side bolstering is too soft to be effective and, far worse, the seat itself does not slide back to create sufficient legroom.
This is a problem in the Fit, and Honda actually lists less front legroom in the HR-V. (Automaker-supplied measurements don’t always make much sense, particularly when it comes to legroom.) Regardless, as someone who rarely slides the seat back to its most distant location, I couldn’t get far enough away from the HR-V’s pedals. Deal breaker.
#2: ROAD & WIND NOISE
In the tweeted words of TTAC’s managing editor:
And it’s really, really loud. https://t.co/FMRQnjsbA9
— Mark Stevenson (@MarkTTAC) January 31, 2016
I’ll accept the fact that in Car and Driver testing of the quiet CR-V Touring and loud HR-V EX-L, sound levels were basically identical. Tolerating the real world impact of the HR-V’s decibels, however, is downright challenging. I can’t blame the Michelin Primacy MXV4 tires, as the same tires on our Odyssey don’t produce the same resulting steady roar. Nor did this 1.8-litre inline-four create such cacophony when it was positioned under the hood of the last-gen Civic.
Noise is fatiguing on the highway. Conversations are held at bay. Other minor irritants become major aggravations because you’re already tensed by the intrusion of the outside world. The HR-V’s noise levels made me wish I was in a Buick Encore, a thought I ne’er had done thunk aforetime.
In an entry-level subcompact car, maybe such a moaning engine and so much inward-directed outside roar would be assumed. But a top-spec HR-V costs 60 percent more than a basic Fit LX. At $27,000, perhaps even $21,000, this is simply not up to the standards of 2016 NVH.
Laden with the equipment of a top-spec model, including approximately 160 pounds of all-wheel-drive components, the HR-V EX-L Navi is slow. Honda didn’t fit the HR-V with the Fit’s smaller, less powerful 130-horsepower 1.5-litre, but the 141-horsepower 1.8-litre is hardly more effective. Acceleration is tepid and produces the kind of noise, already discussed, that prompts drivers to place less pressure on the throttle.
Want to get up to highway speed quickly? Aside from a Nismo-badged Juke or a Mini Countryman JCW, no subcompact crossover will do the deed, but the HR-V is less effective than most.
#4: LIMITED SAVINGS
For automakers, a large part of the reasoning behind subcompact crossovers lies in the profit potential. Take one low-margin subcompact car, elevate ever so slightly, add grey wheel arch cladding, and demand an additional $3,000 – 5,000. Further enhance profitability by sending drive to the rear wheels for at least $1,300.
So we assume that the HR-V and like-minded utilities won’t be direct competitors for their donor vehicles. They’ll line up more directly with compact cars and then, when optioned to the hilt, with their own compact siblings. Honda builds two different all-wheel-drive CR-Vs, the LX and SE, which cost less than this HR-V. The CR-V EX AWD is only $1,305 more than the all-wheel-drive HR-V EX-L Navi.
The CR-V offers 60 percent more cargo volume behind the rear seats; 21 percent more with the seats folded.
Fuel economy? It’s a wash. In our week-long tests, a CR-V Touring AWD on winter tires achieved 23.8 miles per gallon on the U.S. scale during a cold week at the end of January 2015. Almost exactly one year later, the HR-V EX-L Navi AWD did 23.5 mpg on all-season tires. Official EPA ratings are in the HR-V’s favour, but not by much. AWD HR-Vs are rated at 27 mpg city; 32 highway. AWD CR-Vs are rated at 25 in the city; 31 on the highway.
American Honda sold 46,146 HR-Vs during the model’s first nine months on the market. During the same period, Honda also sold 262,276 CR-Vs. Availability accounts for much of the gap. There aren’t fewer than 7,000 HR-Vs in Cars.com’s inventory and nearly 50,000 CR-Vs. But even if Honda had been able to continue the torrid sales pace of the HR-V’s first two months, we’d still be looking at a vehicle that sold once for every four CR-Vs. Money is a factor.
If you’re a car writer who switches car seats back and forth between a Honda Odyssey — among the easiest vehicles for LATCH — and less accommodating vehicles, you’ll discover that the leather-equipped HR-V is among the most hateful.
Stiff, dual vertical flaps protect the HR-V’s anchors from the very items looking to access those anchors. Making the situation even worse are buckles placed directly in front of the inboard flaps, which are directly in front of the anchors.
Do what you’ve got to do to young fathers. Make the HR-V slow, make the HR-V expensive, make the HR-V noisy if you must. Honda can even make me uncomfortable if the company feels ordained to do so. But don’t make the installation of child seats any worse than it already is.