Honda’s new-generation HR-V small SUV has arrived in Australia, topped by a fuel-saving hybrid flagship

The Honda HR-V small SUV has had a big following in Australia, with more than 75,000 examples of the second generation sold. But while that was an affordable little high-riding hatch with a simple powertrain offering, the new third-generation HR-V heads upmarket in pricing and adds a hybrid model as its flagship. Now an obvious rival for the likes of the Toyota C-HR Hybrid and Kia Niro Hybrid, the 2022 Honda HR-V e:HEV L promises better performance and excellent fuel economy while asking a sizeable $45,000 drive-away for the keys. Does it all add up to a desirable vehicle? Let’s find out…

Now landing

The third-generation 2022 Honda HR-V small SUV has arrived in Australia, with an all-new look, higher pricing and a petrol-electric hybrid flagship.

Officially dubbed the e:HEV L, the hybrid is powered by a system roughly akin to the one Toyota uses in a variety of models including the C-HR, which is a direct rival for the HR-V.

Following on from the 11th-generation Civic small car, this is the second model to be launched under Honda’s new retail agency model, which means choice is reduced and prices go up.

So, where there were previously four HR-V models priced between $31,300 and $41,000 (drive-away), there are now just two: the Vi X that’s priced at $36,700 drive-away and powered by a 1.5-litre i-VTEC petrol engine; and the e:HEV L on test that starts at $45,000 drive-away and combines an Atkinson-cycle version of the four-cylinder petrol with two electric motors and a small lithium-ion battery.

Yep, those prices are getting up there, but they are still drive-away. And that makes the hybrid look okay value against the Toyota C-HR Hybrid GR Sport and Koba models that are both priced at $37,665 plus on-road costs and the Kia Niro Hybrid that starts at $39,990 for the S and climbs to $43,890 for the Sport (both plus ORCs).

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A fair share of the HR-V hybrid’s pricing is accounted for by the powertrain extras it packs. More of the spend has gone into that than the comfort equipment level, which is fair rather than generous.

Some obvious omissions include power adjustment of the driver’s seat and the use of leatherette/cloth rather than full leather trim for all four seats.

Yes, four seats. There’s no seat belt in the middle-rear position because there’s no top tether strap point for a child seat in the backrest. That’s a stipulation of Australian Design Rule 34. You can’t have one without the other.

There’s no spare tyre, just a tyre deflation warning and a repair kit. That would be a cynical omission if this was a real four-wheel drive SUV. It’s not, it’s front-wheel drive with a generous 195mm ground clearance (the C-HR has 137mm) and hill descent control.

The audio system only comes with six speakers. You’re better off than in the Vi X, though; it gets just four.

It’s not all ho-hum. Standard e:HEV L gear includes 18-inch alloy wheels, a power tailgate with kick opening and auto close functions, windows that can be opened remotely and have auto up/down all-round, smart keyless entry and piano black trimming for the bumpers and wheel-arch flares.

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Inside, there is dual-zone climate control with an air diffuser that can direct a curtain of air onto the side windows, heating for the front seats, steering wheel and windscreen, and rear seats that split-fold flat or up out of the way (Honda calls them Magic Seats).

Moving the fuel tank forward under the front seats helps make this versatility possible. It also helps deliver a panoramic driver’s seating position, although high window sills mean you still feel like you’re sitting in the HR-V and not on it.

The infotainment system is controlled by a 9.0-inch touch-screen bolted to the dashboard. Happily, the volume and on-off buttons are easier to operate than the old HR-V.

Functions (or apps, as Honda calls them) include wireless Apple CarPlay, wired Android Auto, Bluetooth, embedded sat-nav with over-the-air updates (free for five years) and FM, AM and digital radio. There are USB inputs both front and rear.

The instrument panel also upgrades to digital from analogue and the left-hand dial cycles through various powertrain and infotainment functions. Being a hybrid there’s no tacho. Commendably, a digital speedo sits prominently in the busy centre section. There is no head-up display.

Now built in Japan rather than Thailand, the HR-V comes protected by a five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty and its lithium-ion battery has an eight-year warranty.

Service intervals are 12 months/10,000km and the first five services will set you back a very reasonable $125 each.

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Step forward

The 2022 Honda HR-V is an undoubted step forward from its predecessor when it comes to safety equipment.

But one basic item missing so far is a local ANCAP rating. In Europe, the HR-V hybrid received only four stars, with restraint performance in crash tests – especially for children – “not as robust as expected”. How that translates here, we’ll wait and see.

The hybrid gets a comprehensive version of the Honda Sensing driver assist package. It is underpinned by autonomous emergency baking (AEB) that operates up to 200km/h (can a HR-V even go that fast?) and can detect obstacles including pedestrians (up to 100km/h) and bicycles (up to 60km/h) day or night.

Adaptive stop-and-go cruise control works with AEB and both rely solely on a new wide-angle high-definition monocular camera to do their work. Usually, a radar is also part of the technology mix. Honda warns poor visibility (fog etc) could impact the camera’s ability to detect pedestrians and cyclists.

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During our time with the test car, the system was not 100 per cent convincing. It slowed progress a couple of time for no obvious reason, perhaps fooled by shiny marks on the road.

Other parts of the driver assist package include lane centring, departure warning and mitigation, rear cross traffic alert, blind spot warning, traffic sign recognition with driver-selectable intelligent speed limiting and high beam support for the LED headlights (which didn’t offer great coverage at night). The lane centring can be easily switched off if you find it intrusive.

The HR-V hybrid also comes with front, front side and curtain airbags but not the front centre airbag many 2022 models are launching with.

Parking sensors are fitted front and rear and the reversing camera has dynamic guidelines. There is no front camera or 360-degree camera view.

When moving at slow speed the HR-V hybrid hums out an appropriately spacey tune to alert pedestrians of its presence.

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Jazzing it up

The 2022 Honda HR-V is based on the same platform as the latest Jazz city car, which is not sold in Australia.

The two cars share very similar hybrid drivetrains, although Honda says the HR-V’s system is slightly more compact with better energy density. Honda won’t tell us what size the battery is, but it’s certainly small and probably 1kWh or less.

The key benefit is a higher torque output from the system which claims 253Nm from 0-3500rpm, as well as 96kW of power from 4000-8000rpm (yep, 8000rpm). By comparison, the Vi X makes 89kW and 145Nm.

The Vi X officially chews through 5.8L/100km, versus a claimed 4.3L/100km for the hybrid model. Both take the cheapest 91 RON unleaded, by the way.

Drive is channelled to the wheels via a continuously variable transmission (CVT) that has four simulated gear steps.

The HR-V hybrid can operate in three modes: pure electric, pure petrol or a combination of both. It’s the latter combo which runs most of the time. Unlike a Toyota, there is no EV mode button, so you just take the mode you’re handed. Often when you pull up, the car will be in EV mode, so don’t forget to turn it off (I did, more than once).

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There is a flow chart in the instrument panel that shows how the wheels are being powered. The graphic also shows the battery charge level via green-coloured bars.

From our experience, the HR-V will stay in electric mode on a flat surface up to about 30km/h if accelerated moderately, but we did see as high as 60km/h. It can also operate as an EV at highway speeds on flat downward slopes, sometimes just briefly.

Electricity can be restored to the battery via the petrol engine-driven generator, an electric motor acting as a generator or when B (brake) mode is selected on the gear lever, prompting regeneration via an electric motor when braking or coasting. The paddles on the steering wheel can increase or decrease this effect.

Throttle response can also be altered through three driver-selectable modes: default Normal, Eco (which also detunes the air-con) and Sport. It makes little appreciable difference.

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The rest of the HR-V hybrid mechanical package is orthodox. The steering is electric-assist rack and pinion, the suspension is MacPherson strut up front and torsion beam at the rear (surely there is an argument for independent rear suspension at this price) and disc brakes all-round.

The new HR-V measures up at 4335mm long, 1790mm wide, 1590mm high and has a 2610mm wheelbase. That’s a slightly shrunken C-HR in all aspects except height.

Claimed boot stowage is a mediocre 304 litres. There’s also some under-floor storage, although that’s limited because the high-voltage battery takes up space. But load-carrying opportunities expand mightily with the 1274 litres on offer with the rear seats folded.

The fuel tank capacity is 40 litres.

The penalty of carrying two powertrains in one shows up in the HR-V hybrid’s 1382kg kerb weight. That’s 115kg more than the Vi X but about 80kg lighter than the C-HR hybrid.

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Hits and misses

We’ve already explored the way the 2022 Honda HR-V hybrid doesn’t quite deliver the goods in terms of equipment.

And so it is with the driving.

There are several obvious positives the petrol-electric drivetrain delivers. The first is plenty of pulling power from tip-in throttle. No HR-V has ever been this competitive in traffic light grands prix.

Another is fuel economy. Over three days and about 500km of varied driving, the fuel consumption average came in at 5.1L/100km. That’s a great result and one more appreciated than ever in these inflationary days.

The fuss-free nature of the powertrain is another positive. No need to plug-in – or worry about where you can plug in. It’s an electrification taster.

But for all its low-speed urge, the HR-V doesn’t feel that strong once up on a roll.

The electric motors definitely do their best work down low. The e-CVT also emphasises the engine’s acceleration labours in that droning way. A pedestrian 10.6sec 0-100km/h acceleration claim sounds about right.

The computerised steps do help things a bit and are most obviously felt when accelerating hard. But the closest you get to gear manipulation is in ‘B’ mode operating the paddle shifters. Then there is appreciable retardation.

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The HR-V hybrid’s long-travel suspension is well tuned for ride comfort. It absorbs most challenges without fuss at both low and higher speeds. It is really clean over complex challenges like railway lines and broken bitumen.

Being a tad tightly set up, there isn’t a lot of body roll in corners. Apart from the occasional tendency for wheelspin in tight corners out of the front and the rear torsion beam to shimmy on mid-corner bumps, the overall handling is competent and clean.

The Michelin Primacy tyres help out, but also contribute too much tyre roar on coarse-chip surfaces.

Gluggy steering offers very little in the way of feedback to the driver at speed and has friction at low speed. That’s a pity but not a deal breaker, because the HR-V is a terrific car park contender with its great driver’s view out sitting high up, compact size and 11.3m turning circle.

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The cabin versatility of the HR-V is another positive. Given how many ways the rear seats can be set up combined with a flat floor, you can fit heaps in there. With the bench in place, there’s still storage room underneath.

There’s also plenty of knee-room and legroom for full-gown adults in the back, but the angle of the roofline stifles headroom for adults if they lean back into the head restraint.

Hybrid rear-seat passengers get air-con vents, two seatback pockets (one pocket, no USBs and no vents in the Vi X) and a fold-down arm rest with twin cup holders. Door pockets are tiny.

Up front, there’s nothing special about the storage level, the seat comfort or the quality of the infotainment set-up. It all does the job without inspiring or disappointing.

For my combination of arms and legs, the steering’s reach didn’t quite extend far enough. But that’s just me, my physique and driving position.

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Almost there

The 2022 Honda HR-V has some technically interesting bits, some good driving bits and some neat bits in the cabin.

It’s even interesting to look at, sitting up there on stilts with its bluff, slatted front-end and sharply-cut (if compromising) roofline.

But, as we’ve explored, somehow it just doesn’t quite add up to what you expect. It’s something the pricing emphasises.

In a segment where the quality is constantly on the rise – carsales’ Best Small SUV award winner, the Hyundai Kona, is a great example – the HR-V is almost, but not quite, good enough to be a star.

How much does the 2022 Honda HR-V e:HEV L cost?
Price: $45,000 (drive-away)
Available: Now
Powertrain: 1.5-litre four-cylinder petrol-electric hybrid
Output: 96kW/253Nm
Transmission: Continuously variable automatic
Fuel: 4.3L/100km (ADR Combined)
CO2: 98g/km (ADR Combined)
Safety rating: Four-star (Euro NCAP 2022)

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