By Shari Prymak

2017 Honda HR-V EX-L - With crossovers becoming more and more popular by the day, carmakers are finding more niches to fill and more variants to experiment with. One of the newest is the subcompact crossover, the smallest member of the crossover family. Players include the Mazda CX-3, Toyota CH-R, Chevrolet Trax, Ford Ecosport, and Nissan Qashqai. Honda’s contribution to this increasingly popular segment is the HR-V.

Based on the subcompact Fit platform, the HR-V is a sensible choice for anyone looking for the crossover looks and driving experience in a more city-friendly, economical package. The HR-V is essentially a small lifted-up hatchback with rugged-looking body cladding and available all-wheel drive. It’s rather dull and generic-looking, but even so, it pulls off the typical SUV look quite well. One styling touch I don’t care for are the rear door handles. They are awkwardly located high above the beltline where young children won’t be able to reach.

In any case, as the saying goes, it’s what’s on the inside that counts. And what the HR-V has is an astonishingly spacious and versatile cabin. Despite the small-looking exterior, there is an incredible amount of legroom and headroom for both front and rear seat occupants. The cargo area too is a generous size. Honda’s ingenious flipping and folding rear bench seat borrowed from the Fit continues to be one of the most versatile features one could ask for. Practicality is where the HR-V shines brightest.

honda hr-v

I wish I could say the same about the rest of the package, but unfortunately, that isn’t the case. For starters, the instrument panel makes use of touch-sensitive controls for the climate control and a touchscreen for everything else in place of traditional buttons and knobs. The problem is that it’s all a bit too convoluted and nothing really works as well as you’d like. The touchscreen, for example, is a bit slow to respond to inputs and uses a frustrating slider for volume control. How is this better than a knob?

Out on the road, the tall glass gives you great outward visibility and the small outward dimensions make maneuvering tight city streets a breeze, but really that’s about all the praise one can give. Unlike a few key rivals such as the Mazda CX-3, the driving experience isn’t really all that fun or even memorable. And other bits, such as the feeble 1.8L 4-cylinder engine, are just plain disappointing. A carryover from the old Civic, it produces a barely-adequate 141 horsepower and 127lb-ft of torque. It’s a mystery as to why Honda didn’t use one of the newer, more powerful engines from the current Civic. At least the 1.8 is a simple unit with well-proven reliability and decent fuel economy. I saw an average of 9.0L/100km over one week of mixed city and highway driving.

In terms of the pricing, the HR-V starts at a reasonable $20,950 for the LX trim, but that price gets you a 6-speed manual gearbox that, let’s face it, few will actually want. $1,300 adds the CVT automatic in addition to the already standard backup camera, heated seats, and 17 inch alloys. All-wheel drive is an additional $2,300. And if you want leather, navigation, and any active safety technology, you’ll have to move up to the top EX-L trim, which goes for $30,250. The front-wheel drive LX represents the best value in the range, but it still comes off as a bit pricey next to comparably practical hatchbacks including Honda’s own Fit and Civic hatch. Moreover, the LX is only available in three colours, white, black, and grey, which is ridiculous.

What we have here then is another case of Honda resting on its laurels by building a sensible, but far from exemplary, small crossover. The HR-V makes its case with excellent build quality, strong predicted reliability, superb resale value, and class-leading practicality. On those points alone, it’s a winner. When you have a reputation like Honda and consistently nail the fundamentals of what consumers want, you can get away with having a lackluster driving experience, frustrating controls, or bland styling. With a few key tweaks, the HR-V has the potential to be so much more. As it sits though, it’s just another sensible crossover that’s easy to recommend, but hard to get excited about.