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2016 Honda HR-V Pros and Cons: Why (Not) This Car?

Honda HR-V front quarter view
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Introduction

Mid-century Americans bought cars based on their aspirations, not their needs, and success meant a large sedan. The oil shocks of the 1970s put a brief end to this (twice), but once prosperity returned so did the desire for a large vehicle--this time an SUV. Fast forward to the mid-2010s, and while premium brands are enjoying their strongest sales ever, and gas is fairly cheap (for the moment, anyway), an increasing number of people are buying only as much car as they really need. It turns out that even a compact crossover utility vehicle (CUV) like the Honda CR-V is more car than many people really need. Into the suddenly crowded segment below the CR-V Honda recently introduced the Fit-based 2016 HR-V--and it is already among the top sellers. Why? I compared the HR-V to the Chevrolet Trax to find out.

HR-V Reviews: Honda HR-V front quarter view

Not boring, yet also not overdone. Honda has finally rediscovered sporty, tasteful styling. more HR-V photos

HR-V Reviews: Honda HR-V interior

Aside from the "stitching," an artful interior. I especially like the curvy center console.

Tested: 2016 Honda HR-V

4dr SUV 141-horsepower 1.8L I4 7-speed shiftable CVT AWD

Compared: 2015 Chevrolet Trax

4dr SUV turbocharged 138hp 1.4L I4 6-speed shiftable automatic FWD

Why the 2016 Honda HR-V?

  Compared to the Trax
Reliability & durability
Reliability & durability: Better Better Worse

The 2016 Honda HR-V was very recently introduced, so we don't have any reliability information on it yet. But it's based on the Honda Fit, one of the most reliable models in our survey. Okay, the engine is shared with the Honda Civic--which is also very reliable. And not just for the first few years. The 2007 Fit and Civic, with a little over 100,000 miles on them, on average, have required only about as many repairs in the past year as the typical 2015 model, and about half as many as the typical 2007 model.

We also don't have any reliability data for the Chevrolet Trax, but what we do have for the closely related Buick Encore suggests that it'll also be very reliable, at least in the near term. Long-term reliability for the Trax is much more an unknown.


Cargo capacity
Cargo capacity: Better Better Worse

Thanks to clever packaging--the fuel tank resides beneath the front seats, permitting the rear seat to fold unusually low--the Honda Fit (reviewed here) can swallow far more cargo than other cars in its class. The new HR-V shares this packaging, and consequently can hold five cubic feet more cargo than the Chevrolet Trax with its rear seat up (24.3 vs. 18.7), and ten cubic feet more with the seat folded (58.8 vs. 48.4). This is the case despite a sleek roof line nearly three inches lower than the squarer, more upright Chevrolet's. Also as in the Fit, the rear seat bottom can be folded up against the rear seatback, opening up a cargo space behind the front seats for tall items.

The Trax does have one cargo carrying advantage over the HR-V: its front passenger seat can fold forward to extend the cargo area for long items. The HR-V's front passenger seat can be folded way back to extend its cargo area, but this isn't as easy and it exposes the fabric seating surface to dirt and possibly damage.


HR-V Reviews: Honda HR-V rear quarter view

The body side's curves converge to a point--in which a door handle is hidden (perhaps too well).

HR-V Reviews: Honda HR-V instrument panel full width

Want vents? the HR-V's instrument panel has plenty of vents. Want knobs? Too bad.

Rear seat room & comfort
Rear seat room & comfort: Better Better Worse

Also like the Fit, the Honda HR-V leads its class in rear seat spaciousness. with a large-sedan-like 39.3 inches of legroom to the Chevrolet Trax's still adult-worthy 35.7. Rear headroom is ample in both pint-sized crossovers. Given the ability to carry four adults with room to spare, it's no surprise that many people are deciding that they don't need a larger vehicle.


Fuel economy
Fuel economy: About the same Better Worse

With EPA ratings of 28 mpg city and 35 mpg highway, the front-wheel-drive Honda HR-V nearly leads the class in fuel economy; that honor goes to the Mazda CX-3, with 29/35. Add all-wheel drive and they tie with 27/32. The Trax trails by a 2-3 mpg in the city and a single mpg on the highway.

In my real-world driving, though, the Chevrolet's trip computer reported better numbers than the Honda's. Was it accurate? I don't know. But if it was, the Trax was a little more efficient in my suburban driving, 37 mpg vs. 35 mpg, and considerably more efficient in my highway driving, 40 vs. 34 mpg. Granted, that the tested Trax lacked all-wheel drive could explain the observed difference in suburban mpg, if not the larger one in highway mpg. It should also be noted that the Trax's fuel efficiency is more dependent on driving style. Employ a heavy foot, and the tiny four's turbo will shove far more fuel-air mixture into the cylinders.

Since the EPA figures aren't terribly far apart and the trips computers cast some doubt on their accuracy, I've judged this category a tie. Drive either CUV casually, and you'll enjoy fuel economy well beyond the reach of most cars.


Price or payments
Price or payments: Better Better Worse

Honda has priced the HR-V fairly aggressively, undercutting the Trax by about $1,900 before adjusting for feature differences, and by about $1,200 afterwards. The Mazda CX-3 also costs more than the HR-V, if a little less than the Trax.

Beyond the initial purchase price, Hondas also tend to hold their value far better than Chevrolets and better than Mazdas, so the HR-V's total cost of ownership could be much lower.

This said, do you really need a crossover? The HR-V sits just a little higher than the Fit, and can carry only about ten percent more cargo with the seats folded. Headroom and legroom specs are virtually identical. Yet the HR-V costs about $3,500 more than the Fit before adjusting for feature differences, and about $2,400 more afterwards. Plus the Fit can travel another 3-4 miles on each gallon of gas. Is the crossover look worth this much to you? Aside from sleeker styling, the HR-V's largest advantage over the Fit is that you can get it with all-wheel drive.


Why Not the 2016 Honda HR-V?

  Compared to the Trax
Powertrain performance
Powertrain performance: Worse Better Worse

Pedal to the floor, the Honda HR-V can get to 60 mph a fractiion of a second sooner than the Chevrolet Trax. But with the trip taking about ten seconds in either, both are sluggish by current standards.

Frankly, you'll rarely need to get from a dead stop to 60 mph in less than 15 seconds. A larger issue with the HR-V is that its engine sounds and feels strained even in moderately energetic driving. The Trax, in contrast, sounds and feels much more relaxed at part-throttle.

Credit a few key differences. While the Chevrolet's 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine can't quite match the Honda 1.8's 141 peak horsepower, its small turbocharger nicely plumps up its midrange, yielding 148 lb-ft of torque at a very accessible 1,850 rpm vs. the Honda's 127 lb-ft at 4,300 rpm. On top of the need to rev it higher for equivalent power, the HR-V's engine also gets much buzzier when busied.

Then there are the transmissions. While the Trax's engine is hitched to a conventional six-speed automatic, Honda has hopped on the CVT (continuously variable transmission) bandwagon with Nissan and Subaru. CVTs tend to place the engine at its optimal rpm and then hold it there. In all but the most casual driving this optimal rpm is well up the tach. Listening to the resulting racket was my least favorite thing about driving the HR-V.

I haven't driven it yet, but the Mazda CX-3 promises to be the performance champ among crossovers of this size. Okay with something smaller? Then a Nissan JUKE or MINI Countryman is most fun to drive.


Front seat support & comfort
Front seat support & comfort: Worse Better Worse

I hear more complaints about uncomfortable seats from Honda owners than from those of any other brand. The seats in compact Hondas also happen to be among my least favorite. Those in the HR-V, like the similar seats in the Fit, have a headrest and fixed lumbar bulge that jut too far forward for my personal build. The Trax seats also have a somewhat intrusive headrest, but a power-adjustable lumbar bulge. Try either out extensively before you buy to avoid an unpleasant surprise after the fact.


HR-V Reviews: Honda HR-V front view

The CR-V has suffered through a series of weird faces. The HR-V's works better.

HR-V Reviews: Honda HR-V back seat

So much rear headroom and rear legroom that you might not need a larger crossover.

Feature availability
Feature availability: About the same Better Worse

Small crossovers will often be bought for young drivers. As such, advanced safety features are welcome. Unfortunately, neither the HR-V nor the Trax offers forward collision warning, automatic braking, lane departure warning, or blind spot warning. You can get a passenger side blind spot camera on the HR-V, but the Trax counters with standard rear side airbags, such that they roughly tie for a spot near the iffy class average. The Buick Encore, closely related to the Trax, offers a full array of collision warning systems. The Mazda CX-3 and Subaru XV Crosstrek offer these plus automatic braking.


Controls and instruments
Controls and instruments: About the same Better Worse

Honda has decided that knobs are no longer necessary on audio systems. I'm not a fan of this decision. The HR-V's touch-sensitive control panel for the heating and AC works well enough despite also lacking knobs, though.


Other features of the 2016 Honda HR-V

  Compared to the Trax
Exterior styling
Exterior styling: Much better Better Worse

I can't stand the butt-heavy, aesthetically confused exterior of the Honda CR-V. Other recent Honda designs have also included more than their fair share of questionable elements. So I was surprised by how much I grew to like the exterior styling of the new HR-V over the course of my week with it. The small crossover appears especially sleek and sporty from the rear quarter. The Trax appears chunky and even clunky in comparison.

This said, I find the Mazda CX-3 and Fiat 500X more attractive.


Interior styling
Interior styling: Much better Better Worse

Inside the HR-V is also more stylish than other recent Hondas, and than the Trax. I especially like the sporty shape of the center console and how the instrument panel bends to cant the center stack towards the driver. Materials are also a step up, no doubt a reaction to the criticism received by the bargain basement interior of the 2012 Civic.

One detail I've had enough of, though. Honda's rushed redesign for the Civic included yards of molded-in "stitching" on the instrument panel. They've gifted the HR-V with the same. While I didn't mind this treatment in the Civic--that interior needed all of the help it could get--the HR-V's interior design and materials are strong enough to pass muster without such artifice.


Handling
Handling: About the same Better Worse

The Honda HR-V handles with commendable balance and control in typical driving. Push it harder, though, and both understeer and body lean ramp up quickly. Much the same can be said of the Trax. You'll find more capable and entertaining handling in the MINI, Nissan, Mazda, or FIAT (likely in this descending order).


Ride smoothness
Ride smoothness: About the same Better Worse

The HR-V's handling might not be the sportiest, but it rides much more smoothly and less mushily than I expected given the brand's recent history. In this area it's among the class leaders. Sportier competitors tend to kick and jostle more across imperfect pavement. As long as its engine isn't being exercised, the HR-V is also among the quietest members of the segment. If not for the front seats, it would be a good candidate for long drives.


Conclusion

Hondas continued to sell well even when their styling, interior materials, fuel economy, and quietness fell well behind some competitors. Why? They remained reliable, practical, and inexpensive to own. The new HR-V maintains these strengths, even expands on them in terms of practicality, while making gains in styling, fuel economy, and ride quality. The combination of sporty styling with an exceptionally roomy interior borders on magical. Add in a low price and good fuel economy, and the new HR-V delivers what many car buyers are now looking for. Result: strong sales.

But everyone won't be happy with the HR-V. Its engine is weak and buzzy, its handling is far less sporty than its styling, and its front seats can be uncomfortable. For a fun driving experience and more comfortable seats you'll want to look elsewhere, if not to the Chevrolet Trax. Not looking for fun, find that that Honda's seats fit you well enough, and care mostly about reliability, economy, and practicality? Then while the HR-V could be the best fit in this segment, there's a better Fit within the Honda lineup.

HR-V Reviews: Honda HR-V engine

Engine from the Civic: too much buzzing, too little grunt.

HR-V Reviews: Honda HR-V cargo area seats folded

Thanks to clever packaging, the rear seat folds unusually low and flat.

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2016 Honda HR-V pros and cons, according to Michael Karesh: the best reasons for buying (or not buying) the 2016 Honda HR-V. Join TrueDelta to post your own impressions.

Response from colin42

10:42 pm August 31, 2015

This may cost more than the Fit but considering the trend in small CUV's it's total cost of ownership is probably same or lower. The larger engine and available AWD, plus the (IMO) improved styling vs the fit will mean they will sell everyone they build.





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Response from willied

3:45 pm October 3, 2015

Nice review.


This car is really just for dumb people, just like the CX-3 and other small CUVs. You pay more to get worse fuel economy and handling. Why someone would buy a CX-3 over a 3 is beyond me. You get an extra 5 MPG on the highway in the 3 and it costs less. Sure, there's the option of AWD in these CUVs, but it's unnecessary for almost everyone that's going to buy one of these. The CX-3 is certainly a nice car (I love the interior), but it makes no sense. Then again people don't make sense.

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Response from mkaresh

6:05 pm October 3, 2015

Response from willied

7:56 pm October 3, 2015

Response from go4tli

12:27 am December 14, 2015

We bought the HR-V when it debuted at the end of May. We live in the Deep South so we didn't need 4WD. This meant we were satisfied with the EX trim with the sunroof. After driving it for the past 6 months, I find this review to be pretty spot on. My #1 complaint with the HR-V is the poor lumbar support. The lack of adjustable lumbar is just crazy in a modern vehicle. I keep a small pillow in the HR-V to use when I drive it. The engine isn't powerful but it is sufficient. I am finally getting used to having a CVT but it can get buzzy when you push the peddle. Once I learned the controls for the HVAC and infotainment system, I have become comfortable in using them without too much thought or distraction. A major reason my wife wanted the HR-V over the Fit is that it sits up higher. This makes it easier on her back getting in and out of the vehicle, provides better vision of the road when driving and allows her to drive when our local roads flood during heavy rains. It also makes it easier to load and unload the HR-V when we are traveling or hauling lots of material goods. The MPG has been a pleasant surprise. I thought the MPG estimates would prove to be optimistic but the HR-V has returned 29-30 MPG in city driving and 36-38 on the highway. The visual feedback on how you are driving helps me to improve the gas mileage. So overall, I have to say we have been well pleased with the HR-V. I expect we will have it for at least a decade to come.

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Response from Member6232

12:40 pm April 1, 2016

'Seems that all Honda would have to do to address the universally poorly-reviewed, weak-and-noisy engine/trans combo (the heart-and-soul of a car) and front seat discomfort would be to use the new 2.0 liter engine from the '16 Civic and spend a tiny bit more on seat quality. Outside of those deal-breaking issues, this car would have been ideal for me. Maybe they will do this next year? Then again, I've read that Honda intends to offer an Acura version of the HR-V, so that is likely where these revisions (maybe even the new 1.5 liter turbo?) - with a hefty price premium - will be offered.

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Response from Dennyd75

8:44 pm September 1, 2016

I heavily protest resorting to personal attacks because you don't understand why someone chooses a particular car. For example, one could call you dumb for choosing a Mazda 3 over a Nissan Versa, a vehicle that will get younto point b and back for thousands less than the 3.


Porsche 911 owners could be called dumb because they could have just saved tens of thousands of dollars by buying a Corvette that offers the reality of superior performance.

Personally I love my HR-V and much prefer it over the Mazda 3 (which I previously owned). I don't buy into the Jalopnik group-think, and prefer to make my own decisions. Dynamically the 3 is more satisfying to drive. But the HR-V is quieter, provides me with AWD (which I don't need, but want and love, ever do AWD donuts in a snowy parking lot? I highly recommend it). The interior is amazingly flexible, allowing me to haul the family one day, tons of cargo the next, and tall objects the next.

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Response from Member6232

12:19 pm September 2, 2016

I haven't seen a "personal attack" against anyone here. Are you calling a review a personal attack against... a car? Hey, there will always be someone who absolutely loves anything (even pain). The HR-V has been repeatedly reviewed by numerous sources as having an un-Honda-like engine and CVT combo (probablly mitigated by the choice of the manual trans), along with discomfort-causing front seats becoming an issue on longer drives. If these things aren't noticed by you, then you made a good purchase. No one has complained about the HR-V's interior flexibility - its one standout feature.

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Response from mkaresh

12:31 pm September 2, 2016

I think he's referring to willied's comment above. His comment isn't really a personal attack, since it's not aimed at anyone in particular, but could be read as an attack on all crossovers buyers. The thing is, if you view purchases from a purely rational perspective many of them look, well, irrational. Because people aren't really rational (even the ones who think they are).

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