The B-segment Honda HR-V was once the king of the mountain but these days, it has to contend with the new reality that the larger C-segment Proton X70 has muscled into its territory. For many consumers, it's an easy decision to make. Consumers shop by price and academic concerns like demarcation between vehicle segments and tax advantages enjoyed by the Proton, don't matter in their purchase decision.
But don't brush off the Honda HR-V yet. We have sampled both cars almost back to back and concluded that the HR-V is in many ways, still an easier car to live with every day.
It's a lot more fuel efficient, the cabin fits a lot more than its compact dimensions suggest thanks to a very space-efficient design, the Hybrid's performance is better than anything else within that price range.
Honda Malaysia offers four variants of the HR-V. The RS looks the sportiest but the Hybrid offers the best driving performance. Here's how they compare.
What we love about the Honda HR-V most is that it is "right-sized". It's bigger than most B-segment SUVs, but yet is not too cumbersome for tight car parks.
The RS variant adds a sportier front grille, black wing mirrors, and 18-inch wheels (regular variants get 17-inch). The latter looks good but compromises on ride quality, more on that later.
The Hybrid however, is a bit disappointing as its dressed up like an entry E variant, with halogen projector headlamps and simpler looking LED tail lights (without the light strips effect).
Inside, the HR-V's practicality is bettered only by the CR-V. The two-tier centre console almost doubles the useable storage of regular cars, and offers good ergonomics as the controls are all within easy reach.
The centre console box is small but is still bigger than any of its peers – try living with a Mazda CX-3.
The Hybrid variant gets a fancier looking shift-by-wire gear knob, which frees up even more space beneath it. Its instrument panel also has a different, twin digital displays flanking the analogue speedometer in the middle.
The RS however, gets a slightly fatter and higher grade leather wrapped steering wheel that feels more expensive to touch but since the instrument dials are all analogue, it loses switches for the selectable information display modes.
Whichever variant you choose, they both have the same weakness – the infotainment is the car's weakest link. The graphics are poor, and so is the sound quality and user interface. In the Hybrid, the sole USB port is located high up on the head unit itself, and the Amps is quite low for most smartphones today.
You don't even get a clock display! Despite it being a 6.8-inch screen (7-inch for the RS).
This segment is still rather price sensitive so don't expect expensive cabin materials. If that's what you are after, go for the Mazda CX-3.
The RS gets full leather seats while the Hybrid makes do with half leather-fabric ones. However, you'll be surprised to know that the Hybrid's seats don't feel any cheaper. In fact, we will go as far as saying that it is the Hybrid's half leather-fabric seats that feel more supportive and comfortable to on your skin, because the RS' leather are not of the highest grade and feels a bit too synthetic.
The rear seats fold flat, as well as upwards, allowing you to carry far more cargo than you think is possible in a sub-compact HR-V. The fact that the rear seats fold flat makes a world of difference to its cargo carrying potential. You can haul more cargo in the smaller HR-V than the bigger Proton X70.
On paper, the Proton X70 has a bigger 512-litre boot. Sounds like a lot but in the real-world, you don't fill up car's boot with water like it's a bath tub.
Curvature, flat surface, intrusion of wheel arches all add up to limit how many luggage bags or types of furniture that you can realistically fit inside a car. In this aspect, the HR-V's flat folding seats, low boot floor, wide and tall boot aperture means that it you are able to load more inside it, despite the smaller theoretical numbers.
The RS' boot fits 437 litres. The Hybrid has a slightly higher boot floor to accommodate the hybrid battery (no spare wheel too, only tyre repair kit), so it's slightly smaller at 404 litres.
Think hybrids and you will associate it with fuel economy. The HR-V Hybrid still delivers excellent fuel economy, averaging about 5-litre/100 km without even trying, but you wouldn't expect it to do any poorer don't you?
The surprise here is how well the combustion engine, electric motor, and dual-clutch transmission work together.
Sprint from 0-100 km/h is done in 9.5 seconds, with 0-100-0 km/h done in 13.6 seconds. Braking distance was 37.5 metres. We have yet to time the new Proton X70, but is confident that the HR-V Hybrid will have a slight edge.
In the real-world, where mid-range acceleration of between 60 – 90 km/h is far more important than standing starts, the HR-V Hybrid felt far more responsive than any of its peers, including rivals from one segment above, including the turbocharged Proton X70 and Honda CR-V.
Gear shifts from the 7-speed dual-clutch automatic is lightning quick and torque delivery from the electric motor is instantaneous.
The Hybrid's 1.5-litre engine might have the same capacity as the City Hybrid and Jazz Hybrid's but it's not the same engine. The one in the HR-V gains direct injection and runs on regular Otto cycle versus the City Hybrid's and Jazz Hybrid's Atkinson cycle.
As for the RS, as expected it feels significantly slower while steering feedback, while sharp, is numbed by the larger 18-inch wheels. The HR-V felt better running on smaller 17-inch tyres.
The RS sprints from 0-100 km/h in 10.8 seconds, with 0-100-0 km/h done in 15 seconds. Braking distance was 43.3 metres.
Both cars were running on Continental Ultra Contact UC6 tyres.
The RS redeemed itself by having a faster ratio steering, which also turns slightly slower at higher speeds for better straight line stability. The variable ratio steering makes the RS noticeably more fun to steer around the corners, but it's ultimately hampered by the one size too large tyres and lack of power versus the Hybrid.
Both models now feature a revised suspension setup, which makes the handling far better than the previous, pre-facelift model. Lateral movement is now better controlled, and the damping is now firmer and the suspension no longer hits the bump stops so easily when driving over speed bumps.
The setup is still biased towards comfort and straight line stability, so it's not as agile as the smaller Mazda CX-3, which while handles better, has a steering that's a bit too sensitive and twitchy for long distance drives on the highway.
As practical as it is, the Honda HR-V's ride comfort is just average. It's better than before, but still trails its rivals composure.
We also noted that the RS, with its larger 18-inch wheels, didn't ride as well as the Hybrid or other variants with smaller 17-inch wheels.
Bring out on a clear highway however, cabin noise becomes a bit too much once you drive at higher speeds, even when you are keeping to the 110 km/h national speed limit.
Driving along MEX at 110 km/h, we measured the both HR-V's cabin to be at 69 dB, which no better than a regular City/Jazz. At 90 km/h, it was 65 dB, average but nothing impressive. There is no significant difference between the RS and Hybrid's cabin noise levels.
This being a Honda, leg and shoulder room is better than anyone else, comparable to C-segment SUVs, nevermind other B-segment alternatives like the Mazda CX-3.
Because it's right-sized, entering and exiting the car is easy. The hip point is at just the right height, making it easy for both young and old drivers to get in and out. If you find a Honda Civic to be too low, the HR-V is the practical alternative.
The RS averaged about 7-litre/100 km while the Hybrid managed about 5.3-litre/100 km, both driven in the same test route, with a mix of heavy traffic in Brickfields/KL Sentral and Bangsar area, plus highway drives along MEX.
Both results are above average. Whichever variant you pick, the HR-V is still one of the most fuel efficient SUVs on the market.
The Honda HR-V may no longer claim to offer the best value proposition ever since the heavily tax-deducted Proton X70 has muscled into its territory. So bargain hunters should just look elsewhere. There's no other way to sugarcoat it.
For those who are less price sensitive and want a car that best suits their needs, as opposed to getting the biggest car from the same money, the HR-V is still among the best choice.
Very economical to run, just the right size for city driving, small on the outside, big on the inside, with cargo hauling capacity that shame many bigger SUVs, and as a bonus, outruns many other SUVs too (if you are buying the HR-V Hybrid).
It's a shame that the poor infotainment is something that you have to tolerate.