Review: With 7k bookings in Malaysia, is the 2023 Honda WR-V 1.5 RS a winning SUV?
CY Foong · Sep 20, 2023 02:45 PM
Well, we can’t exactly give the answer immediately but in terms of sales, the 2023 Honda WR-V has indeed delivered a massive W(in). Honda Malaysia revealed that over 7,300 bookings have been received and more than 3,300 units have been delivered since launch.
While the WR-V made its world debut in Indonesia which also serves as the smallest Honda SUV’s production hub, the Malaysian-spec unit is assembled locally (CKD) in Honda Malaysia’s Melaka plant.
In terms of size, the WR-V’s direct rival is the Perodua Ativa but due to P2’s price advantage, it’s very likely that most buyers would be cross-shopping with similarly-priced B-segmenters like the City, City Hatchback, and Toyota Vios or even the base Mazda CX-3. If they’re willing to stretch a little further, the base Honda HR-V might be on their radar.
That said, the WR-V has a very youthful look on the outside and given the popularity of SUVs, Honda has designed a real winner. The tall and compact size makes the WR-V look both rugged and dare I say it, lovable especially in the rear.
The hidden rear door handles are obviously inspired by the HR-V but this is no literal baby HR-V. The WR-V sits on a shortened platform of the second-generation Honda BR-V which will not make it to Malaysia, unfortunately.
Yet, the exterior design of the WR-V looks completely distinct compared to the BR-V or HR-V. The RS variant adds some sportiness in front with a sleek chrome front grille with the RS emblem as well as 17-inch dual-tone alloy wheels.
The lower variants of the WR-V meanwhile receive smaller 16-inch alloy wheels which we will get to later in the article. In terms of aesthetic appeal, the RS clearly stands out and perhaps it’s why many buyers opt for it.
But if you want some sprucing up on your WR-V, Honda Malaysia offers a Modulo accessories package which consists of front, rear, and side under spoilers as well as an exhaust pipe finisher for all variants of the WR-V.
Interior – Winning space
Honda is clearly the master when it comes to interior packaging and the WR-V follows the philosophy of “Machine Minimum, Man Maximum”. There’s so much room for rear occupants to stretch their legs with ample legroom and a near-flat rear floor.
As demonstrated at its launch, the WR-V's 380 L boot can swallow whatever bags or equipment we brought along without breaking a sweat.
Getting in and out of the WR-V is also effortless thanks to the tall ride height that it just feels natural. The moment you get in, you’re immediately planted onto the seats though rear headroom can be a bit compromised if you’re of a taller stature.
As for the front seats, it is still as easy to get in and out as the rear though they do not feel quite as comfortable. The front seats lack proper thigh support while the lumbar support feels a bit too intrusive as it protrudes on the spine.
Granted, there are worse front seats in other SUVs (ahem…X50) but the way the WR-V’s front seats are designed, it is difficult to find a comfortable position. Perhaps if you position your back a little higher, that discomfort might be at ease but without telescopic steering adjustment, it is still a bit hard to find a proper driving position.
While we are at the front, let’s talk about the dashboard layout which for some might be unjustifiable given that they’re spending RM 107k. For around the same price, the base Mazda CX-3 has a more refined interior but it also offers far fewer features than the top-of-the-range WR-V.
In that regard, the WR-V’s interior feels dated and is filled with parts taken off Honda models from a generation ago. However, this interior is carried over from the second-gen BR-V and both models are essentially built for the developing market.
To some, that "old-school" interior might be an issue but put yourself in the neighbourhood aunties' and uncles' shoes. The WR-V's size as well as ease of getting into the SUV and driving with almost zero learning curve would appeal to them as much as the simple interior.
For these buyers and perhaps some younger buyers who are more acquainted with their parents' cars, this isn't a deal-breaker. That breath of familiarity with the controls is better suited for them than the advanced gadgets that they might never use.
The position of the infotainment display, the buttons on the steering wheels, and the placement of the air-conditioning controls are all easy to reach. Everything is where it should be and while some would prefer an electric parking brake, the WR-V’s simple emergency handbrake works just as well if not more foolproof.
Speaking of the air-conditioning, Honda proudly claims that the WR-V’s large air compressor is developed for the tropical climate experienced in the Southeast Asian region. I’m glad to say that the WR-V’s A/C works exceptionally around the paradise that is Langkawi and hitting the ‘Max Cool’ button turns the steamy interior cool in a jiffy.
Though the WR-V doesn't offer rear air vents, the cool air from the front A/Cs is just enough to reach the rear. While there is a centre armrest to keep rear occupants comfortable, Honda should’ve placed extra USB ports in the rear instead of a 12V socket.
As for other convenience features, the WR-V comes with support for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as standard along with the Honda LaneWatch camera. The RS variant is the only one to offer Honda Connect which allows owners to start the engine via the app as well as geotracking and other remote capabilities.
Only one powertrain is offered for the WR-V, a naturally aspirated 1.5-litre 4-cylinder i-VTEC unit that makes 121 PS and 145 Nm. This powerplant is similar to the one offered in the petrol variants of the City and City Hatchback though it is tweaked for the SUV.
As we go around Langkawi’s bends, the WR-V feels sprightly and takes in the corners with ease and minimal body roll despite the tall height. That’s good news for those who tend to feel uneasy in car rides.
However, there were some moments where the WR-V's powertrain did not feel exciting. Whenever we wanted to overtake any one of Langkawi’s many leisure drivers, we had to really put our foot down as the i-VTEC roars.
Then again, this lack of grunt happened when there were 3 or more people on board. With only 2 persons, the WR-V's performance feels more adequate and smoother which fits nicely with its agile handling.
Honda also claims the CVT has been tweaked to shift more seamlessly than a regular one. Called step-shift control, the theory here is that the transmission would simulate a gear change instead of just hanging on to the revs as you accelerate.
Even with that seemingly effortless theory, we still experienced the usual rubber band effect of CVTs but that was probably due to the island's hilly terrain.
Meanwhile, the WR-V's brakes feel adequate even if there are only disc brakes in front while the rear uses drum brakes. The brake pedal is also responsive with minimal delay.
As for the steering, it feels light which in the city would be a good thing but the vagueness of the steering kind of sapped out the joy of it being fun in the corners. At the very least, the steering gradually feels weighted as you accelerate.
Comfort – Not so much a win...
Being an SUV, you might think that the WR-V would have a comfortable ride but from our drive around Langkawi's roads, we're getting mixed results. On the few smooth asphalt around the island, the small SUV’s ride is firm and stiff but not too uncomfortable or jarring.
It was only when we drove the WR-V on more uneven surfaces around our route that we felt a lot more discomfort. The suspension felt busy as every road vibration was felt across our body and it was a lot more uncomfortable in the rear.
As it turns out, the RS variant is tuned to be sportier according to Nattawut Sasitorn, (Dynamic Performance) A-LPL of the WR-V. At a Q&A session with the media after the drive, he explained that the RS variant is tweaked to be sportier than the other variants from the low-profile 17-inch tyres to the tuning of the suspension, CVT, as well as the power steering.
Hence, if you are inclined toward a more comfort-oriented WR-V, the S, E, or V variants would be more suited for you instead of the top-of-the-line RS. Once we get our hands on either of those lower variants, we will give a better verdict on the WR-V’s comfort but suffice it to say, the RS variant is just stiff.
As a result of Honda's extensive use of sound-insulating materials around the engine bay, engine noise is minimal in the cabin but it's not exactly all quiet inside. Wind and road noise were still very apparent in the cabin even as we were cruising at 60-70 km/h.
This is where the answer to the question posed in the title would be revealed and my verdict is that the RS variant didn't feel like much of a winner despite being the most popular variant in Malaysia as of writing.
While being the most equipped out of the 4 variants offered, the RS is not the best, especially in terms of comfort. As such, if you are looking to get a WR-V, perhaps try out the V variant first if your dealer has one available before testing the RS variant.
At the same time, those who are interested in the WR-V RS variant might consider looking at the base HR-V S variant. For around RM 8,000 more than the top-spec WR-V, the base HR-V offers a larger and more refined SUV package with the same naturally aspirated 1.5-litre engine.
In the end, the WR-V has all of the usual hallmarks that make Honda desirable beyond the badge like ease of use, practicality, and interior roominess that is completely unmatched. However, it also falters like many Hondas in terms of loud cabin noise, front lumbar seat support and in the case of the RS variant, comfort.