I’ve been enamored with the 2023 Honda HR-V’s new design since it was first teased in January. It looks simultaneously sporty and non-threatening, much like my dog Bramble. She’ll be helping us with this review—the first in our Will It Dog? series evaluating vehicles for their dog friendliness. Listing at about $30,000, this versatile and practical vehicle seems like a great place to start.
[Welcome to Will It Dog, The Drive's review series where we evaluate cars based on their dog-friendliness. We've devised a series of tests that we think will give dog owners the best insight into whether a car is practical enough for them and their four-legged partners. Don't own a dog? Stay for the cute pictures!]
Meet the Test Dogs
Bramble is a solidly medium-sized dog at about 40 pounds. Half Australian Shepard and half Golden Retriever, she’s highly athletic and loves car rides. She’ll be our main test dog and will do the most mileage for these posts.
Her brothers Indi, Silas, and Mees (pronounced "Mace," I think it's Dutch) are all large-medium while her mom, Koda, is on the smaller side and her dad, Cal, is an honest large. We will employ as many of them as we can to help you get a sense of what different-sized animals look like in the car while we find out how well the vehicle can comfortably carry a pack.
2023 Honda HR-V Review Specs for Dog Owners
- Base price (EX-L AWD as tested): $25,045 ($30,590)
- Powertrain: 2.0-liter naturally aspirated inline-four | continuously variable transmission | all-wheel drive
- Horsepower: 158 @ 6,500 rpm
- Torque: 138 lb-ft @ 4,200 rpm
- Curb weight: 3,159 to 3,333 pounds
- Seating capacity: 5 humans
- EPA fuel economy: 25 mpg city | 30 highway | 27 combined
- Cargo volume: 24.4 cubic feet with rear seats up, 55.1 cubic feet with seats flat
- Rear interior to ground height: 18 inches
- Rear seat to ceiling height: 35 inches
- Rear hatch to ground height: 27 inches
- Rear cargo area to ceiling height: 29 inches
- Quick take: The HR-V would be tight for a whole family, a pet, and luggage but it's perfect for two people and one to three dogs. Comfortable, classy-looking, easy to climb into and see out of.
- Will It Dog Score: 9/10
The HR-V is Honda’s Civic-based smallest sport utility, more compact than the Pilot, Passport, and even CR-V. You can order it in three trim levels: LX (base), Sport, and EX-L (fully featured). They all run the same 158-horsepower four-cylinder VTEC engine and continuously variable transmission with optional all-wheel drive. Fuel economy claims are 25, 30, and 27 mpg for city, highway, and combined driving conditions, respectively, and with all-wheel drive. That should give you a 300-plus mile range with the vehicle’s 14-gallon gas tank. After 342 miles of testing, mostly on meandering country roads, the loaner HR-V's trip computer reported 29.6 mpg.
With two seats up front and a multi-tier console in between, plus a three-seat bench in the back, and a generous cargo bay behind that, this vehicle is plenty capable of shuttling a family or friend group and their luggage around. It's actually similar in size to the first Honda CR-V from the late '90s—Honda's original compact SUV.
A base front-wheel-drive 2023 HR-V lists for about $25,000. The test vehicle is a 2023 AWD EX-L trim, ringing up at $30,590 including destination charges and $395 for that Nordic Forest Pearl paint color.
Climbing In and Out
The HR-V's rear doors open plenty wide enough to let most dogs climb in with ease. Athletic animals can hop up onto the back seat as easily as they can hop up on a couch. And thanks to a generous rear passenger footwell, even the smallest breeds (as adults, at least) should be able to scamper up off the ground and into the car by themselves. Older dogs would be able to make use of that as well, stepping into the foot area before climbing up on the seat.
Bramble, Indi, and Silas had no problem getting on and off the rear seat of the HR-V.
The rear cargo deck is considerably higher. The leap is still no problem for a healthy medium to large animal, but Chihuahuas, Pomeranians, and smaller terriers will need to be picked up (or given a ramp) if you want them to climb into the cargo area behind the second row of seats.
Driving With the Dog
Bramble usually likes to sit upright in the back seat of whatever I'm driving (we usually use a dog hammock or seat cover but have not gotten her a seatbelt harness yet). In this car, I was amused to see her curled up in the rear passenger footwell after just a few miles. She fell asleep down there in short order.
After a pee break, she got a little more energy and was eager to get a view of the road by putting her front paws on the center console and her back ones on the back seat. I don't recommend letting a dog do that while you're underway, they're liable to go flying into the dashboard if you have to panic stop, so I shooed her back to the rear passenger area. She was happy there until we made a stop at McD's—the smell of McNuggets was just too exciting.
Bramble's a truly spoiled bitch so she did get a few nugs of her own, but I was able to keep her snout away from my dipping sauce by stashing it in the HR-V's cleverly designed center console. It's also got a fully closing section for sashing treats (or leashes, poop bags, and other accessories you might not want in your dog's mouth).
After having three decent-sized dogs in and out of the HR-V, I didn't see any marks or areas that look like they'd be particularly hard to clean. And I could see well back there because instead of a traditional dome light in the middle of the ceiling the 2023 HR-V has a powerful LED interior light over both sides of the rear passenger area.
The rear cargo area, behind the second row of seats, could certainly fit Bramble or even her dad Cal (the grown Golden Retriever) but then I can't really see or pet her. You could put a pooch back there if your seats were full of humans, I suppose. Or split the back seat if you had a mix of people and animals to carry. Bottom line: The HR-V has generous usable cargo dimensions for a vehicle with such a small footprint.
Driving in General
Driving this car at approximately the speed limit is perfectly pleasant. The ride's smooth and comfortable, even on rough and twisty rural roads, without feeling soft or sloppy. I felt as connected to the front wheels as I wanted to be in a 158-hp get-around car, and I appreciated the fact that you have a good ol' fashioned mechanical lever in the center console for shifting between park, drive, and reverse. It just feels right.
You don't do your own shifting of course because all HR-Vs are automatic (with a continuously variable transmission, to be specific). You can, however, drop it to "S" (for "sport") to make the engine rpm increase and give you a little power boost for passing. If you really need power at low speed, like if you're trying to climb out of a ditch or snow bank, pulling the lever down to "L" ("low") gives you a low-gear ratio. Trying to drive the HR-V with the spirit you might exercise in a Civic Si, however, is pointless. Save the gas and go easy on the throttle.
On a smaller switch, you can move between three drive modes. The economy mode presumably saves fuel, but man does it make the vehicle sleepy. Among auto journalists, I'm probably one of the slowest drivers and even I didn't have the patience for it. The Normal mode is fine, and you've got that "S" gear setting for squirting by slow trucks where the double-yellow road line breaks.
As for its luxuries, the HR-V EX-L interior is really nice. Materials feel great, construction feels robust, and the design is clean (I might even call it elegant) without being annoyingly minimalistic. That honeycomb strip across the dash you might recognize from the Civic looks so good, and I love how tidy and idiot-proof the climate and stereo controls are.
The gauge cluster is neat and easy to read, and the automatic high-beam headlights work amazingly well. That was great on the country roads near my compound—the HR-V spotted oncoming cars and dimmed the high beams for them as quickly as I would have been able to do it manually.
Only a few things annoyed me: The shifter knob seemed just a little too high, the stereo sound quality is pretty meh, and the way the infotainment screen is oriented seemed suboptimal to me. I can tell Honda set it flat so it could be accessed by the driver or passenger, which makes sense, but it's not a great viewing angle from either seat.
We test every car with the same two kennels—one hard crate (large enough for a grown female Golden Retriever), and one collapsed folding kennel (which folds out to about the same size). A hard kennel is a safe way to transport a dog because they’re maximally contained, and you may want one at your destination (many hotels require a kennel if you have a canine companion). However, it’s often not practical to drive with one on account of how cumbersome they are. But if you still need one where you’re going, a collapsable tent-kennel is great—it’s far easier to fit in a vehicle. If you don’t think tent walls will be enough to contain your animal, hard-walled kennels that collapse flat or in half exist as well.
The foldable dog tent is called The Travel Crate; it's a Backcountry x Petco brand collab and you can buy it here. The Drive and its partners may earn a commission if you purchase a product through one of our links—read more about that here. Meanwhile, here are the dimensions of both crates:
- Hard kennel (1) length, (2) width, (3) height: 36 inches, 24 inches, 26 inches
- Collapsed tent kennel (4) length, (5) width, (6) height: 36 inches, 25 inches, 5 inches
The hard kennel fit perfectly with two of the three back seats folded down, but wouldn't work if you needed the whole rear bench for people. The folded kennel fit in a few different ways. I think you'd be pretty crammed with a hard kennel and two peoples' stuff for even a short camping trip. Add a kid into the mix and the hard kennel's never going to work—you'll have to look at a collapsable one and probably a roof-mounted cargo box.
I was actually surprised at how easily Bramble, Indi, and Silas fit sitting abreast in the back seat of this car but that's about the max amount of dogs you could drive comfortably in here if you had anything else to carry along with them. Two more this size could go in the cargo bay behind the seats, and I guess if you're really ambitious and definitely not at all allergic to dog dander, two more could fit in the footwells.
Based on my impressions with a few different combinations of Bramble's fluffy family in this HR-V, I think you could fit up to two dogs of any size with the bench seat folded down. With the seats up, one Great Dane-sized animal would consume the whole area. Fitting three Golden Retrievers should be possible in the back seat, but if they're not well-behaved it's going to be a pretty chaotic ride. Four might be able to cram over a short distance, but one will have to sit in the way back and you can expect a lot of claws on the top of the rear seats as the animals nip and harass each other.
2023 Honda HR-V Dog-Friendliness Verdict
I love the way this car looks and I enjoyed riding in it. Bramble did, too—I'd call this a great car for small to medium-large dogs. Animals much bigger than a female Golden Retriever are going to have any annoyingly large pawprint on the car's cubic inches of passenger space. If you have one or two baby seat-aged kids, a 40-odd pound dog could fit but even that will be tight and pretty much require a roof box for multi-day trips involving luggage. Older kids will give you a lot more flexibility, but realistically four people and any pooch would be a lot in here.
My wife and dog and I fit perfectly, though. For my fellow families without children, the HR-V is a great size for a dog or two and enough luggage for almost any trip. Heck, I'm pretty tempted by the Milano Red one I've made on Honda's configurator. You can build and price your own on Honda’s site here.
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