2023 Honda HR-V Review: Does the Job But Does Not Spark Joy

The new Honda HR-V isn’t a bad car to drive, but buying one is another matter. Money’s getting tighter, and the HR-V doesn’t give you a reason to get invested.

byJames Gilboy| PUBLISHED Nov 29, 2022 11:00 AM
2023 Honda HR-V Review: Does the Job But Does Not Spark Joy
James Gilboy.
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A new car is not a rational purchase: it is an emotional one. It’s too much of a sledgehammer to your finances to be anything else. On that basis, while the 2023 Honda HR-V is technically competent, it doesn’t stir the kinds of sentiment that drives a purchase like this. It’s not a bad car, on the contrary, it’s what I’d call pretty decent. But I can’t think of a reason why you’d make such a reckless financial decision for a car so unremarkable.

Look, in an age where the average new car sells for over $45,000, a perfectly livable subcompact crossover that starts at $25,000 looks like a deal. It’ll get you and your stuff from Point A to Point B without wasting much gas, or ejecting your vertebrae.

But the problem is that some of its competitors do that job objectively better for less money, both upfront and over time. The Honda doesn’t win back much favor by offering any points for emotional attachment, either. It’s alright, but if I were gonna take out a loan for a new car in this economy, I’d at least want it to be something I’d be excited to tell my friends about.

2023 Honda HR-V EX-L AWD in Nordic Forest paint. James Gilboy

2023 Honda HR-V Review Specs

  • Base price (EX-L as tested): $25,045 ($30,590)
  • Powertrain: 2.0-liter naturally aspirated inline-four | continuously variable transmission | front- or 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
  • Cargo volume: 24.4 cubic feet with rear seats up, 55.1 cubic feet with seats flat
  • EPA fuel economy: 25 mpg city | 30 highway | 27 combined
  • Quick take: The Honda HR-V isn’t a bad car to end up with, but I strongly caution against ruining your finances for one.
  • Score: 7.5/10

The Basics

Now in its second generation here in the U.S., the Honda HR-V is a subcompact crossover, designed using elements from the Civic and CR-V alike. That’s appropriate considering it bridges them in function, with easier ingress and egress than a sedan, but extra cargo space on a small footprint. It’s powered by a 2.0-liter, naturally aspirated four-cylinder, which through a continuously variable automatic transmission powers either the front or all four wheels.

The first thing I noticed about the HR-V is how much it looks like a Ford Focus, only colder. I think it’s goofy and more self-serious than is warranted, but I’ll admit I kinda like it in person. The same goes for its wheels, with floating, starlike spokes, and its optional Nordic Forest paint. It looks greyscale until it’s held against a background that actually is, and it reveals itself to be a muted green. That said, the black plastic cladding is subtly tacky, and its bulbous side profile and rear end give it a bit of homely Odyssey. There are better-looking cars, there are worse-looking cars; the HR-V is pretty middling, at least from the outside.

The insides are another matter, which evoke the upscale Mazda CX-30 without its relatively tight confines. The design of the top-trim EX-L I tested was visually and physically softened by tasteful, matte-black leather or similar material, which—this being a Honda—feel like they’ll last a lifetime. I especially like the center console, with its narrow bridge of button controls over a rubberized pad with a USB port on either side. Head and legroom are healthy front and rear, though the cupholders are on the small side, particularly in the door pockets.

Tech

The focal point of the HR-V’s interior is its touchscreen, a seven-inch unit as standard or nine in this top EX-L. Being on the small side, it’s not too distracting, and its Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility makes it easy to use. They link to your phone wirelessly on this top trim (on lower trims, they’re wired), and the eight-speaker sound system gave no reason for complaint. As of earlier this year, all new Hondas come standard with the Honda Sensing suite of safety technologies—detailed further down.

2023 Honda HR-V EX-L AWD cockpit. James Gilboy

Driving the Honda HR-V

Of the greatest concern for HR-V shoppers will be livability—quietness, comfort, visibility, and fuel economy, and they’re all places the HR-V delivers. Operation is quiet at all speeds, outward visibility is acceptable for a modern crossover, and I beat the estimated highway mileage even on a test route through the Rocky Mountains, getting 31 mpg.

Its seats aren’t over-bolstered, and while they lack lumbar adjustment I didn’t find that I needed it. The ride absorbs bumps, and doesn’t roll or pitch like some other CUVs in its class (looking at you, Chevy Trailblazer). It’s a car that drives inoffensively, without burdensome, heavy steering or brakes—though more engaged drivers may find them underwhelming. There’s a Sport driving mode, but it’s not worth turning on, because the HR-V is so slow it’d struggle to alarm anyone with the throttle floored. (That’s not rare with small SUVs, but this is a stand-out example.)

2023 Honda HR-V EX-L AWD parked by a trail I definitely wouldn't drive it down. James Gilboy

The Highs and Lows

The 2023 Honda HR-V does what you want a small SUV to do. It’s livable, spacious, and the top EX-L trim has a pleasant interior, one with a modest (and relatively safe) small central touchscreen. Its standard safety tech suite is respectable, which is why it’s an IIHS Top Safety Pick.

In other respects, though, the so-called Human Resources-Vehicle merely scrapes by. Its fuel economy, cargo space, and pricing all fall short of its direct competitors, and it might be the slowest modern car I’ve ever driven. Its door pockets are so small they won’t fit larger water bottles too. As a whole, the HR-V is … just bland. I can’t really think of any reason to get it over its competitors, especially when you realize it’s actually priced higher.

2023 Honda HR-V EX-L AWD wheel. James Gilboy

Honda HR-V Features, Options, and Competition

The 2023 Honda HR-V starts at $25,045 delivered, and as mentioned above comes with Honda Sensing passive safety tech. It has frontal collision warning and automatic emergency braking, lane keeping, lane departure warning, and prevention, not to mention adaptive cruise control with traffic jam assist. There’s a backup camera, sign recognition, and LED taillights and headlights with automatic high beams. Blind spot watch and rear cross-traffic detection are available above base models, along with heated mirrors, though low-speed braking assist is exclusively in the EX-L’s domain.

The EX-L happens to be the trim I tested, at $30,590 with the only option being Nordic Forest paint. This trim level adds leather seats that are heated up front, with the driver getting eight-way electronic adjustability. It has a leather steering wheel, dual-zone climate control, and remote start. The eight-speaker audio system, nine-inch touchscreen, and wireless phone connectivity are exclusive to this trim.

While the HR-V is by no means unpleasant day-to-day, it’s tricky to see the appeal when multiple competitors offer more of what counts for less money. I’m mainly referring to the Toyota Corolla Cross and Kia Seltos, and to a lesser degree the Chevy Trailblazer. All offer AWD, better fuel economy, significantly more cargo space, and the distinction of an IIHS Top Safety Pick—all at lower prices to boot.

I’ve only personally driven the Chevy, which has a much better engine, though also a garish interior and handling I don’t favor. As for the Kia, it was well-received on launch, whereas my venerable boss Kristen Lee just tested the Toyota, and came away with a more favorable impression than I did this Honda.

2023 Honda HR-V EX-L AWD in Nordic Forest paint. James Gilboy

Sustainability

The Honda HR-V lacks a hybrid option, which’d go a long way toward increasing its efficiency, while the plant where it’s made in Celaya, Mexico makes no noteworthy claims as to its sustainability. It does mean the HR-V doesn’t have to make a trip overseas before being sold here, unlike the Korean-made Seltos and Trailblazer, though it’s still made abroad. By contrast, the Corolla Cross is made in Alabama. Of the four, the Honda also gets the worst gas mileage.

In terms of fuel economy, the HR-V is rated for 25 mpg in the city, 30 on the highway, and 27 combined. Compared to its biggest competitors in all-wheel-drive versions of the Toyota Corolla Cross, Kia Seltos, and Mazda CX-30, the Honda HR-V falls slightly below average.

2023 Honda HR-V fuel economy versus notable competitors. FuelEconomy.gov

The Verdict

Do passions still burn within your heart? Do you still desire to leave your mark on the world around you? Do you seek to tear the heavens asunder, seize stars from the night sky and hurl them down on all who would stand in your path? If so, the 2023 Honda HR-V just isn’t for you.

It’s not a bad car. It’s perfectly livable, and I’m surprised how much I like elements of its design. But those are little more than the bare minimum of what you expect from a new car; I don’t see why you’d go out of your way to buy a vehicle that scrapes by like the HR-V does. It’s as anonymous in the subcompact crossover segment as it is on the road—it’s OK, but is that really all you’re going to settle for?

Remember, a new car is an emotional purchase, and the 2023 Honda HR-V offers almost no points for emotional attachment. It’s the car equivalent of putting in your earbuds, raising your hood, and avoiding people’s eye contact. Leave me alone, is what this car says, and I think you should take its advice.

Got a tip or question for the author? You can reach them here: james@thedrive.com