2023 Honda HR-V First Drive Review: A Refined Improvement Over the Old One
The now-Civic-based HR-V might be the thing to get sedan buyers into a crossover, or big SUV buyers into something thriftier.
If you’ve made your mind up to buy a reasonably priced, not-so-big crossover, the 2023 Honda HR-V could be a pretty compelling option. After about 200 miles of driving one around Stevenson, Washington, I can confidently say it's a perfectly fine machine even if it's not for me. If you like it, then I love it.
The wild success of the subcompact crossover has begotten automakers crafting unique versions of cars in this general size and shape, specifically for the North American market. The previous generation HR-V was essentially a tweaked version of the Honda Vezel; a Honda Fit-based SUV that had been on sale in Japan for a year or two before making its way here. Now, nearly a decade since the Vezel (HR-V) was introduced in Japan, it’s time for a new model. Honda disunited the HR-V line, with the United States getting its own, bigger model.
In theory, the Honda HR-V competes directly against cars like the Jeep Renegade, Toyota Corolla Cross, Chevrolet Trailblazer, Mazda CX-30, and Subaru Crosstrek. In practice, its low price, unintimidating demeanor, and right-sized dimensions might be the thing to get sedan buyers into a crossover, or big SUV buyers into something smaller and thriftier. An HR-V buyer might also be considering sedan models like the Nissan Sentra or Honda Civic.
2023 Honda HR-V Specs
- Base price (AWD EX-L as tested): $24,895 ($30,590 including $1,245 destination charge and $395 optional paint)
- Powertrain: 2.0-liter four-cylinder | CVT automatic | front-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive
- Horsepower: 158 @ 6,500 rpm
- Torque: 138 @ 4,200 rpm
- Curb weight: 3,159 to 3,333 pounds, depending on trim
- Seating capacity: 5
- Cargo volume: 24.4 cu ft (seats up) / 55.1 cu ft (seats down)
- Fuel economy (AWD EX-L): 25 mpg city | 30 highway | 27 combined
- Quick take: Car-like, cheap, competent, but maybe a little boring.
- Score: 8/10
The 2023 Honda HR-V now sits at the very bottom of Honda’s crossover lineup, cheaper than the compact CR-V by a few dollars. It’s an all-new design, shifting from the old Fit-based chassis to Honda’s latest global platform that the Civic uses. Thus, the HR-V has grown quite a bit, more than eight inches in length. Still, only 1.7 inches of that went to the vehicle's wheelbase, with the rest probably going to the car’s long-ass hood.
Now, I have a vendetta against designers who insist on giving small cars with small engines big, long, hoods, (ahem, Mazda), and the HR-V doesn’t escape that ire. Still, the HR-V manages to look a lot better in person than it does in pictures. The extra length compared to the old car gives a more substantial—and maybe a bit more station-wagon-like—silhouette, compared to the rollerskate-from-Target-look of the old car. The styling is less fussy, with fewer random lines and surfaces on the side, and bigger windows that improve visibility over the old car. From the front, though, the HR-V wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea, as some remarked that it appeared to be a bizarro-world Ford Escape. Personally, I have no strong opinions, either way; I think the car’s best angles are its rear three-quarter view, and under certain conditions, I think the front of the vehicle can be flattering, too. I mean, if you like it, then I love it.
Inside, a Civic-like super clean dashboard is flanked by an infotainment screen that sits on top. The dashboard is coated in soft-touch plastic replete with stitching, and the honeycomb detail, if it wasn’t real metal, still felt pretty damn good. The soft-touch plastic enshrouds the traditional PRNDSL shifter, and slips down toward your hip, hiding USB-A charging ports on either side of the center console. Unfortunately, I didn’t find a single USB-C port in the HR-V. Oh well, I guess. The test vehicle was a top-trim EX-L with all options, including wireless Apple CarPlay which was probably the snappiest wireless CarPlay I’ve experienced to date.
Unfortunately or maybe fortunately, depending on the type of driver you are, the HR-V’s ergonomics have changed with its transition to the new platform. In a conversation with Honda’s Head of Product Planning, Quincy Tam said Honda engineers were able to match the interior dimensions of the old HR-V. The old HR-V’s trump card was its superior packaging: it had a spacious back seat, lots of trunk room, a tall driving position, and a trick folding back seat with multiple modes to take weirdly shaped items.
Well, the latest HR-V lost its trick rear seat (called Magic Seat), and all of the current seats themselves feel somewhat close to the floor in a more car-like driving position. For some, this is great. For others, they might prefer a more upright, taller driving position in competitors like the Chevrolet Trailblazer, or Jeep Renegade. Numerically, the HR-V rear seat lost not quite two inches of legroom, but space is still good and the seats themselves are softer and more comfortable than the old vehicle.
On the road, the HR-V’s new, more substantial chassis makes itself known. The old HR-V wasn’t bad in this area, per se. It was just slow and a budget vehicle underneath with a kind of brittle ride and a noisy interior.
This new HR-V cuts all that away, with a quiet interior and a ride that is capable of tackling both bumps and curves with aplomb. Honda eschewed the old car’s semi-independent torsion beam rear axle for a more sophisticated multi-link setup. Now, most HR-V buyers won’t be corner-carving track geeks, but the new HR-V is now entertaining on the twisties in ways the old one could only dream of. The steering is accurate, easy to live with, and communicative for the type of vehicle it is. The HR-V is pretty mannerly on the freeway, with lane keep assist that doesn’t ping-pong between lines, and ride quality that soaked up the Portland, Oregon, area freeways without batting an eye.
The HR-V is powered by a 2.0 liter, four-cylinder engine, mated to a CVT automatic, either sent to the front wheels, or all four via an AWD system. The whole getup claims 158 horsepower, no matter the drive wheels. The system itself is fine enough; I never found myself in want of extra power for the HR-V, but I’d be lying if I said the HR-V was exceptionally quick. The CVT is adept enough at finding the correct gear ratio without the engine racing or droning too much, and it’ll even emulate a traditional automatic transmission, via fake shifting, under hard acceleration.
This powertrain is essentially what’s in the Honda Civic LX or Sport sedan, but product planning head Tam explained that there have been tweaks, specifically in the CVT transmission tuning, that are unique to the HR-V. In short, it’s probably fine for most buyers. The fuel economy is kind of mediocre, though. The EX-L AWD tester was rated for 26 mpg in the city, 30 on the highway. Over a 30-mile jaunt at 65 mph, the HR-V’s fuel economy calculator showed a middling 32 mpg.
“The HR-V is an aspirational gateway from Honda’s cars to light trucks,” said Tam at the HR-V’s press launch. To Honda, the HR-V buyer is a young professional, in search of their first new car, and is someone who likes doing outdoorsy crap. That’s why they brought us an hour outside of Portland, in the middle of the woods, to show the car in what Honda thinks is its natural habitat. OK, I guess, but I mean, aren’t all the OEMs chasing after this mythical 20-something young professional that likes hiking in the woods on the weekends?
At the very least, Tam is right—the HR-V has stepped up a bit and is more of an aspirational vehicle for entry-level Honda buyers. It no longer feels like a budget vehicle to drive, but instead, just a small SUV-like type of vehicle with a good ride, nice interior, and reasonable price. It is the type of vehicle that a young adult with a good job would be proud to spend their first “big kid” job money on, signaling to all of their friends and family that they’ve finally changed tax brackets and are upwardly mobile.
Personally, I probably wouldn’t buy an HR-V; it’s too car-like, and I think if I’m going to get an SUV, it’s going to be an SUV. But not everything is about me. I can understand why someone would be stoked to buy a 2023 Honda HR-V. And, well, if you like it, then I love it.
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