The 2016 HR-V points to more than Honda's future


While it may not be the most exciting segment of America's automotive market, the small crossover segment perhaps the most important.

These are vehicles which look and sort of act like sport utility vehicles but are built on small — often sub-compact — platforms.

The Honda HR-V is an all-new compact crossover ute that hit the showrooms early last year and Honda plans for it to be a serious contender. Honda hopes that the popularity of their Fit and Civic cars will create instant credibility for this small, but more spacious, Honda.

The HR-V is a solid car, and even though it is a small crossover based on a sub-compact, there is no feeling inside that it is particularly small. It demonstrates a great use of space, by building on a smaller, lighter, and therefore more efficient platform Honda has created a capable crossover which does most of what families want their crossover to do, but the HR-V does it with much more efficiency.

The powertrain works well for this sized vehicle. The engine is the single overhead camshaft 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine from Honda's Civic. It produces 141 hp. and 127 lb.-ft. of peak torque. Fuel mileage ratings are 28 mpg city and 35-mpg highway for the fwd model, and 27-mpg city and 32-mpg highway for the awd version.

Both powertrains offer a six-speed manual or continuously variable transmission. The car is available in front- and all-wheel drive. The all-wheel drive is the hydraulic system from the CR-V. The suspension in a traditional MacPherson in front and torsion beam in back, while the power steering is electric.

So the mechanicals of the car are pretty much off-the-shelf, meaning dependability should keep to the high standard of Hondas. The powertrain works well, and even with the continuously variable transmission the car moved well and didn't sound or feel like it was straining – even heading up an interstate on-ramp.

The steering is positive and consistent even at interstate speeds, something that is probably helped by the car's aerodynamic shape. The brakes are good and the suspension is more than capable of anything its owners are going to throw at it. So it's driving capabilities are going to meet the expectations of any potential buyers. And the decent fuel efficiency will be an added plus.

The model I tested was a base model, something that doesn't happen much, as manufacturers figure we can disregard features on the car, but we can't evaluate them if they aren't there. But the tester I got had cloth seats and limited goodies. I was fine with that, as it gives a good impression of what most people actually buy in their cars.

Those cloth seats were comfortable and had enough adjustment. The interior has the look of a crossover, but with a modern, somewhat urban, tone to it. The HR-V also has plenty of room for a car with this small of a footprint. This is helped by there being a lot of headroom, opening up the interior and the cabin's lines work to enhance the feeling of an airy space.

But it is more than an impression. For example, the room between front seat passengers is an important factor in making a car's interior feel larger, and this Honda has a good amount, so you don't feel like you are crushed up against your passenger. There actually is 100.1 cu.-ft. of passenger space. With the rear seats down there is 58.8 cu.-ft. of cargo volume.

I found it surprising that the instrument panel and dashboard tend to be angled towards the driver, something you don't expect in a car called a crossover, as they want to appear more of a family vehicle.

Granted, this is a small family vehicle but one guesses it also has a market plan focused on a younger-than-average crossover buyer. There are some cool, if not hip features. Big on my list of these is the speedometer which changes color depending on how efficiently you are driving.

There are three models of the HR-V, the LX, EX and EX-L. Base prices for the HR-V by trim level are, the LX FWD at $19,115, the EX FWD at $21,165 for the manual transmission, and the EX-L Navi at $24,590. All-wheel drive costs you an extra $2050 on the LX and EX trim, $800 of which is for the continuously variable automatic transmission. For the HR-V EL-X Navi it's $1250 more, since it only comes with the CVT transmission.

The HR-V is expected to compete with the Nissan Rogue, Nissan Juke, Mazda CX5, Mazda CX3 Chevrolet Trax, Toyota RAV-4 and Fiat 500X.

This is going to be a bread-and-butter car for Honda. Crossovers are taking huge amounts of market share away from cars. I'm not ready to say that they will replace cars in the coming years, but it is probably true.

It isn't surprising to me, though. I am now going to whisper an evil phrase. It doesn't surprise me because they are functionally station wagons. As much as the market hates station wagons, they love their capability.

The auto industry has made billions since the mid-1980s offering buyers station wagons that don't remind us of our childhood. Hopefully, the industry is already looking to what will replace the minivans and sport utes that the Millennials grew up with.

Oh, I guess they have.

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