This all-new 3rd-generation Honda HR-V has some very large shoes to fill. But it’s approaching that challenge from multiple fronts. A trio of new powertrain options, a more style-centric design, and a tech/equipment list that collectively attempts to justify a hefty price hike. Does it?
For many the second-generation Honda HR-V was revolutionary, quickly rising to dominate the B-segment SUV space and holding that crown for much longer than expected, especially in Malaysia, stealing quite a bit of thunder from its quirky and less-than-successful predecessor from the late 1990s.
That older 2nd-gen model, which was discontinued for sale in the Malaysian market just months before the July 2022 launch of this all-new replacement managed its triumphs with just a sole 1.8-litre i-VTEC naturally aspirated 4-cylinder spread over multiple variants.
This time around, we’ve got 3 engines, and one of them is fused with a pair of electric motors as is the case for the RS e:HEV that uses Honda’s i-MMD hybrid system that debuted in the City RS. The remaining two, a naturally aspirated 1.5-litre four-cylinder and the well known VTEC Turbo, are a more straightforward proposition.
We had a chance to sample the HR-V with the turbocharged unit (1.5T V - RM134,800) and drive it pretty much back-to-back over long distances against the e:HEV RS (RM140,800). Both cars saw highways, twisty highland roads, coastal stretches, and a fair bit of heavy traffic, allowing their strengths and weaknesses to be made apparent.
2022 Honda HR-V: 1.5T V vs e:HEV RS - Inside And Out
At first glance neither looks too different from each other. There are subtle touches but nothing obvious besides the colour of that front grille (black accents or chrome). Variants with the VTEC Turbo get dual exhaust exits and the hybrid gets a blue tinged Honda logo at both ends.
The wheels on these HR-V variants, which were the primary visual differentiator between the Civic RS and the rest of its range, are exactly the same 18-inch 225/50 units. The RS also swaps a matte finish on the lower perimeter cladding material for a glossier option. Again, it’s subtle.
Inside, you’d probably not be able to tell which you’re sitting in. After a little more time, you might notice the headliner material colour (black vs beige) or some splashes of red accented stitching, or the fact that only the RS gets dual-zone climate control - but you likely won’t.
Bottom line, if you figured that the extra RM6,000 outlay to buy the e:HEV RS over the 1.5T V (can we just call it the ‘V-Spec’ from now on?) will yield some extra kerb appeal, you might be disappointed.
2022 Honda HR-V: Turbo vs Hybrid
There’s no getting around the fact that the i-MMD hybrid system boasts fantastic fuel efficiency and ample performance for the City and City Hatchback. In town and between traffic lights, it operates in near silence, rarely even needing to invoke that Atkinson-cycle 1.5-litre petrol and transitioning smoothly when it does. However, it seems a little out of its depth in the larger, heavier HR-V.
Its struggles are particularly evident when cruising at high speed as any throttle pedal depression chucks it out of its ‘maintain constant speed mode’, whereupon the electric motor kicks in and the engine is instructed to rev higher to generate power for the battery.
Only both of them working in tandem will get the HR-V to pick up enough speed for a highway overtake, and depending on how aggressively you want to get past the other vehicle, be prepared for the e:HEV RS’s combustion engine to shout at you.
The electric traction motor that it’s relying on for most of the propulsion has been uprated to 131PS over the 109PS we saw from the City/City Hatchback, but in practice this 22PS bump doesn’t add up to much. Even with 253Nm of torque, it can feel underpowered - something that you’d think the range-topping RS shouldn’t need to defend against. It needs to be driven sensibly, by a sensible driver, always.
This is all in contrast to the VTEC Turbo which, as in the Civic, gets 181PS and 240Nm. Like my experience with the C-segment sedan, the engine never really felt strained. It was punchy and responsive in spite of its CVT gearbox, but more importantly it was ‘car like’ and very predictable.
Throttle pressed down, revs climb, the car accelerates. Simple. But in the e:HEV you need to let the hybrid system determine how much to balance the combustion engine (generator) output with electric motor, which inherently feels disconnecting but amplified further by the soggy performance compared to its neighbouring (less expensive) variants.
Our drive experience took us from Kuala Lumpur to Kuantan for an overnight halt before another leg up to Dungun in Terengganu before it’s back to KL the next day, interchanging between the V-spec and RS at various points in between.
Proof positive that the turbo engine can’t hope to match the hybrid in terms of outright efficiency is the ‘low fuel’ warning coming on just before arriving in Kuantan. Granted, we were gunning it, but still a little surprising to find out we had depleted so much of its 48-litre reserves after leaving KL on a full tank.
For my money, I’d be willing to sacrifice ultimate fuel economy for a more versatile powertrain that can put a little smirk on my face from time to time. And when I really need to hyper-mile, I’ll go easy with my right foot and leave it on Econ mode.
Which makes me wonder if I could live with the even less expensive HR-V 1.5T E, the least expensive variant to have access to the 1.5 VTEC Turbo. The ‘good’ engine with fewer frills for decent savings. Why not?
2022 Honda HR-V: Driving
From a purely behind-the-wheel perspective there’s, again, not much separating the two if you try excluding the sensory input from the powertrain. There’s arguably better on-paper dynamics to be enjoyed by the hybrid thanks to a lowered centre of gravity from that hybrid battery, and both variants we drove did have variable ratio steering. Not that I could tell.
They behave well overall, displays decent roadholding on the supplied Continental UltraContact UC6 tyres, typically feeling softly sprung but prone to more jarring bumps with body roll kept in check.
Nothing really stands out about the HR-V as a sporty crossover regardless of what its sleeker profile and more youthful design might suggest. It drives like a Honda, and not too dissimilarly from its predecessor either.
One area where it does cleanly surpass the older model is refinement, showing high speed stability and comfort on par with larger, stouter cars from the segment above such as the Civic and CR-V.
2022 Honda HR-V: Turbo vs Hybrid - Summing Up
In the crossover space where versatility is ostensibly a high priority, the VTEC Turbo shines brightest here, as many predicted it would. It’s a big step up from the previous R18Z9 1.8-litre unit and offers a broad list of talents that is only mildly sullied by the only occasionally ‘drone-ey’ CVT.
After 3 days oscillating between the RS and V-spec, I found myself reaching for the Turbo whenever I had a choice, leading me to wonder if the HR-V would be better served with a beefier i-MMD hybrid system such as the one coming to the Civic that uses a 2.0-litre engine as its combustion component.
Despite the added 22PS, the 1.5-litre e:HEV package feels too similar to the one found in the much more petite City, resulting in a HR-V that gets out of breath when rushed.
All that said, we’ve barely touched upon the rest of the car and there’s so still much more to cover. While this has been an attempt to contrast the two most exciting powertrain options now offered in the HR-V, we’ll have a full review of Honda’s newest small SUV coming up soon to fill in the gaps left unaddressed here.