With a relatively small domestic market that sells around 600,000 cars every year - nearly 50 percent of it going to Perodua and Proton, Malaysia is often left out in getting the newest models.
Our bigger neighbours in Thailand and Indonesia sell in excess of a million cars annually. Thus, local distributors there usually have more leverage in negotiating for better wholesale prices and variants but that limitation doesn’t seem to apply to Honda Malaysia.
Malaysians love Honda and despite our smaller market, Malaysia is one of Honda’s top-10 markets worldwide, by volume. In return, Malaysia became the only market outside of Japan to offically sell the FD2 Civic Type R. We are still the only market outside of Japan to sell (and assemble) the Jazz Hybrid, City Hybrid, and lastly, the HR-V Hybrid seen here.
The standard HR-V is already an ideal compact car for many urbanites. Nothing else in its class can match the HR-V’s practical cabin but as keen drivers, we always felt that underneath the sloppy suspension lies a chassis with great potential, one that could certainly handle far more power.
Although Honda also sells a sportier HR-V RS (below) with variable ratio steering, it’s the HR-V Hybrid that offers better performance, thanks to the electrified drivetrain's instantaneous torque delivery.
Specifications for Honda HR-V Hybrid
- Engine: 1.5-litre four-cylinder, naturally aspirated
- Power: 152 PS (combined, engine and motor)
- Torque: 190 Nm (combined, engine and motor)
- Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch automatic
- Safety: 6 airbags, ISOFIX, ABS with EBD and BA, electronic stability control (VSA), hill start assist, emergency stop signal
- Origin: Locally-assembled in Pegoh, Melaka
- Price: RM120,800 excluding insurance
The reason? The City Hybrid and Jazz Hybrid use port injection, with a valvetrain that operates on the fuel-saving Atkinson combustion cycle. The HR-V Hybrid however, uses direct injection and runs on regular Otto cycle.
Curiously, both 1.5-litre Honda hybrid engines share the same LEB-H1 engine code, despite the vastly different combustion cycles used.
Unlike the City Hybrid and Jazz Hybrid, the HR-V Hybrid has an equal number of airbags (six) as the rest of the non-hybrid variants. The only difference in safety features is the omission of the LaneWatch camera (available only in the V and RS variant).
Having a hybrid battery means that there’s no space for a spare wheel, not even a space saver. Instead, the car comes with a tyre repair kit. Not ideal but personally I have not changed a spare tyre for the last eight years. All the punctures experienced were slow leaks.
The HR-V competes against the Mazda CX-3, Subaru XV, Mitsubishi ASX, and Toyota C-HR but its fiercest rival is without a doubt, the Proton X70. Even though the Proton is a larger product that sits one class higher, comparisons with the Honda are inevitable due to the X70’s price range (from RM99,800 – RM123,800).
At a glance, the only identifier separating the Hybrid variant from the rest of the HR-V range is the ‘Hybrid’ emblem. The Hybrid is otherwise identical to the E variant, using halogen projector headlamps and LED tail lamps with individual LED elements. The V and RS variants get LED (reflector type) headlamps and tube-type LED tail lamps.
Compared to the previous model, the facelift drops rear fogs lamps, which elicits mixed feelings because it is a step backwards, but we are at the same time glad since there will be less misuse. Many drivers still don’t know what that amber rear fog lamp symbol on the dashboard means.
Inside, the Hybrid is further differentiated by a new instrument cluster (adds energy flow display) and a shift-by-wire gear knob. The latter frees up additional utility space on the two-tier centre console.
On the right side of the rear seats is a vent that draws cool, air-conditioned air from the cabin to cool the hybrid Intelligent Power Unit (IPU) behind, so it’s essential that this vent is not blocked or wet. As you can tell by now, the IPU requires cool air from the cabin so avoid driving the car without air-conditioning, especially in our climate.
The front seats are half leather (still fabric in the essential areas). Only the V and the RS variants get full leather but between the two, we think the RS’ ivory coloured leather is a bad choice for our sunny climate as it reflects too much sunlight within the cabin.
We love the previous HR-V’s very practical interior but this facelift model sees a downgrade in its infotainment system. All variants get only 4 speakers and although the display screens are now larger, the USB port – which was previously located at the utility area below the centre console bridge – has been moved to the head unit.
Charging your phone now requires a longer cable snaking down from the head unit, looping over the centre console or gear knob. It’s a very poor arrangement that contradicts the otherwise well thought out, practical interior. The user interface and image quality of the head unit is also poor.
The only saving grace is its ultra-practical interior, which is far more usable than even the larger Proton X70. Although the HR- V is smaller, the mechanical bits are laid out better than anyone else, allowing it to offer more usable space than the larger Proton.
The secret is the Ultra Seats, which allows the rear seats to not just fold down, but also up thus allowing you to carry large, tall objects easily. No more fiddling with the backseats or rearranging the boot.
The boot stores up to 404 litres of cargo (seats up), 23 litres less than a non-hybrid variant but it’s still far bigger than any of its in-class rivals (Toyota C-HR: 388 litres, Mazda CX-3: 350 litres, Subaru XV: 310 litres).
It might not look as sporty as the RS, or even as hip as the Toyota C-HR, but it’s the sedate looking HR-V Hybrid that has best drivetrain.
With ample amount of torque, accelerations are immediate and sustained over a wide rev range, until you run out of battery charge of course.
On paper, the HR-V Hybrid is not as powerful as the 2.0-litre Subaru XV or Mazda CX-3 but out here in real world driving conditions, the HR-V Hybrid impresses enough. The Honda’s dual-clutch transmission helps too.
Unlike combustion engines, hybrids with their electric motors don’t need to be revved to build up torque. As a full-hybrid, the i-DCD Sport Hybrid drivetrain delivers its punch immediately from standing start. Where it impresses most is during in-gear accelerations – which in real-world driving, is more relevant than 0-100 km/h sprints.
The engine also runs a lot quieter than the City Hybrid/Jazz Hybrid, a direct benefit of using regular Otto cycle combustion instead of the fuel-saving Atkinson cycle.
The steering rack is not as sharp as the HR-V RS variant, which benefits from a variable ratio steering but to be honest, the omission doesn’t bother us at all.
A retuned rear suspension has also transformed the HR-V Hybrid’s dynamic behaviour slightly. The previous model’s suspension travel was a tad too short to be matched with its softly sprung setup. It was comfortable enough for most situations but up against the Toyota C-HR’s exceptional balance between comfort and body control, the HR-V was no match.
This revised setup is now a lot better. Lateral movements are now better controlled and the car holds its line better when pushed hard but it’s still nowhere near the Toyota C-HR’s composure.
The improved suspension yields not just better handling, but also ride comfort.
Wind and road noise when driving at highway speeds was a common complaint in the previous HR-V. The new model features additional sound proofing materials in the bulkhead, floorpan and boot floor.
There aren’t a lot of long straight roads on our test route in Langkawi to verify how much quieter the improved cabin is but our initial experience is positive.
The front seats have also been improved, with better thigh support, thicker side bolsters and improved cushion material.
Legroom, shoulder room and headroom are also superior to any of its in-class rivals.
The HR-V’s cabin is still the best in its class, even after considering the aforementioned downgrade in infotainment, which we only accept grudgingly. The Mazda CX-3 is too cramped inside and although the Toyota C-HR is very comfortable in front, the rear seats can be claustrophobic.
Claimed fuel consumption is 4.4-litre/100 km but of course, the sort of hard driving we subjected the car to meant that it was pointless to track it as we had been swapping drivers and even participated in a gymkhana course.
A more representative real-world driving experience will follow at a later time.
Although it has become all too common on our roads today, the new and improved HR-V is still the wisest buy in the segment, so long as you don’t mind blending in with the crowd.
No other crossover comes close to matching the HR-V’s combination of value and practicality. The hybrid variant is our favourite of the HR-V range.
It might look rather sedate but the deceptively named HR-V Hybrid packs quite a bit of punch, and is certainly sportier to drive than the HR-V RS.
The vehicle itself is warrantied for 5 years (unlimited mileage), while the hybrid battery itself is warrantied for 8 years (unlimited mileage), running in parallel with the vehicle warranty.
However we hope that something can be done about the downgraded infotainment system. It's the weakest link in the otherwise excellent car and moving the USB port from the centre console to the head unit has caused a lot of inconvenience.
Click here to get the best deals for a Honda HR-V.