REVIEW: 2022 Honda HR-V RS e:HEV SUV tested
Seven years have passed since the Honda HR-V landed in Malaysia. The SUV we’re familiar with is actually the second ‘Hi-rider Revolutionary Vehicle’ to use the name – the first being the boxy two-door oddball from the early 2000s – but to most, the one that was launched by Honda Malaysia in 2015 is ‘the first HR-V’. From here, all mentions of ‘previous HR-V’ or ‘the original’ refer to this one.
UPDATE: The 2022 Honda HR-V is now open for booking in Malaysia.
No confusion when we’re talking about the impact the HR-V made on the Malaysian market, though. It wasn’t the first compact SUV in the market when it reached our shores in 2015, but the RU-series HR-V could well be one of the most significant SUVs ever launched in our country.
It was an instant hit, an entry that was everything to everyone, as much as a crowd pleaser as an SUV can get. Technically a B-segment SUV, its natural rivals here would have been the Ford EcoSport and Peugeot 2008, but against those two, Honda’s brand power would be enough to win it, before factoring that the HR-V was a far superior car.
In its early days here, the HR-V fought for sales with cars from a class above, C-segment SUVs such as the Hyundai Tucson, Kia Sportage (these two brands and nameplates were still in their prime in Malaysia then) and the Mazda CX-5.
To say that the HR-V has been a success for Honda Malaysia is an understatement. It became the defining compact SUV, a brand new product line for HM that went on to find over 111,000 homes. It’s not uncommon to see shopping mall parking lots and suburban taman porches filled with rows of HR-Vs. Like the Myvi of upper middle class areas.
No longer the undisputed champ
But no one stays at the top of the game unchallenged forever. National makes Perodua and Proton both now have compact SUVs in their range, and Toyota – for long, a laggard in this growing sector – now has a range of SUVs on offer, from the Perodua-manufactured Rush to the Lexus-level Harrier. Recently, the big T made a big assault on HR-V territory with the Corolla Cross.
The HR-V’s status as the default compact SUV is no more. The newer and cheaper Proton X50 outsells it and the Corolla Cross is gaining momentum. The qualities that made the HR-V so popular are still relevant today, but it certainly isn’t a fresh face anymore and change is needed.
That change is coming very, very soon to Malaysia, and so we headed to Thailand for a preview drive of the new HR-V, which was launched there with a single e:HEV hybrid powertrain in November 2021.
We called the outgoing HR-V a game changer in our first local drive in 2015, and change the game it did. But the rules of the sport are well established now, and the new third-generation HR-V won’t be altering anything – instead, its mission is to put the nameplate at the top of the pack, again.
Only the name is same
That won’t be achieved by same-same looking evolutionary design, certainly not in the fast moving SUV game, and the HR-V delivers in this respect. This new one looks nothing like its predecessor; everything from the body shape to the model wordmark is fresh. The only things carried over are the name and hidden rear door handles.
If the previous HR-V was all swoopy lines in an organic shape, the new one has a well-defined outline. The straight lines extend to the shoulder line, which is high and straight – it doesn’t rise from front to back like the X50 and so many others. This strong image is contrasted by the rake of the rear screen, which defines the new HR-V’s shape. No sloping roof, just a sharp rake.
To my eyes, this clean but strong look is a big (and good) contrast from the highly-stylised X50 and the soft curves employed by Mazda and Honda itself with the current CR-V, which all look like they have a giant door dent in the profile. I like my SUVs square, but looks are subjective – what’s your take?
Don’t mistake the restrained body for boring though, because the overall look is lifted by eye-catching details. Up front is a large grille that’s bolder than any Honda nose I remember (RS’ chequered flag pattern is louder than the regular horizontal stripes). The LED headlamps have thick brows that connect with the top of the grille. One interesting detail is the red accent line on the lower bumper, which has a “heartbeat” blip on one side. Amp up your life, they say.
The sides are pretty straightforward, with the strong shoulder line combining with the raked rear screen to provide a strong silhouette. The hidden rear door handles – a trick used by the previous car to have more of a “coupe look” – have been retained. The wheels are simple dark 18-inch items on this Thai-spec RS. Park both old and new side-by-side like we did and you’ll see the less sloping nose and more angled rear hatch.
So far so different, but the biggest divergence is at the rear. The new HR-V sports a full width light bar that gives it more than a hint of Porsche Macan from afar. The LED bar is broken up by the Honda logo, like the new Harrier, but the HR-V’s signature is thicker and appears brighter. The actual tail lamps are pretty novel too – light ‘chips’ are laid out in a row, like a less layered version of BMW’s OLEDs.
To my eyes, the new HR-V appears a fair bit larger than it really is. At 4,385 mm long, today’s RV generation is just 39 mm longer than the facelifted RS it’s replacing, while the 1,790 mm width and 2,610 mm wheelbase are unchanged. Perhaps the very apparent higher ground clearance – 196 mm, 26 mm higher – plays a role in the illusion.
You do get a good impression of that height from behind the wheel, and that’s something I’ve come to like in daily driving. There are some who prefer a more “car-like” low slung feel for their SUVs, but why, when you can just buy a regular sedan/hatchback?
The new HR-V’s design is such that the windscreen and windows are rather shallow – paired with an all-black interior, the feel can be either sporty or claustrophobic, depending on how you like your cabins. I’m probably in the minority, but personally, I like lighter hues and if all-black is not avoidable, splashes of colour to break the monotony. The Thai RS cabin is a dark space, but it’s neutralised by a panoramic glass roof.
This two-piece roof, which has larger coverage than the previous-gen’s glass roof (wasn’t offered in Malaysia), has a regular retracting shade in front and two pieces of clip-on shades at the back, like a targa top old Toyota MR2 without the centre spar.
The shades are sturdy and very easy to remove and affix. Fantastic for road trips and sightseeing – I love it. However, looking at Malaysians’ preference to be insulated from the elements, the glass roof might not make it into HM’s spec sheet – we’ll see.
I really liked the previous HR-V’s interior, and seeing a Thai RS wine red-black example reminded me why. Sports car-like with that tall centre console and simple in layout, it’s sporty and feels rather special. The new cockpit isn’t unpleasant, but it looks more conventional and less driver-focused.
There’s a horizontal vent strip here, but unlike in the latest Civic, there’s no grille and attempt to camouflage the vents. Sans decoration or accents, the vent strip and the large trim piece below it (slightly softer plastic but no stitching) looks a little plain.
Speaking of vents, there’s a Honda-first air diffusion system that you’ll find on the side vents. If you don’t want cold air blasted on your face, but still want some ventilation, turn the knob and air will flow out from the slim inverted-L strips. Sounds like something I’d use very often; if only diffusing the air from the side vent doesn’t divert the rest of the air to the other vent (the one next to the screen), making it stronger and defeating the purpose of calm air.
The part-digital meter panel (analogue speedo) is the same one seen in the City RS e:HEV, and it does its job well – not sure why a G-meter is needed, but hybrid-specific displays such as the power/charge gauge and power flow diagram are useful.
My other interior complaint is about the head unit. The 8.0-inch item supports Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which is good, and looks fine in pictures. However, in practice, the screen angles away from the driver. The situation isn’t as bad as in the latest Proton Iriz/Persona, and the reflection not half as severe, but once you see it…
Also, the head unit-style of the screen and its back box isn’t as slick looking as a true floating display with covered innards. There’s also some reflection of the dash top on the windscreen in harsh sunlight, but it’s nothing major.
We’ve become accustomed to Honda’s LaneWatch camera over the years, but I’m not entirely convinced that it’s superior to the regular blind spot warning system that everyone else uses. Will Honda one day “eat humble pie” and drop it like Lexus did with its frustrating Remote Touch Interface?
Alas, the HR-V’s cockpit is comfortable and functional, but also unremarkable – the dashboard design is nicer than the City’s, but falls short of the standards set by the Civic FE. Intentional, perhaps. The X50 Flagship’s two-tone cockpit and Mazda interiors do feel that bit more premium. Bear in mind that Malaysian specs might differ from this Thai RS.
Range extender EV
As mentioned, the latest HR-V is hybrid-only in Thailand, due to government incentives for electrified vehicles. The i-MMD (intelligent Multi-Mode Drive) hybrid system is branded e:HEV, and it replaces the previous HR-V Hybrid’s i-DCD system.
Like in the City RS e:HEV, a 1.5L Atkinson cycle engine works together with an e-CVT, an integrated electric motor that also acts as a starter, and a larger second motor. The DOHC i-VTEC engine makes 106 PS/127 Nm, and functions mainly as a generator for the e-motor, although it can provide direct drive to the wheels at high speeds as it’s more efficient in such situations. As this is Thailand, the ICE is tuned to accept E20 gasohol.
The e-motor produces 131 PS and 253 Nm of torque from 0 to 3,500 rpm. Honda Thailand quotes a total system output of 215 PS and claimed fuel consumption of 25.6 km/l.
Compared to our City RS e:HEV, the Thai-spec HR-V RS e:HEV’s ICE has an extra 8 PS and the e-motor has a 23 PS advantage. The HR-V is of course heavier – the top-spec Thai HR-V you see here tips the scales at 1,407 kg, which is 161 kg heavier than our City RS sedan.
Like the hybrid City, the HR-V e:HEV is a joy to drive in slow traffic. That’s because it’s essentially an EV in town, smooth and quiet as we inched our way out of Phuket’s Patong Beach. i-MMD is a huge upgrade over i-DCD when it comes to rolling in pure EV mode, being able to go much further and withstand significantly more pedal pressure before the engine is forced to assist.
Improved dynamics, comfort
At home, I like the “EV as far as possible” game, but we’ve got places to go and Phuket’s hills beckon. And just like that, at the beginning of the drive, the new HR-V feels different from the old one. The steering stands out – it’s quick and sharp, and feels meatier than what I’ve come to expect from Honda.
Once you get used to the smaller angles needed for bends, the HR-V is fluent and low-effort on winding sections. At high speeds, the helm is steady and relaxing. I’ve not had a go at the new Civic yet, but others tell me that the new sedan is also a very good steer, so Honda’s got something going on here.
If you’re worried about the new HR-V higher ground clearance affecting dynamics, don’t. Body roll isn’t really a factor in fast road driving, and that includes a very twisty uphill-downhill narrow stretch around Phang-nga Bay en route to Krabi, which reminds me of the road from Kuala Kubu Bharu to The Gap. The rear suspension continues to be a torsion beam, and Thai roads are smoother than ours, but I don’t expect ride comfort to be an issue in Malaysia.
Another upgraded area that current HR-V owners might notice is NVH. Insulation from road roar is decent (Thai RS uses 18-inch Bridgestone Alenza SUV tyres) and there are no wind noise issues to report.
The engine has a muted growl when extended, with revs dropping as your right foot eases off the gas. Here, there seems to be less of a deliberate torque converter AT-mimicking “shift pattern” programme than Toyota CVTs, but I’m OK with either. With the e-motor’s torque doing the heavy lifting, high revs aren’t needed most of the time anyway. With that said, don’t expect “215 PS/253 Nm” levels of performance – quoted figures for electrified cars are always more enticing than the actual acceleration, and this ain’t no Golf GTI. The HR-V hybrid isn’t a slow car, but you’ll be buying it for the fuel efficiency, range topping equipment and sporty looks.
Some notes from the rear seats, which I tried on a few sections. The previous HR-V was more spacious than its footprint suggested, and its the same here – legroom is good and the rear seat is quite well-shaped for two, although fitting three abreast wouldn’t be a comfy affair as the centre section is raised by a fair bit.
The height of the seat base is perfect for my 175 cm frame, and there’s a palm’s worth of headroom to spare, which is a touch less than in the old car. Perhaps there will be slightly more room without the glass roof, which by the way extends further back than in the previous car.
The rear air con vents and handy phone slots in the seatbacks are appreciated, and I also like the location of the cupholders, which are on the doors, arm-level. Ultra Seats, which flip up to accommodate tall items, is one of those things that you don’t realise you need, until you use it for the first time – you know, like those nifty Daiso items. No one maximises space like Honda, and the HR-V will be a great family car.
The return of the king?
In a fast-paced world where gadgets are replaced every year, we’re prone to dismissing something that has been around, but newer isn’t always better in every aspect. And the outgoing HR-V didn’t become a bad car overnight. Honda has something good to build from, and if you follow European football, you’ll know that experience can be invaluable in the biggest of games.
The new HR-V is better to drive and a more comfortable car to ride in, and the i-MMD hybrid system is a major leap forward (don’t scoff at FC, because the era of cheap subsidised fuel for all is ending soon). Those are vital improvements, but IMO, the biggest plus point is the new model’s clean sheet design. The HR-V appears larger and more premium than before, and the shape is a unique one that sets it apart from the competition. Honda Sensing across the entire range would be nice.
Ah, the range. In Thailand, the HR-V is hybrid-only, while in Indonesia, the SUV can be had with two 1.5L engines – naturally aspirated (121 PS/145 Nm) or turbocharged (177 PS/240 Nm). At the time of writing, we don’t know which of the powertrains will be offered in Malaysia alongside the e:HEV. Established in our market now, the 1.5T is a shoo-in, but word is that there will be a 1.5L NA base model as well.
The latter seems surprising, as the previous model had a 1.8L NA, and a “City engine” powering a larger body doesn’t sound too appealing. But it will be adequate (Australia has the 1.5L NA too) for those using the HR-V as a suburban runabout, a second/third car “for rough use” to the shops. Some might even desire a fuss-free proven engine without any boosting. The same points apply to the 2.0L NA-powered CR-V, and HM sells a few of those. Besides, those who want more power can always go for the turbo version.
So, a three-pronged attack to reclaim the throne? Two or three, you’d be silly to bet against the Honda HR-V.
GALLERY: 2022 Honda HR-V RS e:HEV, Thailand spec
GALLERY: 2022 Honda HR-V RS e:HEV, Thailand spec, official pics