Just shy of fun. Compact crossovers continue to flood the market, offering zippy fun without compromising utility. The 2020 Honda HR-V follows through on at least half the promise.
The HR-V returns unchanged for the new model year, which isn’t a bad thing. But it’s not quite a good thing, either – its body has some unusual lines, but it doesn’t have the personality of competitors like the Hyundai Kona.
Neither is it as enjoyable to drive as standouts like the Mazda CX-3. A short wheelbase makes the HR-V quick to turn in, but you won’t find the zest that Honda sometimes brings to its smaller cars.
What you will find is comfort. The HR-V soaks up bumps and potholes like a larger car, even with the 18-inch wheels worn by some trims. If you like your crossover to be cruise-worthy, you’ll be right at home.
Putting the utility in sport utility vehicle... On the utility side of the equation, the HR-V excels. Passenger space is exceptional, with 38.3 inches of headroom and 39.3 inches of legroom in the second row. That’s one area where the HR-V exceeds both the Kona and the CX-3.
Cargo space is equally strong, with 24.3 cubic feet behind the seats and nearly 60 with them folded – a full 20 cubic feet more than the Toyota C-HR.
But the HR-V's best trick is its rear seat. Honda calls the system “Magic Seats,” and, in our opinion, it’s more than a gimmick. The seat bottoms flip up to sit flush with the seatbacks, creating a tall cargo area just behind the front seats. Combined with front and rear seats that can lay flat, it makes the HR-V one of the most versatile crossovers on the market.
Our only complaint about the HR-V's interior is the materials. This is an economy car, but others manage to elevate their interiors with thoughtful design or trim choice. The HR-V is pleasantly laid out, but its materials betray the price.
...and subtracting the sport. Even if compact crossovers aren’t known for the grunt of larger SUVs, the HR-V feels anemic. The 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine produces only 141 horsepower, which is less than nearly every competitor.
As you might expect, that makes the HR-V an underdog in drag races. It also means that the engine has to labor on steep hills and highway maneuvers, although it’s fine around town.
The lack of power would be easier to forgive if the HR-V was exceptionally efficient, but it isn’t a standout. Even with the car’s continuously variable transmission, fuel economy is capped at 30 miles per gallon combined with front-wheel drive and 28 mpg with all-wheel drive, according to the EPA.
Some competitors do better, but so does Honda’s own CR-V – with AWD, the larger crossover gets up to 29 mpg combined.
Features take finding. We’re used to praising Honda for its feature inclusion, but the HR-V isn't as lovable in base trim. The base model lacks automatic emergency braking, which only comes standard on EX trims and above. The IIHS declared the HR-V a Top Safety Pick, but only with the LED headlights on the pricey Touring trim.
The base model also skips modern infotainment, settling for a 5-inch touchscreen without smartphone compatibility. The rest of the lineup gets a 7-inch screen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto baked in.
Some of these omissions come in the name of keeping starting cost low, but the Kona stuffs in automatic emergency braking and better infotainment at the same price. The HR-V hits its stride in the middle trims – our favorite is the EX. The upper trims are a decent value if you’re looking for luxury goodies, but prices start to push toward CR-V territory.
Final thoughts. The 2020 Honda HR-V has a few factors that separate it from a growing horde of competitors. Passenger space is excellent, the ride is comfortable, and versatility is exceptional.
But the HR-V lets us down in a few key areas. The engine is low on power and middling inefficiency, and the base trim skips features we like. That puts the HR-V somewhere in the middle – it has its strengths, but it fails to separate itself from the crowd.
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