It could be said that the Honda HR-V, first introduced in 1999, was a product way ahead of its time. A true small crossover SUV with a 4-wheel drive system taken from the CR-V, the HR-V was a pioneer in the industry, though its local popularity failed to match that of its home country, Japan.
Unlike its introduction over 15 years ago, however, the Honda HR-V now sees itself surrounded by excellent company, namely Mazda and their fun-to-drive CX-3, Subaru’s all-wheel-drive XV, and Chevrolet’s well-equipped Trax. For its mid-cycle refresh, the new Honda HR-V sees some important updates to keep itself competitive, and the resulting product is looking better than ever.
This top-of-the-line RS variant is the best example of the kind of visual goal Honda wants to achieve with the HR-V. Its front fascia has been completely redesigned and slightly juts out from under the hood. The new black honeycomb pattern adds to a sportier look, and redesigned foglamp housings and front bumpers give the HR-V some newfound aggression. The lights up front have been completely redesigned as well. Both the headlights and foglamps are now fully LED, which addresses earlier concerns of the previous model’s headlamps being unable to sufficiently illuminate the road. The headlamps are now sleeker, thanks to new chrome eyelids and outlines in black chrome finishing that match the grille.
The RS body kit further complements this contrast by providing black chins, wheel arches, and side skirts to the HR-V, giving it an attractive two-tone color combination. The rear is largely the same, with slight changes to the rear bumper. The two-tone motif continues down to the new alloy wheels, while retaining the 215/55 R17 sizing from the previous model. It would be a mistake to consider these aesthetic changes as minor, as they collectively contribute to a huge improvement to the HR-V’s styling appeal, arguably turning it into one of the better-looking offerings in its segment and increasing its longevity for years to come.
The HR-V’s interior has always been highly regarded as one of the best in its class. Excellent fit and finishing in the cabin has always been one of the HR-V’s strong points, and Honda is well-known for their above average build quality.
Instead of resting on their laurels, Honda further improves on this by enhancing its premium look while updating its functionality. The center island, which conveniently places the shift knob within easy reach, is now completely finished in piano black. While it’s a simple change, it does wonders in making the HR-V feel more upscale. The head unit, which controls entertainment (four speakers and two tweeters) and communication functions, has been updated to a seven-inch touchscreen from Kenwood. This upgraded system now incorporates Android Auto and Apple CarPlay with wireless screen-mirroring, allowing the driver to easily interact with their mobile phone using the car’s touchscreen instead. Besides that, the new unit now features 1080p movie playback, as well as navigation functions. New stitching adorns the door panels as well, which reflects the HR-V’s sporty exterior.
The 2018 Honda HR-V continues to be a really fun drive as well. It’s still powered by the same 1.8-liter SOHC i-VTEC engine, with 142-PS at 6,500 rpm and 172-Nm of torque at 4,300 rpm, powering the front wheels. And though it’s still mated to Honda’s Earth Dreams Technology continuously variable transmission — which may dampen some straight-line excitement — the HR-V can still offer a spirited drive with manually selectable gears thanks to its paddle shifters.
The rack and pinion steering system provides excellent feedback during cornering, and the HR-V retains the sprightly handling characteristics of the Honda Jazz on which it’s based. Sure, some body roll and understeer is present when pushed to the limit, but the HR-V remains one of the more agile cars in its class, bested only by the driver-focused sensibilities of the Mazda CX-3. Ventilated disc brakes up front and solid discs at the rear provide more than enough stopping power for the HR-V’s lightweight 1,270 kg body.
The 2018 Honda HR-V RS takes a small hit in safety, reducing the number of airbags from six to four. Despite losing the curtain airbags however, the HR-V’s safety is still on par with the rest, with auto brake hold, vehicle stability assist, hill start assist, ABS, emergency stop signal, a reverse camera, and reverse sensors.
Honda’s reputation for remarkable build quality is well-represented in the new HR-V. With the top-of-the-line RS trim priced at P1,495,000, the Honda HR-V presents an appealing overall package of handsome styling, premium refinement, usable practicality and driving fun. More than being a safe choice in the segment, it’s an intelligent one as well.
Text and photos by Chris Van Hoven