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Auto review: New Honda HR-V is stylish, roomy and fun. Until you put your foot into it

Henry Payne, The Detroit News on

Published in Automotive News

SUMMIT POINT, West Virginia — Powered by a 1.5-liter Honda Fit engine, the F1600 class is one of my favorite open-wheel, so-called “Formula” racing classes. It’s a showcase for relentless wheel-to-wheel driving, some of the country’s best up-and-coming teenage drivers on the Road to Indy — and for Honda’s reliable engine technology.

Honda also makes a stylish small SUV that will get you to the track.

I picked up the Japanese brand’s newest entry-level, Mexican-built HR-V sport ute at Dulles Airport this summer to take my family to an F1600 race at Summit Point Raceway, one of the country’s most challenging regional racing circuits. I would also be racing my own Lola sports racer (powered by a Ford, not Honda, engine) in the Sports2000 series, which shared box office billing with the F1600s.

Ford was once synonymous with entry-level racing with its iconic Formula Ford series. But Honda recently replaced Ford engines in the F1600 series. The Dearborn maker is more focused on off-road and electrified vehicles these days with its dirt-kicking Bronco and a full pickup lineup that includes the entry-level, hybrid-powered Maverick.

Needless to say, pickups and open-wheel racing are opposite ends of auto culture — but not for Honda, whose entry-level Civic sedan and CR-V ute are whip-quick compacts that appeal to the young folks hanging around F1600 races and Summit Point.

So my family was surprised to find the 158-horsepower, 2.0-liter engine in my HR-V was the least interesting part of the vehicle. RRRRRRRRRR! Mated to a droning CVT transmission, the HR-V huffed and puffed up the hills of winding West Virginia roads leading to Summit Point.

 

The F1600’s 1.5-liter Honda engine only makes 130 horses. But since the cars weigh just 1,110 pounds, that’s enough ponies for the job. The 2.0-liter, 158-horse unit in my HR-V, on the other hand, has to push around 3,350 pounds. Oof.

No doubt, the HR-V is as bulletproof as the F1600 mills, which have to endure constant punishment from their drivers. Still, the HR-V’s engine puts it at a comparative disadvantage in its ferociously competitive segment that includes the 186-horse Mazda CX-30 (my favorite driver’s SUV in the subcompact class) or the 184-torque (compared to the HR-V’s 138) turbocharged, 4-cylinder-powered Volkswagen Taos.

At least the HR-V upgraded its engine from the 141-horse hamster wheel in the first-generation model — part of an overhaul for the entry-level ute. As readers of this column know, I’ve got the need for speed, but for most customers in this class, it’s the HR-V’s other upgrades that will really turn heads.

Begin with the fact that the new HR-V is built on the same bones as the excellent Civic sedan.

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