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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

That means one of the best interiors in class surrounded me as I jumped into the HR-V’s driver's seat. A cool honeycomb dash stretched from A-pillar to A-pillar, featuring a high-mounted touchscreen for good driver visibility complemented by meaty climate-control dials. The interior fit like a glove. That utility extended throughout the roomy cabin.

I loaded three suitcases, a computer bag and a backpack into the rear hatch with ease, then climbed into the roomy backseat with leg and headroom to spare. My 6’3” son Sam sat comfortably in front of me. The current owner of a 2012 VW Golf GTI, he is the HR-V’s target audience should he and his wife, say, want to buy a second car.

After a weekend in the Honda, he said it would be on his shopping list along with the Taos, since Volkswagen has impressed him with the GTI. The Honda and V-dub are very similar, with bold, roomy interiors and distinctive looks — another big improvement for this HR-V over last year’s appliance.

I mean, it actually looked more like a kitchen appliance than a car. For this gen, the HR-V has adopted a more anthropomorphic face with bright eyes (headlights) and a cute mouth. Think the 2020 Kia Sportage or Ford Focus.

My other son, Henry, was a tougher sell. The owner of a 250-horse, all-wheel-drive hatchback Mazda3, he has understandably high expectations for modern subcompact SUVs.

Charging along between corn fields on Route 632 south of Summit, he gripped the fat leather steering wheel and seemed to enjoy the HR-Vs’s nimble Civic chassis. The engine, not so much. He reached for the DRIVE mode selector and got only ECO, SNOW and NORMAL. No SPORT mode. “Pretty boring,” he said. How about the interior? “Compared to the red interior in my Mazda3? Pretty boring.”

 

Like I said, tough class.

Mazda CX-30 has set a ridiculously high bar in this class in features, too, with standard adaptive cruise control, blind-spot assist, automatic braking, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto and coffee machine (kidding about the latter). Honda keeps up with standard adaptive cruise and auto braking, but load the two vehicles to the teeth and the Mazda wins on price.

Honda’s strengths are in its boxy utility and ergonomic excellence. The Mazda has its quirks — like a cramped, coupe-like roof and remote-dial controlled information screen. Typically, Honda has obsessively tested its SUV to make sure everything is easy. For example:—Tab on top of the rear seats to help them collapse? Check.—Console storage? Check.—Sub-rear cargo storage for small items? Check.—Wireless Apple CarPlay/Android Auto? Check (on models like my tester with 9-inch screens).—Front warning lights to let me know that I’m within inches of a stack of race tires in the crowded Summit paddock? Check.

Still, there are reminders this is an entry-level vehicle, even in my loaded $31K EX-L model. There are no ceiling grab handles (for passengers to seize when we motorheads choose to throw the Civic chassis around a bit) or climate controls in the rear (honey, could you please turn up the AC in front?).

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