In a sea of boring compact crossovers that have no personality, this little Honda swims to the top.
Pint-sized crossovers are everywhere, replacing a generation of compact sedans and hatchbacks plenty of people owned for ages. As manufacturers looked to capitalize on the desire for crossovers on a budget, too many of these little utility vehicles got the short end of the fit and finish stick, and left plenty to desire in the driving enjoyment department.
In its previous generation, the HR-V was based on a dated platform borrowed from the Honda Fit, which wasn’t the greatest thing to drive. Thankfully Honda gave its popular HR-V a big update for 2023. With a new chassis, more stylish exterior lines, and a much needed interior upgrade, Honda’s most affordable crossover aims to please a wider range of buyers who want to tote more people and gear without breaking the bank.
The Useful Figures
Honda’s HR-V is the entry level crossover in its lineup, packing room for four adults (or five occupants, with three kids in the back seat) and decent space for all their stuff. All 2023 Honda HR-V trim levels are powered by a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder that produces 158 horsepower and 138 lb-ft of torque. Front-wheel-drive is standard on all HR-Vs, with Honda’s Real Time all-wheel-drive available for an additional $1,500, with a CVT as the only transmission selection. EPA fuel economy estimates are 26/32/28 for the front-wheel-drive model, and only give back the slightest MPGs with all-wheel-drive, at 25/30/27.
As trim levels move up, Honda neatly packages features and convenience into each HR-V option. Pricing for the HR-V’s base LX trim starts at $23,800, the mid-level Sport is $25,900, and the range-topping EX-L starts at $27,900. The EX-L I tested added all-wheel-drive and Nordic Forest Pearl paint (another $395) to hit an MSRP of $30,590 after destination.
The Zippy City Car
As little crossovers go, the 2023 HR-V is actually fun to drive. With 158 horsepower and decent torque–which isn’t too shabby for a little car–Honda’s entry crossover zips around nicely. Though it has a CVT mated to that engine, Honda’s ‘box actually engages effectively, rather than hampering any hint of performance or drivability. Some of its competition should really reevaluate how a CVT should operate. t
Honda’s brake auto hold feature is fantastic for city driving, allowing you to take your foot off the pedal and relax a bit when stuck at a red light. Honda Sensing–which is a comprehensive suite of safety features–comes standard on the HR-V, continuing to provide exceptionally functional lane keeping and adaptive cruise control systems that some more expensive cars don’t execute nearly as well.
Steering feel is great, feeling a bit more like a Civic Si than an entry-level crossover, and the ride quality is quite good over any drive. There are normal, eco, and snow drive modes featured in the HR-V, and hill descent control is ready with the push of a button, should you be tackling more complicated terrain than the local grocery store parking lot. Just don’t mistake this HR-V for an off-roader when you take the family on a camping trip, having reasonable all-season tires fitted to the EX-L’s slightly cooler painted and finished wheels.
Cabin appointments in the new HR-V are great, taking lots of cues from the updated Civic I tested last year, with considerably better fit and finish than the last generation. The leather seats are soft to the touch yet perfectly supportive, with a cool mix of contrasting stitching and perforations, and the front seats heat up nicely when desired. Not a fan of infotainment screens that are seemingly slapped atop a dash, at least Honda’s system is easy to use, also offering a high-resolution display.
What really surprised me in the HR-V is the amount of passenger volume offered inside what’s Honda’s smallest car. Even in the back seat I had plenty of legroom. The HR-V’s rear storage area is big too, with the cargo capacity increasing considerably when the back seats fold flat with a 60/40 split. If you need more space inside and out, Honda did just give a big update its CR-V too. As you’d expect from Honda, the HR-V also has lots of little places to stash your things, even keeping your phone stable when it’s tucked away.
The Good And Not Great Things
The trend of adding harsh edges and fake vents to cute-sized crossovers is a terrible one, and I’m happy to see that Honda gave the updated HR-V more subtle and clean exterior lines. Even the body cladding on the fenders is tidy, using painted panels rather than the cheap-looking gray plastic too many OEMs are slapping on small crossovers.
I like this new interior styling language Honda has applied to its models, giving not only a strong sense of continuity no matter which model you hop behind the wheel of, but also refining a cockpit that’s neatly balancing intuitive and cool. That HR-V benefits from this cabin design language, and the EX-L trim gets good doses of contrasting-stitched leather to coat the dash, door cards, and center console. Actual buttons and knobs are used extensively inside the HR-V, with Honda avoiding the often employed capacitive touch controls and screens by other manufacturers.
Smart shortcut digital buttons added to the bottom of the infotainment screen are a cool touch too, making use of the system customizable depending on your needs. In this EX-L trim, I like that Honda gave the HR-V wireless charging in addition to wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, but didn’t skimp on the USB ports throughout the cabin for all occupants. The ambient lighting system is kinda minimal, but it’s one more upgrade in the top trim level HR-V.
The use case for the HR-V had to include moms handling the day-to-day needs of the family, and the rear hatch has a load-in floor that seems a bit high for a small crossover. On days when errand runs involve heavier items, this is one tiny complaint I have on behalf of shorter HR-V drivers. Cargo space is definitely big for what appears to be a small crossover on the outside, but I wish Honda gave the HR-V’s rear hatch area more practical storage solutions–like netting and concealed pockets–for tucking away your stuff.
While clean in its design, and smart to allow for customized displays, the HR-V’s instrument cluster is a bit basic in its layout and color theme. It’s easy to let your eyes blend in all the numbers and indications on the gauges without some sort of contrasting needles and dials. Cool appearances aside, the new hexagonal dash vents are begging for dust, dirt, and hair to get stuck behind them, leading to difficulty cleaning after years of ownership. Honestly my negatives about the HR-V are minimal, with none of these being reasons to avoid this pint-sized Honda.
A Great Little Crossover On A Budget
An inexpensive compact crossover doesn’t have to cheap out with its looks, features, nor quality, and thankfully Honda got the memo. The new HR-V is a great option for those who want a decent crossover that packs a bunch of good features and driving dynamics into an attractive package that doesn’t beat up your monthly budget.
While I feel that more drivers should opt for hatchbacks rather than compact crossovers, to keep the driving sensations more fun while lowering the center of gravity, I’m not shifting the tide of buyers happily lining up to drive these cute-sized utes. Luckily manufacturers are stepping up the crossover offerings while making them more enjoyable to drive, with only modest price increases. If you’ve got to stick an affordable little utility vehicle in your driveway, the new Honda HR-V is a great choice to make.