2017 Honda HR-V EX-L Navi Road Test

Two years ago Honda hadn’t even staked their claim in the burgeoning subcompact SUV category, but after its first seven months
2017 Honda HR-V EX-L Navi
The HR-V’s bold design won’t be mistaken for anything else. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
of availability the HR-V shot right up to the top of its class in the Canadian market with 8,959 sales compared to the next-best Chevy Trax that had 12 months to achieve its 8,156-unit final tally.

What about 2016? With a full year under its belt the little Honda SUV became the only segment challenger to break five figures with final sales of 12,371 units compared to 9,354 deliveries from the next-bestselling Mazda CX-3. Things aren’t letting up this year either, with a new six-month high of 8,219 HR-Vs down Canadian roads at the close of Q2 2017, almost doubling the second-place CX-3’s 4,873-unit total and third-ranked Buick Encore’s 4,221 sales tally, while deliveries of the Mitsubishi RVR, Chevrolet Trax, Jeep Renegade, Nissan Juke, Fiat 500X and Mini Countryman trailed far behind at 3,443, 3,202, 2,968, 1,370, 786, and 411 units
2017 Honda HR-V EX-L Navi
All HR-V trims look similarly upscale thanks to plenty of standard features.(Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
respectively (the latter model’s sales were last reported in May so add another 150 or so units).

Even the two newest models don’t appear strong enough to topple the HR-V, with Toyota’s CH-R finding 690 buyers in its first month of May and then 641 in June, whereas Nissan’s new Qashqai started selling later in May for a smaller total of 191 units and made up for it big time in June with 814 deliveries, which still pale in comparison to the HR-V’s 1,687 May and 1,592 June sales. Could Ford’s upcoming EcoSport do better? I can just imagine the impish HR-V saying something impertinent like, “Bring it on!”

The two new entries make the subcompact SUV class 11 competitors deep, while the
2017 Honda HR-V EX-L Navi
Sporty rear quarter styling might be the little SUV’s best vantage point. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
EcoSport will make it an even dozen when it arrives this fall. Consider for a moment that calendar year 2014 only found five challengers in this category, while there were just three competing in 2011 and only two going head-to-head in 2010 (the Juke and RVR in case you were wondering). That a newcomer has managed to steal most of the thunder is shocking, but then again it’ll make a whole lot of sense to anyone who’s spent time with the amazingly practical little HR-V.

We Canadians can be pragmatic to a fault when it comes to buying small vehicles, which we do more often than our friends to the south. Next to big Ford Series trucks (that derive much of their sales from the commercial market), our bestselling car is Honda’s Civic, which sold 64,552 units in 2016 and had already found
2017 Honda HR-V EX-L Navi
Big LED taillights are highly visible from behind. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
37,180 buyers by Q2 this year. The Honda CR-V fares well in the compact SUV segment too, although rather than totally dominant like the HR-V and Civic it’s in a constant battle with Toyota’s RAV4, with one ahead of the other depending on a given month, whereas the subcompact Honda Fit hatchback was second-most popular in its class last year, although has experienced an uncharacteristic plunge to sixth over the first five months of 2017.

This must have something to do with its availability at the dealer level, because the current third-generation Fit (second in our market) is three years younger than the segment’s long-in-tooth albeit bestselling Hyundai Accent, and by my experience remains one of the best in the class. On that note a mild refresh is expected later this year as a 2018 model, so it could be that Honda is slowly phasing out this 2017 version so that its dealers don’t end up with too many in stock when the new one arrives.

2017 Honda HR-V EX-L Navi
Multi-reflector halogen headlamps come standard. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
again it could be this very HR-V that’s cannibalizing the Fit’s sales. As you may already know, the HR-V is based on the Fit and is therefore similarly sized and equally efficient in its packaging. It’s quite a bit pricier with a base of $21,050 compared to $15,050, which puts it out of reach of price-sensitive first-time car buyers that normally shop in the subcompact car class, but some that come shopping for a Fit might very well be upsold to the HR-V. We’ll just have to see how the Fit story pans out as the year unfolds, but either way the really big story will be the HR-V and how it continues to decimate its rivals.

The HR-V rightly gets no significant changes for 2017, with only two items on the list. The first is the cancellation of the lovely Misty Green Pearl hue (a dark forest green) that coated the exterior of the 2016 HR-V AWD EX-L Navi I tested and reviewed
2017 Honda HR-V EX-L Navi
Fog lights are one of the only ways to tell between trim levels. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
last year (I reviewed the 2016 HR-V EX-2WD as well). Therefore, the only difference between this 2017 HR-V AWD EX-L Navi is its stealthy Modern Steel Metallic grey. This means Honda now provides six exterior HR-V colours to choose from including this nice shade of grey, Crystal Black Pearl, White Orchid Pearl, Deep Ocean Pearl (a dark blue), Milano Red, and Mulberry Metallic (a dark aubergine purple).

The second change is another subtraction, the elimination of the six-speed manual on mid-grade EX trim. This might cause a tiny handful of HR-V fans to grimace, but if there were going to be a major outcry they wouldn’t have axed it. As it is, only the base LX model gets the wonderful DIY gearbox for 2017, all other trims making do with Honda’s efficient continuously variable transmission (CVT).

2017 Honda HR-V EX-L Navi
These 17-inch alloys are standard across the HR-V line. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
the outside it’s difficult to figure out exactly which trim level is coming at you, mostly because the HR-V is so nicely featured in base trim. All get fitted with the same sizeable 17-inch five-spoke alloys on 215/55 all-seasons, body-coloured side mirrors, and body-coloured rear rooftop spoiler, while the headlights are multi-reflector halogens and taillights filled with LEDs. Lastly, matte-finish black plastic cladding trims out the lower front fascia, wheel arch edges, side skirts, and the bottom half of the rear bumper in typical SUV fashion. The move up to EX adds circular fog lamps up front and LED turn signals within the side mirror housings, while the top-line EX-L Navi gets a set of silver roof rails to make it stand out.

Buyers in this class seem to love or loathe the HR-V’s styling, a theme that I’ve witnessed
2017 Honda HR-V EX-L Navi
Honda neatly integrates the rear door handles into the window surround trim. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
firsthand while living a week at a time with Honda’s latest designs. People are either enamoured with the modern, edgy, origami look or they won’t be caught dead in one, which is certainly a different strategy than the mainstream volume brand has played for most of its existence. I’ve always loved Honda’s engineering, but been lulled to sleep by its styling, so I can hardly complain after they’ve spiced things up. I can’t say I’m in the enamoured camp, but I’m hardly frothing at the mouth in rabid rage either. To me it’s not as handsome as the CX-3, but nothing in the class is. The stylish Mazda is one of the best to drive too, but if forced to decide between styling and performance or overall practicality, I’d probably lean towards the latter. I am Canadian after all.

Before delving into the HR-V’s innovatively flexible interior design, I wouldn’t want to leave you wondering if there’s something wrong with the way it drives. While not
2017 Honda HR-V EX-L Navi
Nice LED detailing give the taillights a dazzling brilliance at night. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
the segment’s sportiest it’s still plenty enjoyable, Honda purposely choosing to make the HR-V one of the more comfortable little utes in the class rather than win any canyon carving slalom awards. That’s ok by me, as I’m not about to autocross my subcompact SUV on a Sunday afternoon, these types of vehicles meant for daily commuting, running weekly errands, and occasionally coursing up the mountain for hiking in summer or the hitting the slopes mid-winter, not to mention the odd family vacation road trip.

If the pavement below happens to undulate and wind in any of the latter scenarios you’ll be well taken care of as the HR-V’s independent front MacPherson strut and rear torsion beam suspension setup isn’t only about comfort, but rather zigs and zags
2017 Honda HR-V EX-L Navi
When opting for EX-L Navi trim, get ready for a premium experience. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
quite well thanks to amplitude reactive dampers and a stabilizer bar at each end. Electrically powered rack-and-pinion steering provides decent feedback for the class too, while my tester’s Michelin Primacy MXV4 all-seasons did an admirable job of holding their chosen lane when pushed hard.

Overall the HR-V’s handling seems to have improved since it came out two years ago, with a slightly tighter feel and better response to steering input, while takeoff remains very good for the class thanks to its 141 horsepower 1.8-litre direct-injected four-cylinder engine and fairly responsive continuously variable transmission (CVT). Again, I don’t think people who buy into this class are looking for something particularly sporty, but the HR-V delivers above its requirements and more importantly the CVT is extremely smooth.

2017 Honda HR-V EX-L Navi
Honda dresses up the EX-L Navi with soft-touch surfaces, leather, dual-zone auto HVAC, and more. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
can slide it into Drive for the best economy, which is where I left it most of the time, but when you’re feeling frisky just pull the gear lever further back into “S” sport mode and play around with the steering wheel paddles for a little fun. Yes, you heard me right, paddle shifters in a subcompact SUV. It’s not going to put you off the eventual purchase of a Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 S or something similarly sporty down the road, but as far as having a little fun behind the wheel the HR-V’s CVT proves engaging enough, especially for downshifting. If you leave it in Sport mode it’ll even hold its gear up to redline before shifting, and shifts quite quickly compared to other pseudo automated stepped CVT transmissions I’ve tried. Good job to Honda for making this gearless box as good as CVTs get.

Likewise its standard four-wheel discs provided ample stopping power when called upon, the ABS system providing zero lockup during panic test stops thanks to the usual
2017 Honda HR-V EX-L Navi
A small monochromatic digital multi-info display adds a bit of tech to the otherwise analogue gauge cluster. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
electronic brake-force distribution and emergency brake assist joining in. Of course, electronic traction and stability control are also part of the standard safety package, even making front-wheel drive models capable in slippery conditions, whereas hill start assist prevents rollback when taking off uphill on a steep incline. The HondaLink Assist automatic emergency response system is also included, along with the usual six airbags just in case.

Being that my tester was a top-line EX-L Navi, forward collision warning and lane departure warning were part of the package too, an added electronic safety net to reduce the chance of frontal or side collisions, whereas Honda’s Real Time AWD with Intelligent Control System also comes standard in this trim, superior to the FWD system during hellish winters like we endured last year.

2017 Honda HR-V EX-L Navi
The efficiently organized centre stack comes well equipped. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
have no control over the AWD, the car’s systems deciding when to add torque to the rear wheels on their own, but you can turn off the stability control if you dare, and you’ve got full power over the big green “ECON” mode button too. Press it and power gets doled out more evenly and shifts arrive sooner to minimize fuel usage, while you can also check the HR-V’s handy Eco Assist driving coach to make sure you’re not wasting fuel unnecessarily. Years of building HEVs has taught Honda a thing or two about environmental issues, so don’t think for a minute the HR-V isn’t a green SUV just because there’s no hybrid badging on back.

On that note the HR-V is particularly thrifty on fuel at 9.4 L/100km in the city, 7.1 on the highway and 8.4 combined when suited up to the manual and its lone front-wheel
2017 Honda HR-V EX-L Navi
The navigation is accurate and easy to sort out. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
drivetrain, or an even more impressive 8.3 city, 6.9 highway and 7.7 combined with the FWD CVT. My as-tested AWD CVT was rated at 8.9 L/100km city, 7.5 highway and 8.2 combined, which is still excellent for an SUV with very capable four-season functionality.

Now that I’m talking practicality again, it’s time to tell you why I recommend the HR-V (and the Fit hatchback) more often than any other vehicle in this class: “Magic Seats”!  Ok, they’re not magic, but they’re engineering wonders that deliver near best-in-class cargo capacity and completely unmatched passenger/cargo flexibility. Honda uses the same rear seating system for its Fit, by the way, and they’re so much more useful than anything else in their respective classes that it’s a wonder any competitors sell at all. In a nutshell, the rear row is split in the usual 60/40 configuration and folds down just like any other
2017 Honda HR-V EX-L Navi
This dual-zone auto HVAC interface is mostly touch-sensitive. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
subcompact SUV’s second-row seats, although thanks to a flat mid-mounted fuel tank they lay deeper within the floor for a much taller rear cargo compartment and therefore a lot more space than average, but that’s not the “Magic” part.

If you leave the seatbacks upright, you also have the ability to lift the lower cushions upright, similarly to the rear seats in some pickup trucks, and they lock into place by pushing their metal legs inward. In this scenario you’ve got room for a bicycle (sans front wheel), tall plants, otherwise awkward furniture, and the list goes on.

2017 Honda HR-V EX-L Navi
Just pull the gear lever rearward for Sport mode, while the pull switch just behind engages the electromechanical parking brake. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
numbers tell the rest of the story, with the HR-V offering up 688 litres (24.3 cubic feet) of volume behind its upright rear seatbacks in FWD trim or 657 litres (23.2 cubic feet) with AWD, a scant 31-litre (1.1 cubic-foot) difference, or 1,665 litres (58.8 cubic feet) and 1,631 litres (57.5 cubic feet) respectively when those seats are laid flat. Unfortunately Honda doesn’t provide information about cargo volume behind the front seatbacks and ahead of the rear seats when the rear cushions are raised, but there’s no competitor to compare the measurements to anyway, so the point is moot.

There are plenty of competitors to compare the former numbers to, of course, so I made a list to help you out. I’ve sorted them with the most rearmost cargo volume first, so keep in mind those with more maximum cargo (when the seats are folded) may not necessarily fall in order (the CH-R compared to the Encore, Trax
2017 Honda HR-V EX-L Navi
The leather-clad seats are extremely comfortable and totally supportive. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
and Renegade, for instance, and later on with the CX-3). The Qashqai is next-best behind the rear seats at 648 litres (22.9 cubic feet) and actually roomier when lowered at 1,730 litres (61.1 cubic feet), this followed by the RVR at 614 litres (21.7 cubic feet) and 1,402 litres (49.5 cubic feet) respectively, the CH-R at 538 litres (19.0 cubic feet) and 1,031 litres (36.4 cubic feet), the Encore at 532 litres (19 cubic feet) and 1,370 litres (48.4 cubic feet), Trax at 529 litres (18.7 cubic feet) and 1,370 litres (48.4 cubic feet), Renegade at 524 litres (18.5 cubic feet) and 1,438 litres (50.8 cubic feet), Countryman at 467 litres (16.5 cubic feet) and 1,170 litres (41.3 cubic feet), CX-3 at 452 litres (15.9 cubic feet) and 1,528 litres (53.9 cubic feet), 500X at 350 litres (12.2 cubic feet) and 560 litres (19.9 cubic feet), and finally the Juke at 297 litres (10.5 cubic feet) and 1,017 litres (35.9 cubic feet).

2017 Honda HR-V EX-L Navi
A powered moonroof adds a little light from above. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
HR-V’s passenger compartment is plenty roomy for the class too, while overall visibility is excellent. Even more impressive was the luxury detailing found throughout the cabin of my EX-L Navi tester, thanks to some very upscale soft touch surface treatments normally only found in the premium subcompact SUV class. It starts with a nicely padded and stitched leatherette instrument panel that starts just to the right of the primary gauges and stretches across the front passenger area to the door. Additionally, the sides of the lower console are trimmed in the same material, all the way to their rearmost edges, this treatment also covering the centre and side armrests. The door inserts are even softer and more leather-like, while the door uppers are finished in the same high-quality treatment as the inserts. Believe it or not, Honda has taken this high level of detailing into the rear seating area too, even finishing the doors off the same way. This is unheard of in this class, some premium branded models not even going so far to pamper their occupants.

2017 Honda HR-V EX-L Navi
Rear seat roominess is good for the class. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
falls short of wrapping the roof pillars in cloth, but again some professing to hail from luxury brands don’t go any further than covering the A pillars in anything but textured hard shell plastic, so once again it’s a moot point. It’s just so good in every other way I almost expected the ultra-plush treatment.

Additional high-end kit includes a superb high-resolution 7.0-inch infotainment touchscreen with navigation, a multi-angle backup camera with active guidelines, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and the pièce de résistance, Honda’s exclusive LaneWatch blindspot display that projects a real-time rearward view of the car’s passenger side onto the infotainment display when employing the right turn signal, plus a beautifully finished, mostly touch-sensitive dual-zone auto HVAC interface just underneath.

2017 Honda HR-V EX-L Navi
Nothing comes close to Honda’s "Magic Seats" for passenger/cargo flexibility. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
upgraded six-speaker 180-watt audio system is quite good, although it seemed better suited to dance than rock. This should suit its millennial-aged target market better anyway, and I’m guessing a little more time spent with the tone/EQ controls would help improve audio performance when listening to either Jimmy’s flailing guitar solos. Just in case your genre is predominantly Ma or Marsalis, or talk radio is your thing, sound quality certainly didn’t fail me in these varieties either. In other words, it’s a pretty good system for a car in this class. Audio sources are equally impressive, including AM, FM, satellite, HD, CD, USB, iPod, aha, Audio apps, Bluetooth streaming, and HDMI.

A bold red pushbutton ignition on the dash follows Honda’s usual sporting form, while a chrome tipped electromechanical parking brake pull switch and brake hold button finishes off the lower console. Switchgear is excellent throughout, especially
2017 Honda HR-V EX-L Navi
With the lower seat cushions flipped up there’s plenty of room for tall cargo where passenger’s feet would otherwise go. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
those on the nicely formed leather-wrapped sport steering wheel. Honda has splashed bright metal accents and piano black surfacing throughout too, really sprucing up the interior, while the leather seats are another move upmarket for this little SUV.

A short list of $30,450 EX-L Navi features include roof rails, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, leather upholstery, navigation, voice recognition, HD and satellite radio, a folding rear centre armrest with two integrated cupholders, plus lane departure warning and forward collision warning as noted earlier.

Items not yet mentioned that get pulled up from lesser trims, ranging from the base
2017 Honda HR-V EX-L Navi
You could haul a bicycle ahead of the rear seatbacks and still have cargo room to spare in back. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
$21,150 LX-2WD to the $27,250 EX, include auto on/off halogen headlamps, proximity-sensing keyless access, heatable powered side mirrors with a driver’s side blindspot mirror, a windshield wiper de-icer, variable intermittent wipers, one-touch turn signals, powered windows, illuminated vanity mirrors, a powered moonroof, a tilt and telescopic steering wheel with illuminated audio and multi-information/infotainment switchgear plus Bluetooth phone and cruise buttons, heatable front seats, next-generation HondaLink smartphone integration with text message capability and Siri Eyes Free, Bluetooth streaming audio, dual USB ports, an aux jack, three 12-volt power outlets, an LED pocket light, rear tinted privacy glass, a cargo cover, cargo area tie-downs, and more.

Is it the best SUV in the subcompact class?
2017 Honda HR-V EX-L Navi
The rear seatbacks split and fold in the usual 60/40 fashion, but the floor is lower than average for more cargo capacity. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
As noted earlier, Canadians buying into this segment seem to think so. It’s hard to knock Honda quality either, or the NHTSA that awarded it with 5 stars for safety, although the IIHS wasn’t so generous. It achieved a best possible “Good” rating for its moderate overlap front, roof strength, and head restraints and seats crash tests, but only "Acceptable" ratings for the small overlap front and side impact tests, while its rear child seat latches were only “Marginal” in their ease of use, and headlights were downright “Poor”. I certainly didn’t notice that while night driving, but who am I to argue against the IIHS. I should mention the U.S.-spec vehicles tested by the IIHS are not available with forward collision warning or lane departure warning, which as noted earlier come standard with EX-L Navi trim, so it’s possible a top-line Canadian-spec model would’ve received a better rating. The only small SUVs in the
2017 Honda HR-V EX-L Navi
Camping anyone? If not too tall you could sleep comfortably back here. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)
HR-V’s class to earn IIHS Top Safety Pick or best-possible Top Safety Pick Plus recommendations were the 500X with the former rating and the CX-3 with the latter, so you’ll need to balance out priorities when choosing.

When weighing good and bad I’m still ardently in the HR-V’s camp, but don’t just take my word for it. After all, you may not carry as much cargo as often as I do, or maybe shuttling kids or aging parents aren’t as high on your priority list as sportier styling and zippier performance. Then again it may just be you and your significant other trying to eke out as much from a litre of gas as possible while touring the nether reaches of the continent. No matter the purpose, the HR-V is a good choice.
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