Honda is calling 2022 the “Year of the Crossover,” partially due to 2021 being the year of their 11th-generation Civic, but more specifically because of two very important upcoming SUV releases. Top of the list will be a complete redesign of Honda’s best-selling CR-V, expected later this year as a 2023 model, but the smaller 2023 HR-V that’s teased here in two artist’s renderings, is at least as critical for its entry-level gateway position.
The subcompact crossover SUV class has gained a lot of traction in recent years, growing from just eight models in 2010, to a shocking 27 now, and while the current HR-V is no longer the segment’s top-seller, it’s done very well for a design that’s been around for almost a decade with only one mid-cycle refresh.
To be clear, the HR-V arrived to the Canadian market in June of 2015, but it was already two years old and in its second-generation. Amazingly, despite arriving halfway through the year, it managed second in sales for the category, only beaten by Kia’s Soul, while it narrowly missed the top spot by just 301 units in 2016. Calendar year 2017 saw the HR-V rise right up to the top with 14,149 deliveries, but that triumph was quickly quelled when Nissan’s ultra-affordable Qashqai hit the streets in 2018, followed by the current sales-leading Hyundai Kona that sold a whopping 25,817 units in 2019, plus 31,733 in 2020 (despite the health crisis). What’s more, even though a microchip shortage caused calamity through last year’s auto production, the Kona nearly equaled 2020 results with a total of 31,101 units down Canadian roads in 2021.
Comparatively, the aging HR-V placed sixth in Canada’s subcompact crossover segment last year, with 11,616 deliveries, allowing it to narrowly edge out the smaller Hyundai Venue that found 11,548 buyers, plus the Mazda CX-30 that managed a strong 11,407 unit-sales. Additionally, it fell marginally behind Nissan’s Qashqai that overtook its Japanese rival with 11,972 examples sold. The second-place Subaru Crosstrek attracted more subcompact SUV buyers than the HR-V as well, with 23,342 unit-sales, while the third-ranking Nissan Kicks did likewise with 18,750 deliveries. Finally, the Kia Seltos managed fourth thanks to 14,436 new owners in 2021. While it might appear as if HR-V sales are much below average, keep in mind that it still outsold 19 mainstream volume-branded subcompact SUV competitors, which is no small feat.
A much better HR-V story gets told south of our border, mind you, where Honda was able to sell a staggering 137,090 units last year, which is almost 10,000 more than the U.S. subcompact SUV segment’s next-best-selling Crosstrek. Exactly how they upped year-over-year sales by more than 63 percent in 2021 is anyone’s guess outside of the brand’s inner circle, and it wasn’t only because the model took a slight dive in 2020. In fact, sales were up more than 38 percent from 2019, but it may have come down to available microchips in a market that made many vehicles hard to get.
Being that the second-generation HR-V was based on the back of the now discontinued (in North America) entry-level Fit hatchback, it was always much more accommodating than its diminutive dimensions let on. Just like the Fit, the HR-V boasts an extremely low cargo floor, plus an ultra-flexible 60/40-split rear “Magic Seat” that comes with backrests that fold down in the traditional way for carrying larger cargo loads, plus lower cushions that flip upwards, pickup truck style, for stowing taller items on the second-row passenger compartment’s floor. The innovative packaging allows it to compete with larger subcompact models like the Qashqai, Crosstrek, Seltos, CX-30 and new Toyota Corolla Cross, despite being externally sized more closely to the Kona, Kicks and Toyota C-HR. This makes it significantly larger than a Venue, incidentally, the smallest crossover currently available in our market.
If you happen to follow global automotive news you might already realize Honda debuted the updated Japanese Domestic Market version of the HR-V in 2021. It’s named Vezel in Japan, while the same SUV replaced the first-generation HR-V in Europe. That new model features an identical 2,610 mm (102.8 in) wheelbase as the outgoing model and our current HR-V, plus approximately the same overall length of 4,330 mm (170.5 in), the previous generation spanning 4,295 to 4,335 mm (169.1 to 170.7 in) from nose to tail depending on markets and trims. It’s just 20 mm (0.8 in) wider too, at 1,790 mm (70.5 in), and slightly lower overall at 1,580 to 1,590 mm (62.2 to 62.6 in) when compared to 1,605 to 1,610 mm (63.2 to 63.4 in) for the previous model, the latter difference likely dependant on tire choices.
This said, our second-generation HR-V (the third-generation globally) will be North American-specific and therefore won’t necessarily share the Japanese/European model’s platform. Instead, there’s a greater chance we’ll see it riding on a version of Civic/Insight and CR-V underpinnings, not to mention the new Acura Integra (a.k.a. ILX), which means it should receive a stronger powertrain, plus possibly the option of a sportier and/or fuel-friendly hybrid model too, as well as the continuation of Honda’s Real Time all-wheel drive.
Currently, our 2022 HR-V is available with front- and all-wheel drivetrains, while employing Honda’s 1.8-litre inline four-cylinder engine and continuously variable transmission (CVT) across the line. The engine is good for 141 horsepower and 127 lb-ft of torque no matter the trim, and as verified by the HR-V’s continued popularity it’s been potent enough for most peoples’ needs.
Probably more important than performance in this class is efficiency, and to that end today’s HR-V gets a claimed five-cycle rating of 8.4 L/100km in the city, 7.0 on the highway and 7.8 combined with FWD, plus 8.8 city, 7.5 highway and 8.2 combined with AWD, and lastly 9.1, 7.7 and 8.5 respectively with the sportier AV7 version of the same transmission, which makes it fairly stingy for the segment.
It’s difficult to say if Honda will be able to maintain the second-generation’s miserly ways with a larger 2.0-litre powertrain if incorporated into the design, especially considering the subcompact SUV will also grow in size and weight, but that 200-cc larger engine is rated at 7.7 L/100km city, 6.0 highway and 6.9 combined in the 2022 Civic Sedan, which also uses a CVT and FWD, so there’s no reason to think it will be much thirstier in a slightly taller crossover. That engine also puts out a much more suitable 158 horsepower and 138 lb-ft of torque, which should more than make up for the renewed 2023 HR-V’s size and weight gain.
Other possibilities include a hybrid variant, at least in markets where Honda can make a viable business case for selling one. Unfortunately, infinitesimal Insight sales in Canada, due to higher pricing than electrified competitors, plus no CR-V Hybrid availability at all, make it appear that moving large numbers of hybrids hasn’t been Honda Canada’s priority in recent years, a shame considering how well it once did with the Civic Hybrid.
Still, it only makes sense the Japanese brand will eventually want to put forth a serious hybrid or electric challenger North of the 49th (Accord Hybrid aside). After all, despite our relatively small population, Canada remains the 13th largest automotive market globally. If Honda does choose to sell a hybrid variant into North America, they’d have the option of the 129-horsepower electrified drivetrain currently offered to European HR-V customers, or the 151-hp setup provided in our Insight sedan, the latter probably more suitable to buyers in our market.
All said, it’s impossible to know if a larger HR-V will return more sales than the current model. Of course, redesigns normally produce an immediate spike in activity, but being that we have so many brands selling multiple models into this class, and the sales results of their smaller and larger models vary dramatically, we need to believe that Honda has based its decision to produce a larger HR-V on extensive market research, because changing up their highly successful subcompact SUV formula poses a significant risk. What’s more, if Honda isn’t able to integrate its versatile Magic Seat system into the new design, usable cargo space may not increase. Loyal HR-V owners will be collectively hoping they do.
When it comes to styling, what we can gather from the artist’s rendering is a vastly more appealing crossover SUV, even discounting the added width, tire/wheel sizes and other visual tricks artists play when rendering prototype vehicles. The upcoming HR-V appears to be a sportier, tougher looking crossover, with an attractive new grille design that seems to frown instead of smile. This more menacing theme has worked well for Toyota trucks and SUVs, while the C-shaped glossy-black corner vents are so similar to the outgoing Acura RDX’ (pre-facelift) that one has to assume we’ll also be getting a spin-off for Honda’s luxury brand. An ADX with the Civic’s optional 180-horsepower turbocharged engine, anyone? How about an optional 200-hp Type S? Its powertrain could easily be pulled from the Civic Si. That would give the Lexus UX a run for its money.
The rendering’s rear styling shows enlarged taillight clusters bearing some semblance to the current model’s design, not to mention a respectful nod to past Civic models, particularly the eighth-generation sedan. It’s also easy to see additional Acura influences on the backside of the new HR-V, so it will be interesting to find out how the finished product looks.
As for the interior, small crossover SUVs are often where automakers let their proverbial hair down in order to have some fun. Just the same, Honda did no such thing with the domestic-market Vezel, which gets a fairly staid, conservative dash design, featuring only the slightest bit of creativity around the centre stack (see the gallery for photos).
In the end, these two renderings only serve to tell us that an “all-new HR-V will launch in North America this year,” further promising to be both “sporty and versatile,” or so says the two-line press release. Thankfully, we shouldn’t have to wait very long to find out.
Story credits: Trevor Hofmann
Photo credits: Honda
Ford has been on a roll lately, winning two of last year’s North American Car, Truck and Utility Vehicle of the Year (NACTOY) awards, with its redesigned F-150 winning best truck and Mustang-Mach-E…
“We’re thrilled and honored to earn both Truck and Utility of the Year from the NACTOY jury for the Ford Maverick and Bronco, especially among such a strong field of competitors,” stated Kumar Galhotra, president, Americas & International Markets Group, Ford Motor Company. “But we’re also proud because these awards are well-deserved recognition for the tremendous amount of work, focus and energy our teams have invested in designing, engineering and building exciting vehicles for our customers. This also reflects the overwhelming reception we’ve had from our Maverick and Bronco customers alike.”
To earn this highest honour, the Civic edged out the redesigned Volkswagen Golf GTI and Golf R, which are basically the same car in different trims (there’s no longer a regular Golf for 2022), plus the stunning new Lucid Air electric luxury sedan, a recent competitor to the Tesla Model S and Porsche Taycan.
“The Honda Civic has long set the standard by which other compact cars are measured and this all-new Civic raised that bar in every conceivable way,” said Michael Kistemaker, assistant vice president of Honda national sales, American Honda Motor Co., Inc. “We’re especially proud for the Civic development team in Japan and our production associates at our plants in Greensburg, Indiana and Alliston, Ontario where the 2022 Civic Sedan, Hatchback and Si are built.”
Where the new Civic gets a dramatic styling update, its other changes are more evolutionary than revolutionary, which was a smart choice for a car that outsells every competitor most months, but the two new Fords are completely new additions to the domestic brand’s lineup, and necessary considering they no longer sell many cars. The Bronco goes head-to-head with the Jeep Wrangler as a serious 4×4-capable off-roader, while the Maverick is forging into an entirely new car-based compact pickup truck segment, only shared with Hyundai’s new Santa Cruz.
The Maverick beat the Santa Cruz in the final NACTOY showdown, as well as the larger Rivian R1T electric truck. It comes standard with a hybrid drivetrain, is available with a potent turbo, decent fuel economy, and features some smart cargo carrying innovations.
The Bronco didn’t have an easy fight in its SUV category either, with the all-new Genesis GV70 and pure-electric Hyundai Ioniq 5 challenging. While none of these specifically compete against each other in real life, they all excel in the sport utility sector, and only one could be the winner.
“This year’s group of semi-finalists includes some of the most interesting and innovative cars, trucks and utility vehicle candidates in recent memory,” said NACTOY President Gary Witzenburg, “and a larger number of new trucks than we’ve seen in many years. And it features more electric vehicles than we’ve ever seen, all of which our jurors will continue to test and evaluate prior to our next vote.”
More than 50 automotive journalists from the U.S. and Canada took part as jurors in this year’s NACTOY awards. To qualify, a vehicle needs to be completely new or significantly updated for the current model year. All finalist evaluations are based on design, driver satisfaction, innovation, performance, safety, technology, and value.
There’s no hotter segment in today’s car market than the compact crossover SUV. Having started in 1994 with the Toyota RAV4, a model that was joined by Honda’s CR-V the following year, and Subaru’s Forester in 1997, this category has been bulging at the seams ever since.
Not long ago, Honda’s CR-V owned this segment, but Toyota’s RAV4 has ruled supreme since introducing its hybrid variant in 2015 as a 2016 model. This allowed Toyota to stay just ahead of the popular Honda, although introduction of the latest fifth-generation RAV4 in 2018, which now even comes in an ultra-quick plug-in RAV4 Prime variant, has helped to push the roomy RAV4 right over the top.
With deliveries of 67,977 examples in 2020, the RAV4’s sales dwarfed those of the next-best-selling CR-V by 17,842 units, plus it more than doubled the rest of the top-five contenders’ tallies last year.
Interesting as well, Toyota was one of only three models out of 14 compact crossover SUV competitors to post positive gains in 2020, with total deliveries up 4.18 percent compared to those in 2019.
Without doubt, the new RAV4’s tough, rugged, Tacoma-inspired styling is playing a big role in its success, not to mention duo-tone paint schemes that cue memories of the dearly departed FJ Cruiser. Likewise, beefier new off-road trims play their part too, as well as plenty of advanced electronics inside, a particularly spacious cabin, class-leading non-hybrid AWD fuel economy of 8.0 L/100km combined when upgrading to idle start/stop technology (the regular AWD model is good for a claimed 8.4 L/100km combined), and nearly the best fuel economy amongst available hybrids in this segment at 6.0 L/100km combined (not including PHEVs).
Another feather in the RAV4’s cap is top spot in J.D. Power’s 2021 Canada ALG Residual Value Awards for the “Compact Utility Vehicle” category, meaning you’ll hold on to more of your money if you choose a RAV4 than any other SUV on this list.
This feat is backed up by a 2020 Best Retained Value Award from the Canadian Black Book (CBB) too, although to clarify the Jeep Wrangler actually won the title in CBB’s “Compact SUV” category, with the runners up being the Subaru Crosstrek and RAV4. The fact that these three SUVs don’t actually compete in the real world gives the RAV4 title to CBB’s Best Retained Value in the compact crossover SUV category, if the third-party analytical firm actually had one.
The RAV4 was also runner-up in the latest 2021 J.D. Power Vehicle Dependability Study (VDS) in the “Compact SUV” class, while the RAV4 Hybrid earned the highest podium in Vincentric’s most recent Best Value in Canada Awards, in the Consumer section of its “Hybrid SUV/Crossover” category, plus the same award program gave the RAV4 Prime plug-in a best-in-class ranking in the Fleet section of its “Electric/Plug-In Hybrid SUV/Crossover” segment.
The 2021 Toyota RAV4 starts at $28,590 (plus freight and fees) in LE FWD trim, while the most affordable RAV4 Hybrid can be had for $32,950 in LE AWD trim. Lastly, the top-tier RAV4 Prime plug-in hybrid starts at $44,990 in SE AWD trim. To learn about other trims, features, options and pricing, plus available manufacturer financing/leasing rates and other available rebates and/or dealer invoice pricing, check out the CarCostCanada 2021 Toyota RAV4 Canada Prices page and the 2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime Canada Prices page.
Honda claims a solid second-place with its recently refreshed CR-V
Lagging behind arch-rival Toyota in this important segment no doubt irks those in Honda Canada’s Markham, Ontario headquarters, but 50,135 units in what can only be considered a tumultuous year is impressive just the same.
This said, experiencing erosion of 10.42 percent over the first full year after receiving a mid-cycle upgrade can’t be all that confidence boosting for those overseeing the CR-V’s success.
Too little, too late? You’ll need to be the judge of that, but the CR-V’s design changes were subtle to say the least, albeit modifications to the front fascia effectively toughened up its look in a market segment that, as mentioned a moment ago, has started to look more traditionally SUV-like in recent years.
Of note, the CR-V took top honours in AutoPacific’s 2020 Ideal Vehicle Awards in the “Mid-Size Crossover SUV” category, not that it actually falls into this class. Still, it’s a win that Honda deserves.
The CR-V is also second-most fuel-efficient in this class when comparing AWD trims at 8.1 L/100km combined, although the Japanese automaker has chosen not to bring the model’s hybrid variant to Canada due to a price point it believes would be too high. Hopefully Honda will figure out a way to make its hybrid models more competitor north of the 49th, as an electrified CR-V would likely help it find more buyers.
The 2021 Honda CR-V starts at $29,970 in base LX 2WD trim, while the top-line Black Edition AWD model can be had for $43,570 (plus freight and fees). To find out about all the other trims, features, options and more in between, not to mention manufacturer rebates/discounts and dealer invoice pricing, go to the 2021 Honda CR-V Canada Prices page at CarCostCanada.
Mazda and its CX-5 continue to hang onto third in the segment
With 30,583 sales to its credit in 2020, Mazda’s CX-5 remains one of the most popular SUVs in Canada. What’s more, it was one of the three SUV’s in the class to post positive growth in 2020, with an upsurge of 10.42 percent.
Additionally, these gains occurred despite this second-generation CX-5 having been available without a major update for nearly five years (the already available 2021.5 model sees a new infotainment system). This said, Mazda has refined its best-selling model over the years, with top-line Signature trim (and this year’s 100th Anniversary model) receiving plush Nappa leather, genuine rosewood trim, and yet more luxury touches.
Its Top Safety Pick Plus ranking from the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) probably helped keep it near the top, an award that gives the CX-5 a leg up on the RAV4 and CR-V that only qualify for Top Safety Pick (without the Plus) status.
At 9.3 L/100km combined in its most basic AWD trim, fuel economy is not the CX-5’s strongest suit, but Mazda offers cylinder-deactivation that drops its city/highway rating to 9.0 flat.
The CX-5’s sleek, car-like lines buck the just-noted new trend toward truck-like ruggedness, while, as noted, its interior is arguably one of the most upscale in the segment, and overall performance very strong, especially with its top-tier 227 horsepower turbocharged engine that makes a commendable 310 lb-ft of torque.
The 2021 Mazda CX-5 is available from $28,600 in base GX FWD trim, whereas top-level 2021 100th Anniversary AWD trim starts at $43,550 (plus freight and fees), and the just-released top-line 2021.5 Signature AWD trim can be had for $42,750. To learn more about all the trims, features, options and prices in between, plus available no-haggle discounts and average member discounts thanks to their ability to access dealer invoice pricing before negotiating their best price, check out the CarCostCanada 2021 Mazda CX-5 Canada Prices page.
Hyundai holds onto fourth place despite slight downturn
With 28,444 units sold during the 12 months of 2020, Hyundai is so close behind Mazda in this category that its Tucson might as well be tailgating, and that’s despite losing 5.42 percent from last years near all-time-high of 30,075 deliveries.
Sales of the totally redesigned 2022 Tucson have only just started, however, so we’ll need to wait and see how well it catches on. Fortunately for Hyundai fans, and anyone else who appreciates things electrified, a Tucson Hybrid joins the fray in order to duel it out with Toyota’s mid-range RAV4 Hybrid.
This last point is important, as the conventionally-powered 2022 Tucson AWD is only capable of 9.0 L/100km combined, making the Tucson Hybrid the go-to model for those who want to save at the pump thanks to 6.4 L/100km. Of note, a new 2022 Tucson Plug-in Hybrid is now the fourth PHEV in this segment.
The 2022 Hyundai Tucson starts at $27,799 in its most basic Essential FWD trim, while the conventionally powered model’s top-level N Line AWD trim is available from $37,099. Moving up to the 2022 Tucson Hybrid will set you back a minimum of $38,899 (plus freight and fees, before discount), while this model is substitutes the conventionally-powered N Line option for Ultimate trim, starting at $41,599. The model’s actual ultimate 2022 Tucson Plug-in Hybrid trim starts at $43,499 in Luxury AWD trim, while that SUV’s top-level Ultimate trim costs $46,199. To find out about all the trims, features, options, prices, discounts/rebates, dealer invoice pricing, etcetera for each of these models go to CarCostCanada’s 2022 Hyundai Tucson Canada Prices page, 2022 Hyundai Tucson Hybrid Canada Prices page, and 2022 Hyundai Tucson Plug-In Hybrid Canada Prices page.
Nissan Rogue sees one of the biggest sales losses in the segment for 2020
While top-five placement from 25,998 sales in 2020 is nothing to sneeze at, Nissan’s Rogue is a regular top-three finisher in the U.S., and used to do just as well up here as well.
The last full calendar year of a longer-than-average six-year run saw the second-generation Rogue’s sales peter out in 2020, resulting in a year-over-year plunge of 30.73 percent. In fact, the only rival to fare worse was the Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross that lost 40.66 percent from the year prior, and that sportier model isn’t exactly a direct competitor due to its coupe-crossover-like profile. On the positive, that unique Japanese crossover earned best in its Compact XSUV class in AutoPacific’s 2021 Vehicle Satisfaction Awards, which is something Mitsubishi should be celebrating from the rooftops.
Fortunately, an all-new 2021 Rogue is already upon us, and was doing extremely well over the first half of this year, with Q2 sales placing it in third. That model provides compact SUV buyers a massive jump in competitiveness over its predecessor, especially styling, interior refinement, ride and handling, electronics, plus ride and handling, while its fuel economy is now rated at 8.1 L/100km with AWD.
The new Rogue’s overall goodness was recently recognized by the Automobile Journalist’s Association of Canada (AJAC) that just named it “Best Mid-Size Utility Vehicle in Canada for 2021”, even though it falls within the compact camp.
For those who just need to know, sixth in this compact crossover SUV segment is Ford’s Escape at 23,747 unit-sales, although deliveries crashed by a staggering 39.89 percent from 2019 to 2020, and that’s after a 9.37-percent loss from the year before, and another 9.0 percent tumble from the 12 months prior. Back in calendar year 2017, the Escape was third in the segment, but for reasons that are clearly not related to the Escape Hybrid’s best-in-class fuel economy of 5.9 L/100km combined, the Escape Plug-in Hybrid’s even more miserly functionality, or for that matter the industry’s recent lack of microchips that seem to have crippled Ford more than most other automakers, the blue-oval brand is losing fans in this class at a shocking rate.
And yes, that last point needs to be underlined, there can be many reasons for a given model’s slow-down in sales, from the just-noted chip shortage, as well as the health crisis that hampered much of 2020, to reliability issues and the age of a given model’s lifecycle, while styling is always a key factor in purchasing decisions.
All said, Volkswagen’s Tiguan sits seventh in the compact SUV category with 14,240 units sold in 2020, representing a 26.02-percent drop in year-over-year deliveries, while the aforementioned Forester was eighth with 13,134 deliveries over the same 12-month period. Chevrolet’s Equinox was ninth with 12,502 sales after plummeting 32.43 percent in popularity, whereas Kia’s Sportage capped off 2020’s top 10 list with 11,789 units down Canadian roads after a 6.71-percent downturn.
Continuing on, GMC’s Terrain was 11th with 9,848 deliveries and an 18.09-percent loss, Jeep’s Cherokee was 12th with 9,544 sales and a 30.27-percent dive, Mitsubishi’s Outlander (which also comes in PHEV form) was 13th with 7,444 units sold due to a 30.43-percent decline, and finally the same Japanese brand’s Eclipse Cross was 14th and last in the segment with 3,027 units sold and, as mentioned earlier, a sizeable 40.66-percent thrashing by Canadian compact SUV buyers.
Ford’s Bronco Sport newcomer already making big gains
The Rogue wasn’t the only SUV to shake up the compact SUV class during the first six months of 2021, incidentally, with the second honour going to the Bronco Sport that’s already outselling Jeep’s Cherokee at 2,772 units to 2,072, the Cherokee being the SUV the smaller Bronco most specifically targets thanks to both models’ serious off-road capability.
The Bronco Sport was actually ranking eighth overall when this year’s Q2 closed, beating out the Sportage (which will soon arrive in dramatically redesigned form) despite its two-position move up the charts, this displacing the Forester (which dropped a couple of pegs) and the Equinox (that’s currently ahead of the Forester).
The Cherokee, in fact, moves up a place due to sluggish GMC Terrain sales, but to be fair to General Motors, both its Chevy and GMC models (which are actually the same under the skin) would be positioned in eighth place overall if we were to count them as one SUV, while the Hyundai–Kia pairing (also the same below the surface) would rank third overall.
Make sure to check out the gallery for multiple photos of each and every compact crossover SUV mentioned in this Top 5 overview, plus use the linked model names of each SUV above to find out about available trims, features, options, pricing, discounts (when available), rebates (when available), financing and leasing rates (when available), plus dealer invoice pricing (always available) that could save you thousands on your next new vehicle purchase.
Story credits: Trevor Hofmann
Photo credits: Manufacturer supplied photos
Honda has been a strong player in the subcompact crossover market for decades, although only chose to bring such models to North American markets when our desire for more affordable SUVs firmly took root.…
Honda has been a strong player in the subcompact crossover market for decades, although only chose to bring such models to North American markets when our desire for more affordable SUVs firmly took root.
Those of us that like small, useful crossovers owe thanks to early adopters, such as Honda Element that blazed the trail in 2003. Others followed, like Jeep’s Compass and Patriot in 2006, Nissan’s Cube and Juke in 2009 and 2010 respectively, and the Scion (Toyota) xB that arrived here in 2011, albeit joined the element in the U.S. for 2003. Suzuki’s Samurai actually dates all the way back to 1985, but it (and the Vitara that followed) was a true 4×4 and therefore doesn’t really fit into this crossover segment that often doesn’t even offer all-wheel drive.
Being that AWD is optional and standard on my tester’s Sport trim line, the HR-V isn’t relegated amongst the subcompact SUV segment’s FWD-only alternatives, which are quickly replacing subcompact hatchbacks, but just the same it effectively ousted the once-popular Fit as Honda’s subcompact ride of choice.
The two, in fact, have a lot in common. Both share platform architectures and other unseen components, plus most noticeably their innovative 60/40-split “Magic Seats” system in back, that’s long provided class-leading storage in their respective categories. This last attribute, along with their overall comfort, reasonable performance, impressive fuel economy, and expected reliability, are why I’ve probably recommended them more than any other two cars in their classes.
Honda isn’t alone in discontinuing its subcompact car, by the way. In fact, this once dozen-or-so-strong segment has been whittled down to just three cars, or five when including 2020 models still loitering around unsold on dealer lots. A smattering of new Fits are probably on that list, so for those wanting to save big on a similarly sized car with near identical functionality, may want to take advantage of a $16,390 (plus freight and fees) starting price, plus factory leasing and financing rates from zero percent according to CarCostCanada (whose members having been saving an average of $1,000 when purchasing a new Fit due to their access of dealer invoice pricing info and more).
Honda provides the HR-V in three trims for 2021, including LX, which is available in both FWD or AWD, the latter starting at $27,500, plus as-tested Sport, which as noted earlier comes standard with AWD for $30,500, and finally Touring that starts at $33,700 and also features standard AWD.
With the only available options for each trim being dealer-added accessories and $300 metallic paint colours, my tester finished in eye-catching Orange Burst Metallic, I might as well get such extras out of the way before delving into standard features. With respect to the latter, base LX trim includes 17-inch alloy wheels on 215/55 all-season tires, a front wiper de-icer, heated and powered side mirrors, remote access, heatable front seats, single-zone automatic climate control, a multi-angle rearview parking camera, a centre display with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration, a 160-watt four-speaker stereo, and more, including those fabulous Magic Seats mentioned earlier.
All HR-Vs come with the Honda Sensing suite of advanced safety and convenience technologies too, such as Forward Collision Warning (FCW), Collision Mitigation Braking System (CMBS), Lane Departure Warning (LDW), Lane Keeping Assist System (LKAS), Road Departure Mitigation (RDM), Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC), and automatic high beams, plus of course all the usual active and passive safety gear.
Adding AWD to the LX brings nothing more to the trim line, but moving up to the HR-V Sport makes a big difference visually thanks to much sportier looking machine-finished 17-inch alloys with black painted pockets, plus a glossy black surface treatment added to the grille insert, revised front lip spoiler, wheel cut-out and rocker panel extensions, rear bumper and more. Front fog lamps continue the performance theme, as does a chrome exhaust tip in back, while the mirror caps receive integrated LED turn indicators, and the roof becomes more useful due to silver rails at each side and a black glass moonroof in the middle.
That powered glass sunroof is a lot more enjoyable from the inside, where it sheds light on a special leather-wrapped steering wheel with attached paddle shifters above, and chrome-accented sport pedals below, not to mention another zone for the auto HVAC system, two more speakers and 20 additional watts of power for the audio system, Active Noise Cancellation (ANC) to help maintain a hushed sense of serenity from the outside world, and possible best of all, proximity-sensing entry for easier access.
Touring trim replaces the wheels’ black paint with a shade of medium grey, swaps out the halogen projector-beam headlights with LEDs and simple auto-off system with auto-on/off, reverts the grille insert to the base LX’ dark chrome hue, paints the Sport’s gloss-black exterior trim elements in body-colour, and adds rain-sensing wipers, leather for the shift knob and seating surfaces, ups the infotainment system with navigation plus HD and satellite radio, and tops everything off with an auto-dimming rearview mirror.
All HR-Vs come standard with Honda’s i-VTEC-enhanced 1.8-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine making 141 horsepower and 127 lb-ft of torque, resulting in amply spirited performance off the line and a cruising speed that’s considerably faster than the posted limits. The aforementioned paddle shifters are good for downshifting to hold a “gear” when coursing through corners, something the HR-V does quite well despite its torsion-beam rear suspension, although I must admit to being more comfortable recommending this little ute for buyers who rate practicality over performance.
To that end it provides one of the more compliant suspension setups in the class, capable of absorbing any city’s or countryside’s pavement irregularities with grace and composure thanks in part to amplitude reactive dampers, while eking out a pretty decent fuel economy rating of 9.1 L/100km city, 7.7 highway and 8.5 combined. You’ll need to engage the HR-V’s standard Eco Assist system and drive modestly if you want to attain such numbers, but thanks in part to an efficient continuously variable transmission (CVT) it’s easily doable.
If those numbers seem a bit high, the LX FWD is stingier at 8.4 L/100km in the city, 7.0 on the highway and 7.8 combined, while the same base trim with AWD gets a respective rating of 8.8, 7.5 and 8.2. Some in this class do better, but then again others aren’t quite as miserly. You should also keep in mind that most manufacturers provide more than one model in this burgeoning subcompact SUV category, with many that are smaller than the HR-V, while a few brands include hybrid-electric and full-EV variants as well, which, while initially more expensive, are much thriftier to drive.
Of course, now that this rapidly growing segment includes more than two dozen entries, compared to just 14 when the HR-V arrived in June of 2015, choosing the exact one to serve your needs has become more complicated. This said, despite the HR-V being three years into its fairly comprehensive mid-cycle refresh, and seven years into this second-generation body style (we never saw the first-gen model), its strong fifth-place position on 2020’s subcompact SUV sales chart should help you understand what a superb little runabout it truly is.
The interior has always been finished well, with a premium-like soft composite surrounding the centre display and bolster ahead of the front passenger, plus unique woven black fabric one-piece door uppers and inserts with comfortable padding underneath. The material almost looks like a black denim, but it’s softer and appears more like the cloth used for the roof-liner above. I like the look and the feel, as its plush and easy on arms and elbows. The door panels’ armrests are large and covered in a stitched leatherette, these mirroring the centre armrest and looking much like the sides of lower centre console, which while more rubber-like in feel, protect the inside knees of both front occupants.
Unlike most vehicles in this class, Honda finishes the rear door panels as nicely as those up front, including the same high-quality fabric for the door uppers. This is a big deal, because most competitors downgrade the rear seating areas. This said, don’t expect to find outboard seat warmers in back, or any other luxury touches, but you won’t care as soon as you start playing with the magical seats that I keep going on and on about.
Need to stow a bike (without its front wheel) upright inside? Simply flip the rear cushions upward, pickup truck style, and an otherwise difficult challenge becomes as easy as walking it in. So configured, the second-row floor is ideal for transporting tall potted plants as well, or any other unwieldy cargo, while the dedicated luggage compartment benefits from a lower load floor than most rivals as well, even with the rear seatbacks are folded flat. Combined with its tall roofline, the HR-V’s maximum cargo capacity is cavernous at 1,583 litres in Sport trim, while this model measures 657 litres behind the rear seats.
Back up front, the primary gauge cluster consists of a large centre speedometer, a digital tachometer to the left, and a multi-information display to the right, although the latter is more of a digital display providing oil, fuel, and odometer info. Its legibility is excellent in all lighting conditions, and adding a bit of fun to the functionality, a ring around the
Being that the gauge cluster’s multi-info display is simple, the switchgear on the steering wheel spokes is for controlling the audio system, changing settings on the centre display, engaging and modulating the adaptive cruise control system, and more, while Honda includes some extra switches below those spokes for additional cruise control adjustments, plus answering calls and using the voice command system.
The high-resolution infotainment touchscreen is large, bright and colourful, with attractive graphics and a totally up-to-date look. Honda updated this for the HR-V’s 2019 remake, and made sure to include a physical dial for adjusting audio volume and turning the system on and off. The backup camera is large and clear, while its multi-angle view really assists when trying to get close to the curb without scratching the wheels. I had no issue connecting my phone via Bluetooth or listening to favourite podcasts through streaming audio, while setting up Android Auto was easy and worked well.
As for the dual-zone auto HVAC system noted earlier, you won’t be able to miss its large interface resting just below on the centre stack. It includes nice big digital readouts and its buttons are touch-sensitive for a truly upscale feel. Controls for the two-way heated front seats are included on this panel as well, while its high-gloss black finish seems to flow downwards onto the lower centre console where inky piano black lacquer covers most of the top surface and much of the shifter knob and electromechanical parking brake pull-tab, just like it does on the lower steering wheel spokes and each paddle shifter. It’s a nice look, but this type of surface treatment often scratches too easily and collects dust something awful. On the positive, Honda provides plenty of bright metallic accenting around the cabin too, which should wear well.
The small overhead console isn’t much to write home about, but its two incandescent reading lights brighten the interior well when needed, and power sunroof switch works as required. Much better is the fabric used for the seat upholstery, which covers its bolsters with a similar cloth to the door panels, plus adds an attractively textured and dappled darker black material to the seat inserts.
The HR-V’s driving position is excellent, with good adjustability from the seat and even better reach from the tilt and telescopic steering column. The backrest provides excellent lower back support and the bolsters are even good for keeping body in place during hard cornering. Likewise, rear seats are comfortable, while as you might expect given the HR-V’s cargo capacity, rear passenger roominess is superb for this class.
All summed up, I can’t help but recommend the HR-V once again, because it does everything a small SUV should, plus is more practical than anything else in the class. That’s probably why the Canadian Black Book ranks the HR-V highest for retained value in its Sub-Compact Crossover category, this possibly the single most important reason you should consider purchasing one. All in all, it’s hard to wrong with an HR-V.
Review and photos by Trevor Hofmann
Looking for a great deal on a very good premium sedan? I can think of a number of reasons to consider the Acura ILX, but the opportunity for a heavily discounted final purchase price is definitely on…
Looking for a great deal on a very good premium sedan? I can think of a number of reasons to consider the Acura ILX, but the opportunity for a heavily discounted final purchase price is definitely on top of the list.
To be clear, the ILX isn’t just a Civic with a body kit, as some like to refer to it. Way back in the early days of Acura, the ILX’ predecessor only provided a few mild styling modifications, a leather-trimmed interior, some other cabin enhancements, a slightly stiffer suspension, and Civic Si engine-tuning in its top trim in order to earn its Acura badge. Nevertheless, the long forgotten 1.6EL (1997–2000), which was based on the Japanese domestic market (JDM) Honda Domani and optionally used the same 127-horsepower engine as the Si here in Canada, plus the 1.7EL (2001–2005), which still made 127 horses despite getting a 100-cc bump in displacement, sold quite well, paving the way for the much-improved CSX (2006-2011), a model that was only sold in Canada, and actually inspired the JDM Civic’s styling (not the other way around, like so many critics have wrongly stated).
The ILX entered the import scene in 2012 as a 2013 model, and believe it or not is still based on the ninth-generation Civic that first appeared in 2011 (2022 will see an all-new 11th-gen Civic, to put that into perspective). That’s an antiquated platform architecture, to be sure, but this oldie was a goodie. It looked like it was designed from the ground up to be an Acura too, as did the interior, while performance from its optional 201-hp Si-derived powerplant was strong, albeit this engine’s sole six-speed manual transmission kept it from being as popular as the 150-hp 1.5-litre variant. A Civic-sourced hybrid drivetrain was also offered.
Acura provided a stiffer steering shaft for sharper turn-in, plus special “Amplitude Reactive” dampers to further improve handling as well as ride quality, and voila, its new compact competitor found serious traction on the sales charts, achieving a height of 3,192 Canadian deliveries in 2013, which put it fourth behind Buick’s now defunct Verano (with 5,573 units sold that year), Mini’s Cooper (3,946), and Mercedes’ discontinued B-Class (3,207).
Mercedes dominates this segment these days, its second-generation CLA-Class now joined by a new A-Class Sedan and Hatch for a total of 3,440-unit sales in 2020, while the ILX slipped from fourth to fifth in popularity due to just 774 deliveries last year. Being that the entire premium C-segment (and B-segment) includes a mere six models, that’s nothing to write home about, but then again managing to still sell anything after being around so long is a feat in itself.
To be fair, Acura has made some big changes to the ILX throughout its nine-year tenure, the most significant in 2016 when an eight-speed dual-clutch automatic with steering wheel-mounted paddles was mated to the potent 2.4-litre four-cylinder, which became the standard engine that year. It received a 10 lb-ft bump in max torque as well, the new mill putting out 180 lb-ft in total, while Acura also gave this upgraded ILX its distinctive “Jewel Eye” LED headlamps and a slightly revised “shield” grille for 2016, along with standard LED taillights. Sportier A-Spec trim was added too, the test car shown here finished off top-tier A-Spec Tech trim.
This one wears the much more visually dramatic “Diamond Pentagon” grille, however, which was added for the 2019 model. That car also received more aggressive headlights along with more sharply angled tail lamps, plus updates to most every other exterior panel, while the cabin incorporated new seats, with optional red leather upholstery in the microsuede-enhanced A-Spec. Finally, the infotainment system responded to inputs 30 percent faster than its predecessor, and Acura’s suite of advanced AcuraWatch safety features became standard. The car on these pages hasn’t changed since, which is probably why sales have steadily dropped, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worthy of your attention.
Today’s 2.4-litre four still makes 201 horsepower, which while not as strong as some in this class, remains naturally aspirated and therefore a joy to rev well past its 7,000 rpm redline. It sounds fabulous when doing so too, while the fully-automated eight-speed dual-clutch gearbox delivers quick, smooth shifts that are ideally matched to the powerplant, its front-wheel drive layout the only negative in an otherwise wholly positive experience. Even then, the 225/40R18 Continentals hooked up well, with very little pull on the steering wheel at full throttle, even when taking off from a corner, with the overall driving feel coming across like a particularly well-finished Civic Si Sedan.
Yes, I know the 10th-generation Civic Si Sedan’s interior is much more modern than this ILX, especially when it comes to the primary gauge cluster and steering wheel controls. The former is made up of analogue dials bookending a simple two-colour multi-information display (MID), with the otherwise grey screen highlighted by some nice bright greens when using adaptive cruise control, but Acura’s dual-stack of infotainment displays was pretty high-tech when introduced, and still works well. The lower touchscreen is especially easy to operate, and while the graphics are a bit dated and display quality not quite up to today’s high-definition standards, I’m not going to rag on this system or any of Acura’s infotainment foibles right now, other than to say their unnecessary complexity isn’t as appealing to me as Honda’s excellent touchscreen systems. To that tend, the ILX offers a bit of both worlds, resulting in a system I certainly like better than some of the brand’s more recent concoctions.
Just the same, purchasing a car as well-seasoned as the ILX means you’ll need to forgo some of the industry’s latest features and design elements. I didn’t mind the aforementioned MID, as all info was crisply and clearly displayed, plus a fair bit of info was available, from audio stations, to phone and voice prompt controls, plus the aforementioned cruise control. Likewise, the analogue dials were bright and easy to read in all conditions. The steering wheel controls, while not including the outgoing Civic’s ergonomically-designed volume switch and four-way rockers on both sides for most other functions, are made from high quality composites with good fit and decent damping.
The infotainment’s system’s upper display is controlled by rotating a big knob and pressing surrounding buttons found just below the lower centre touchscreen, this top monitor being dedicated to navigation info, smartphone connectivity, car settings, and a few other functions. The touch capacitive screen just below, on the other hand, allows comprehensive control of the audio system. Both displays are full-colour, albeit only various blue hues are used for the latter. Again, it’s dated look will only matter to those enamoured with more modern systems, because the screen is reasonably high in resolution and the interface is nicely laid out with decent enough graphics. It all works well too, while the navigation system was especially accurate. What’s more, my tester’s ELS Studio sound system pumped out tunes brilliantly, plus its satellite radio signal came in nice and clear most of the time.
The ILX’ dual-zone automatic climate control interface is pretty straightforward, with big dials to each side and buttons in between. Again, the quality of the switchgear is pretty good, with nice, tightly fitted buttons, but Acura hasn’t even included a digital display to accompany the controls, so it all looks fairly basic. Likewise, the lower console-mounted two-way rocker switches for the heatable front seats are throwbacks to simpler times, as are the classic Honda-sourced power window and mirror controls on the driver’s door, while the fuel and trunk release levers attached to the driver’s inside rocker panel next to the floor are so old school they’re cool.
A classic handbrake is another sign this is an older model, and I suppose, being that Acura now uses push-buttons and pull-tabs for gear selection on most of its vehicles these days, the conventional gear lever and its time-tested PRND layout is just one more reminder of yesterday. There’s no way to shift manually by the lever itself, but that hardly matters being that, as noted earlier, the ILX comes complete with paddles. Therefore, simply slot it into “D” to eke the most from a tank of fuel or “S” for Sport mode, and drive like a miser or, alternatively, shift to your heart’s content.
Sport mode allows for higher revs between gear changes, the engine freely spinning past 7,000 revs per minute when wrung out for all its worth, resulting in motive force that’s as wonderfully engaging and every bit as capable as when found in the old Si. Yes, I’m aware that I’m repeating myself, but I absolutely love this 2.4-litre four, so allow me some fanboy leeway. I’ll also reiterate that the dual-clutch automated manual is superbly matched to this peaky engine, allowing some playful fun when called upon, yet shifting early enough to save on fuel when in normal default mode.
On that note, claimed fuel economy is thrifty considering the available performance, at 9.9 L/100km in the city, 7.0 on the highway and 8.6 combined, incidentally beating BMW’s 228i xDrive Gran Coupe that’s only good for 8.8 L/100km combined city/highway, but take note the Bimmer comes standard with AWD, while Mercedes’ A220 4Matic Sedan is even stingier at 8.4 L/100km combined (4Matic means AWD in Mercedes-speak, incidentally), while Audi’s FWD A3 is good for a near hybrid-like 7.8 L/100km combined.
Now that we’ve slowed down, some finely crafted detailing worth noting includes a soft leather-wrapped steering wheel rim with nicely carved thumb spats and contrast-stitched baseball-style stitching around the inside, plus the same treatment applied to the shift knob and the handbrake lever’s grip. That handbrake feels incredibly well-made too, with a level of solidity not normally found with such devices, and this said, I must attest to preferring a hand-applied parking brake to an electromechanical one when driving a performance car. In fact, as good as the eight-speed auto is, the very inclusion of a handbrake made me long for the Si’s phenomenal six-speed manual, although I can understand why Acura didn’t bother bringing one to market, being that the take-rate would probably be less than 10 percent.
Driver’s position is important for any performance car, and to that end Acura has done a fine job with this ILX. The beautifully finished front seats, complete with contrast-stitched leather bolsters and insets, the latter adorned with an hourglass-shaped strip of ultra-suede down the middle, hug the backside nicely for optimal control through tight, twisting curves. The driver seat’s adjustability was excellent, with enough fore and aft movement for most body types, which when combined with ample reach from the tilt and telescopic steering column made for adequate comfort and control.
When seated behind the driver’s seat, which was set up for my long-legged, short-torso five-foot-eight frame, I still had plenty of space for my knees and feet, plus about three inches over my head. Likewise, Acura provides good side-to-side spaciousness, although I wouldn’t have been as comfortable if three were abreast in back. The usual flip-down centre armrest was wide enough for two arms resting, but the dual cupholders infused within were substandard for this class, particularly compared to the innovative drink-holding contraptions offered by the Germans. A magazine pouch on the backside of the front passenger seat sums up everything else provided for rear passenger pampering, while no centre pass-through or divided rear seatback means that skiers are forced to strap boards to a rooftop rack when more than two occupants are aboard.
At least those rear outboard seats are comfortable and covered with the same high-grade leather and suede upholstery as those up front, while the aft compartment’s door panels are finished off just as nicely as the one ahead as well. This means high-quality soft padded synthetic covers the door uppers, while a nicer stitched leatherette with even softer padding is applied to the inserts and armrests, plus this segment’s usual hard composite for the lower third of each door.
Some less significant areas of weakness include a lack of fabric wrapping for the roof pillars, which is kind of a premium brand status staple, plus the ILX only gets a simple moonroof overhead, when others in the class offer larger panoramic glass openings. Also, where the soft-touch synthetic dash top is finished all the way down to its midpoint, and the dark grey inlays are up to par, the plastic used for the lower half of the dash, including the glove box lid, as well as that on the lower centre console, is less than ideal.
Of course, this reflects in the ILX’ aforementioned pricing, and becomes an absolute nonissue when factoring in available discounts. Adding to this car’s list of accolades is Acura’s seventh out of 17 premium brand ranking (Buick, Mini and Tesla were included as premium brands) in J.D. Power’s latest 2021 Vehicle Dependability Study, in which it was only beaten by Lexus, Porsche, Buick, Cadillac, Genesis and Lincoln, none of which compete in the ILX’ entry-level B category. Hopefully, now knowing this, plus the ILX’ many additional attributes, might leave you seriously considering a car that might not have caused you much deliberation before reading this review.
With five-passenger crossovers regularly at the top of the mid-size SUV sales charts in North America, Honda simply had to be in on the game. Therefore, in another attempt to replicate its small utility…
With five-passenger crossovers regularly at the top of the mid-size SUV sales charts in North America, Honda simply had to be in on the game. Therefore, in another attempt to replicate its small utility success in the large SUV categories, the two-row, five-passenger Passport joined up with the three-row Pilot for 2019.
Most automotive industry followers saw the initial news stories along with the usual follow-up pieces about pricing, trims, standard and optional features, etcetera, and then plumb forgot about the new SUV soon after. A smattering of ads that accompanied the SUV when introduced might have initially put it on some consumers’ radars, but it could’ve just as likely flown under yours, as they’re not exactly easy to spot on the road.
Honda delivered just 3,017 Passports in Canada throughout 2020, its first year of availability, and a mere 559 during Q1 of this year, which incidentally makes it the slowest selling mid-size SUV in Canada, other than Toyota’s new Venza that only arrived in September last year, yet still found 1,403 buyers (and at the end of March 2021 another 798 new owners), and Dodge’s 150-year-old Journey (ok, in reality it’s just 13 years old) that’s been discontinued for two years, yet still managed to lure in 420 bargain shoppers. This means by Q1 2021’s close, the Venza was already outselling the Passport by 143 percent, while by May’s end its lead had grown to 175 percent.
The larger Pilot, on the other hand, has enjoyed a fairly steady rise in sales over the past decade, with 2020 being its best year yet thanks to 9,340 new owners. This has allowed it to move up through the ranks, now sitting fifth amongst three-row SUVs, with 11 contenders trailing behind, which once again has me wondering why the Passport hasn’t caught on.
After all, being dead last in any SUV category makes absolutely no sense for a brand that, until recently, had been swapping the lead baton back and forth in the compact SUV segment as if the CR-V and Toyota RAV4 were part of the same relay team. The RAV4 has since rode off into the sunset with 67,977 units down the road last year, much thanks to conventional gasoline, plus hybrid and plug-in Prime variants, but the single-engine-powered CR-V still held an extremely strong second place with 50,135 deliveries in 2020, the next brightest star being Mazda’s CX-5 with 30,583 down the road during the same 12 months. Just why Honda hasn’t been able to graduate a reasonable number of these CR-V owners into its mid-size Passport is hard to fathom, but, amongst other issues, it may come down to the larger SUV targeting an intrinsically different type of buyer.
The CR-V does well because it’s reasonably priced and fuel-efficient, plus nice enough looking, comfortable, amply spacious, technically advanced, historically dependable, capable of holding its resale/residual value, etcetera. I can say much the same about the Passport (the Canadian Black Book shows its larger Pilot sibling tied as runners-up with the Toyota 4Runner in mid-size SUV retained value, so one would think the Passport would fair similarly), although few people have even heard of this newcomer, plus its entry price is higher than the majority of its five-seat rivals, and it’s hardly as fuel-efficient as most of those too.
The CR-V occupies this same position on CCB’s compact SUV retained value list, incidentally, right beside the now defunct Nissan Xterra (a BIG mistake for Nissan to have dropped this model) and just below Jeep’s Wrangler, which makes me feel all the better about the countless times I’ve recommended Honda’s little runabout to new and pre-owned buyers, both here in reviews and personally to friends and colleagues.
The Passport (and its larger Pilot sibling) on the other hand, never came to mind when offering up my sage wisdom (ahem), but considering the CCB’s rating of the latter, I should probably start adding it to my list of large SUV recommendations. I’ll need to see whether or not the Passport catches on before it gets a full thumbs up, however, because a vehicle needs to have garnered a large enough group of waiting pre-owned buyers in order to maintain its value.
As happenstance is, halfway through writing this review I received a call from a friend who was surprisingly considering a lease takeover of a Honda Passport. He’s waiting for the next-generation Toyota 4Runner to launch, which he’ll probably buy far in advance, but until then he needs something to drive, because the lease of his previous 4Runner came due and he chose not to buy it out. Being that he’s already ok with driving a relatively thirsty V6, and that he won’t actually be purchasing, but effectively renting instead, I couldn’t argue against it, but I didn’t get behind the decision like I would’ve done so for a CR-V.
Instead, I recommended he check out LeaseBusters, a service that specializes in lease takeovers (and in full disclosure is affiliated with this site), in order to see what else might be available for $600 per month, the charge being asked for that specific 2019 Passport. It’s not that a Passport wouldn’t work for him, as it probably would, but I’d rather he suss out all available options before making what will probably be a two-year commitment.
To be fair, the Passport is much more fuel-efficient than any V6-powered 4Runner to date. While the next-gen 4Runner will probably ship with a hybrid, the current long-in-tooth model is rated at a dismal 14.8 L/100km city, 12.5 highway and 13.8 combined, compared to a relative 12.5, 9.8 and 11.3 for the Passport. The Pilot, incidentally, is good for a claimed 12.4, 9.3 and 11.0. Yes, you read that right. The larger, heavier three-row Honda gets better fuel economy than the shorter, lighter two-row variant. Go figure. It must come down to aerodynamics on the highway.
How does the Passport fare against immediate competitors? Toyota’s Venza comes standard with a hybrid power unit and therefore walks away with the mid-size two-row efficiency prize, its rating being 5.9 L/100km in the city, 6.4 on the highway and 6.1 combined. Ouch! No wonder it’s selling better. The Toyota’s $38,490 starting sticker doesn’t hurt either, especially next to this Honda’s near premium-level $43,670 entry price. That’s a $5,000-plus deterrent, combined with nearly twice the ongoing fuel costs. I’m not a big fan of the Venza’s styling, and I quite like the Passport’s looks front to back, but it’s hard to argue against such night and day savings.
As a useful comparo, let’s see how the Passport rates against all five-seat competitors when it comes to pricing and fuel economy with AWD (city/highway/combined) in the order of sales numbers:
Toyota Venza: $38,490; 5.9/6.4/6.1; 798 in Q1 2021; 1,403 from Sep-Dec 2020
While price and fuel economy doesn’t seem to affect the sales of cult-like 4x4s, such as Jeep’s Grand Cherokee and the 4Runner, it really does appear to impact car-based family haulers, such as Hyundai’s Santa Fe and Subaru’s Outback, the latter of which enjoys some built-in cult status of its own. Ford’s Edge has long been at or near the top of this pack, so it has earned its fair share of repeat buyers, even if it doesn’t quite measure up empirically, while Kia’s Sorento does well by delivering a whole host of positives including value. Chevy’s new Blazer should be doing well, but its lofty price no doubt causes pause from savvy shoppers, whereas the Passport’s highest starting price amongst car-based crossovers is no doubt pushing it down the pecking order.
Of course, what this interesting data dump doesn’t tell us is how these vehicles drive or how easy they are to live with. That’s where I come in, and while it would be outrageous to try and squeeze a segment-wide comparison into one review, I’ve covered many of these models earlier, or at least have driven most and will review as quickly as possible.
I commented earlier that you may not have even seen a new Passport on the road, but it’s more likely that you have and just didn’t realize you weren’t looking at a Pilot. While the Passport is a bit tougher looking, thanks to a blackened grille that appears bigger due to a deeper mesh insert, plus some additional matte-black lower body cladding, a revised liftgate that doesn’t include the Pilot’s additional blade-shaped taillight reflectors, and gloss-black wheels, it’s basically a shortened Pilot from the outside in. That’s not a bad thing since Honda toughened up the look of the Pilot for 2019, with both models now appearing rugged and SUV-like.
My tester wore a gorgeous Deep Scarlet Pearl paint job, one of four $300 optional colours available in Touring trim, including Obsidian Blue Pearl, Crystal Black Pearl, and Platinum White Pearl, with the only standard colour being Modern Steel Metallic. Once again, I admit to liking the way the Passport looks, especially in this rich colour. Due to its abbreviated length, the Passport appears more upright than its longer sibling too, resulting in even more of a traditional SUV stance, which is not unlike the original Pilot.
Classic SUV in mind, when Honda launched the Passport back in 2019, they made a point of showing photos of it doing some pretty severe off-roading manoeuvres, not to mention hauling camping gear such as canoes, kayaks and even a sizeable trailer, while a complementary video combined some energetic music with clips of it hustling up a mountainside dirt road, plus one close-up of a wheel in the air as part of a staged articulation exercise (check out my previous news story with photos and video). It was all in an effort to give the Passport a more rough and ready image than the Pilot, something its shorter wheelbase would allow for inherently, but there’s more to Honda’s two-row alternative than that.
Most notably, the Passport adds 28 mm (1.1 inches) of ground clearance over its Pilot sibling (with its standard all-wheel drive layout, or 13 mm/0.5 inches with US-exclusive FWD), allowing greater ease over obstacles such as rocks and roots or through deep potholes and ruts that can be found on any ungraded road or trail. What’s more, Honda’s enhanced i-VTM4 all-wheel drive system, which uses active torque vectoring to send up to 70 percent of engine torque to the rear axle and 100 percent to either the left or right rear wheels, provides good traction when things get slippery, whether the surface below is cold and snowy or hot and sandy.
Honda’s Intelligent Traction Management (ITM) system adds another element to the Passport’s off-road capabilities, due to four driving modes that work together with its all-wheel drive system, including normal, snow, mud and sand selections.
Of course, most owners will never venture off pavement, which to be fair is true for ultra-capable 4x4s made by Land Rover and Mercedes too, so the fact that Honda’s AWD system also overdrives the Passport’s outside rear wheels while cornering in order to maintain grip is probably even more important to would-be buyers.
I can’t say that I’d be willing to torture a new Passport in “the world’s harshest environments” such as “the sands of Dubai, muddy country roads of Russia, and snowbound trails in Minnesota,” as Honda claimed was done during the Passport’s development, but I’d certainly be comfortable taking on the types of dirt roads shown in its launch video. I’d also be more than happy to test its mettle on the rougher sections shown in the photos, as long as it was part of a launch event and Honda’s PR team had ok’d it. I’ve done so previously with the brand during such programs, with especially good memories of getting down and dirty with the original Ridgeline.
As for towing, the Passport’s standard 2,268-kg (5,000-lb) rating (1,588 kg or 3,500 lbs for U.S.-spec front-wheel drive models) should be good enough for mid-size camp trailers and average-sized fishing and ski boats, while an “overhead” feature found in the standard multi-view camera makes connecting a hitch and trailer easier than ever before.
One of the reasons it provides such impressive trailering capability is the 3.5-litre V6 that so negatively impacts fuel economy. With 280 horsepower and 262 lb-ft of torque, it’s the most potent base engine in its two-row class, which will either be a boon or a bane depending on your priorities. Honda has equipped it with an i-VTEC valvetrain and Variable Cylinder Management (VCM) in order to enhance power while minimizing consumption, while its nine-speed automatic transmission with standard idle-stop that shuts off the engine when it would otherwise be idling, tries to maintain the fewest revs possible in its normal driving mode. Still, step into the throttle and the Pilot moves off the line quite nicely, while providing strong passing power on the highway.
Thanks to weight savings of 16 to 55 kilograms (35 to 121 lbs) depending on trim, the 1,890- to 1,914-kg (4,167- to 4,219-lb) Passport feels a bit more energetic off the line than the Pilot, with the just-noted transmission providing ultra-smooth, yet positively shifting performance throughout its range, via steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters no less, this needed for manual mode, being that the gear selector is Honda’s array of electronic buttons and pull-tabs on the lower console (it gets easier to use with familiarity).
Likewise, for the suspension, which combines an excellent ride with more engagement through the curves than the larger Pilot, despite using the same fully independent front MacPherson strut and rear multi-link setup, featuring amplitude reactive dampers and Agile Handle Assist.
Combine its better handling and more capable off-road chops, with stronger straight-line acceleration and fractionally worse fuel economy, and the only negative left is cost. Of course, its near $44k starting point (which in fact is pricier than the larger Pilot’s $42,605 MSRP) is a big hurdle to overcome when compared to most rivals. Granted the Passport comes standard with AWD, which compares well to the majority of competitors that make it optional, but adding AWD to the aforementioned Santa Fe will only set you back $2,000 more at $33,399, although doing so with a V6-powered Murano pushes its price up by $6,000 to $40,098, because that model automatically includes mid-grade SV trim, featuring navigation, an overhead 360-degree surround parking monitor, a panoramic glass sunroof, and more.
The Passport comes in three trims, including Sport, EX-L and Touring, the latter two starting at $47,270 and $50,670 respectively. Colours and dealer-added accessories aside, none of the trims offer any options, with the only new feature since its inaugural year being a 2021 upgrade from a rather sad little 5.0-inch infotainment display in its most basic trim, to the much more respectable 8.0-inch display found in second- and third-tier trims last year, which incidentally comes complete with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration, the aforementioned Multi-Angle Rearview Camera with dynamic guidelines, Honda’s LaneWatch blind spot display that provides a rear visual of your blind spot when flicking the turn signal, Siri Eyes Free, wi-fi tethering, control of a six-speaker 115-watt seven-speaker audio with a subwoofer, and more.
Some additional standard Sport features worth noting include 20-inch alloy wheels, LED (low beam) headlights with auto high-beam assist, LED DRLs, LED fog lamps, LED side mirror repeaters, and LED taillights, a front wiper de-icer, proximity-sensing keyless Smart Entry and Smart Start, remote engine start, a configurable 7.0-inch colour TFT multi-information display within the primary instrument cluster that features audio, trip and phone info (plus turn-by-turn route guidance on models with navigation), adaptive cruise control, tri-zone automatic climate control, two USB device connectors, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a HomeLink universal remote, a powered moonroof, a heatable leather-wrapped steering wheel rim, a 10-way power-adjustable driver’s seat including two-way powered lumbar support (that nicely met up with the small of my back), and more.
On the “more” list is the Honda Sensing suite of advanced driver assistive and safety systems, which include Collision Mitigation Braking System (CMBS) with Forward Collision Warning (FCW), Road Departure Mitigation (RDM) including Lane Departure Warning (LDW), plus Lane Keeping Assistance System (LKAS) and Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC). These are joined by the industry’s usual assortment of active and passive safety items, plus Honda’s proprietary Advanced Compatibility Engineering (ACE) body structure, which unfortunately isn’t enough to even warrant a Top Safety Pick rating from the IIHS, let alone revered Plus status.
The Passport does appear safe, however, thanks to best-possible “G” (for good) ratings in its “Small overlap front: driver-side”, “Moderate overlap front”, “Side”, “Roof strength”, and “Head restraints & seats” crash tests, but only an “A” (acceptable) rating for its important “Small overlap front: passenger-side” and “Headlights” tests, not to mention merely an acceptable rating for the its child seat LATCH system’s “ease of use” test (the latter item having nothing to do with safety).
It’s certainly easy to fold those rear seats down, however, which, by pressing electronic release buttons on the cargo wall, expands the dedicated cargo area behind the second row from 1,166 litres (41.2 cu ft) to 2,206 litres (77.9 cu ft). Interestingly, the first number is only 56 litres (2.0 cu ft) more accommodating than a CR-V, which might be another reason that owners of the smaller and more efficient Honda aren’t moving up.
Just like the CR-V, the Passport’s second-row seats split in the usual 60/40 configuration, which while not optimally divided in my favourite 40/20/40 split, which allows for longer items like skis to be placed down the middle, is the norm in this mainstream volume-branded class, while a reversible cargo floor swaps out carpeting for a washable hard plastic surface when needing to haul dirtier loads. Underfloor storage is segment-leading, by the way, measuring 71 litres (2.5 cu ft).
While cargo capacity might not be enough of a differentiator for CR-V owners to move up to the Passport, the larger SUV’s roomy passenger compartment might cause some to reconsider their allegiance. It gains 368 litres (13.0 cubic feet) over the smaller Honda, thanks to 3,282 litres (115.9 cu ft) ahead of the rear seatbacks for segment-leading spaciousness, while the Passport’s 4,448 litres (157.1 cu ft) of overall interior volume is best-in-class as well.
As importantly, the Passport is finished well inside, or at least my Touring trimmed example was. Before I get ahead of myself, some notable EX-L features include a quieter acoustic windshield to enhance refinement, a memory-linked driver’s seat and side mirrors with reverse gear tilt-down, rear parking sensors, HD and satellite radio, two more USB charging ports, leather upholstery for the seating surfaces, a four-way powered front passenger’s seat, heated rear outboard seats, and a powered liftgate.
Lastly, my Touring model came with some special gloss black bumper skid garnishes, auto-levelling LED (low and high beam) headlamps, auto-dimming power-folding side mirrors, quieter front door acoustic glass, Blind Spot Information (BSI) with Rear Cross Traffic monitoring, additional ambient lighting in the cupholders, door panels and footwells, ventilated front seats, a superb sounding 550-watt 10-speaker audio upgrade, accurate navigation, a navi-based compass, 4G LTE in-vehicle Wi-Fi that can support up to seven devices, wireless device charging, a 115-volt household-style power outlet, and hands-free access for the powered liftgate.
As I mentioned a moment ago, my tester’s cabin was finished nicely, but Honda was careful that it wouldn’t compete with Acura’s MDX. The front door uppers and dash top receive a soft composite surface treatment, the latter down to the midpoint of the instrument panel, around the gauge cluster and surrounding the centre display, while the lower dash and door uppers are hard shell plastic. Likewise, for the glove box lid, while the rear door panels, save for the door inserts and armrests, are entirely made from hard plastic too. Hard plastic rear door uppers are unusually substandard for the mid-size class, with some compact SUVs, like Mazda’s CX-5, offering soft-touch door uppers and even real hardwood trim to go along with supple Nappa-leather upholstery. Like I said, the Passport isn’t trying to be premium in execution.
More impressive is the decently sized high-resolution touchscreen atop the mid-stack, this being one of the more attractive and easier infotainment system interfaces to use in the industry, and I’m not just saying this to leave on a positive note. The nicely coloured tiles are easy to navigate through, the graphics are large and clear, and the parking camera is superb.
So, after this epic, novel-length review is done, what’s the final verdict? I think the most important takeaway is the Passport’s overall goodness as an accommodating mid-size SUV that’s ideal for five adults and plenty of gear. Its on-road handling and off-road prowess should make for a good compromise when comparing it to less well-rounded alternatives, while its good forecasted reliability, and strong expected retained value might make up for its higher initial price.
This said, the Passport’s base price includes a lot of standard goodies, which if tacked onto some rivals would pull their dollar-for-dollar evaluations much closer this Honda. Still, it lacks some options mid-size SUV buyers like, such as the panoramic sunroof included in the much more affordable Murano. In the end, you’ll need to weigh each SUV’s advantages once getting closer to your final choice.
I’ve got to admit, Honda’s hybrid and full-electric strategy has long baffled the mind. Despite being second in the world and first in North America amongst modern-day hybrid makers, the Japanese brand’s combined love affair with impractical two-seat electrified sport coupes and hybrid five-passenger sedans, the latter providing real sales success stories, has left them with a much smaller slice of the alternative fuels market than they most likely would’ve enjoyed if they’d devoted all of their wired investment into highly marketable projects.
I’m going to guess that Honda’s best-selling electron-infused effort to date is the Civic Hybrid, just because of the sheer number of them I’ve seen on the road over the past decade-plus, although the brand never parsed out hybrid sales numbers from Civics using their conventional powertrains, so only those on the inside know for sure (please tell me I’m wrong, Honda). In fact, the decision to add a hybrid power unit to Canada’s most popular car was so smart that Toyota finally copied them with its latest Corolla Hybrid, a model that now partners the hybrid sector’s long-time best-selling Prius in the compact segment (just a quick note to let you know the new Sienna minivan, only available as a hybrid, just surpassed the Prius as the number-one hybrid seller in the US, not to mention the best-selling minivan).
Mentioning the Prius pulls memories of a particularly poorly planned successor to Honda’s original Insight, or at least most buyers thought so, as did I after initially testing it. While the first-generation 1999–2006 Insight needs to be slotted into the impractical two-seat electrified sport coupe category I noted a moment ago, the second-gen 2009–2014 Insight came across like an embarrassing admission of the first car’s failure. Honda came as close to copying the second-generation Prius as it could without being sued for plagiarism, but the rather bland hatchback didn’t look as good or go as well as its key rival. To be fair, it was the best-selling car overall in Japan for the month of April, 2009 (three months after going on sale), besting Honda’s own Fit for top spot, but North American buyers were never so enthusiastic. I could only get excited about its fuel economy at the time, which admittedly was superb.
After a reasonable five-year stint (2011–2016) playing around with another impractical two-seat electrified sport coupe dubbed CR-Z, a stylish runabout that I happened to like a lot, yet not enough buyers with real money agreed, the third-gen Insight arrived as a more attractive (in my opinion) Civic Hybrid, sans the name (an initial image of the new 2022 Civic shows the brand is leaning toward a more conservative design approach).
At first, I considered Honda’s choice of rebadging what’s little more than a hybridized Civic with the Insight nameplate as a stroke of genius (don’t ask me for marketing advice), but as it soon became apparent by the lack of Insights on the roads around my hybrid-infused Vancouver homeland (Honda chose the 2018 Vancouver International Auto Show for its launch, after all), it hasn’t been a hit.
It seems, much as Honda wants to keep the Insight legacy alive, or maybe just shine a prettier light on it, the comparatively obscure moniker’s historical relevance is no match for household name recognition (and another key issue I’ll go into more detail about later). As noted earlier, only Honda has the internal data to compare the percentage of Insights and Civic sedans it sells now to Civic Hybrid and conventionally-powered Civic sedans it sold in the past, but as stated at the beginning of this review, my guess is the old Civic Hybrid made a much bigger impact on the brand’s small car sales chart.
Enough about Honda’s hybrid duopoly of Civic and Accord success stories and insightful missteps, mind you, because the question that matters more is whether or not the latest Insight is any good. Of course, being based on the Civic can only mean that it’s inherently an excellent car, so therefore adding Honda’s well-proven hybrid drivetrain to the mix can only make it better from a fuel-efficiency standpoint, or at least that’s what I deduced after a week behind the wheel.
The powertrain consists of a 1.5-litre Atkinson-cycle internal combustion engine (ICE), an electric propulsion motor, and a 60-cell lithium-ion battery, with the end result being an enthusiastic 151 net horsepower and an even heartier 197 lb-ft of torque. Claimed fuel economy is 4.6 L/100km in the city, 5.3 on the highway, and 4.9 combined, which is exemplary when comparing it to most conventionally powered sedans in its compact category. Even the thriftiest version of Honda’s Civic sedan is downright thirsty when viewed side-by-side, its rating of 7.9 L/100km city, 6.1 highway and 7.1 combined stacking up well against competitors, yet not so impressive next to the Insight. Then again, sidle up Toyota’s aforementioned Corolla Hybrid beside to the Insight and its 4.4 city, 4.5 highway and 4.5 combined rating edges it out.
Of course, even hybrids aren’t all about fuel economy. Straight-line performance matters too, as does handling, refinement, style, etcetera. Before venturing away from driving dynamics, I have to mention how wonderfully smooth the Insight’s drivetrain is. It uses a continuously variable transmission, which is par for the course across most of the Civic line, and not uncommon amongst competitors too, Corolla included, so as long as driven calmly it’s pure bliss.
Step into the throttle with Sport mode engaged and it moves along quickly enough too, but the CVT keeps the engine at higher revs for longer than a conventional automatic would, and therefore produces more noise and harshness. I’m willing to guess most hybrid drivers don’t deep dive into the go-pedal all that often, however, so this probably won’t be a big issue. It certainly wasn’t for the duration of my test week, as I drove it in its default Comfort, Econ and EV settings more often than not.
On Honda’s side, the Insight’s all-electric mode is much more useful than the EV modes in Toyota’s Corolla or non-plug-in Prius, as it can actually be used at city speeds without automatically switching into hybrid mode, or in other words have the ICE kick back in. Unless moving up to one of Toyota’s plug-in Prime models, their ICEs automatically turn on at around 20 km/h, making it impossible to drive around town on electric power alone.
Some of my city’s poorly paved streets made me grateful for the Insight’s well sorted suspension, incidentally, as the ride is very good for its compact dimensions. This is partially due to an independent rear suspension setup, which is ideal for soaking up bumps and ruts no matter the speed, not to mention keeping the rear of the car from hopping around when driving quickly through imperfect asphalt mid-corner. Yes, it handles quite well, with the Insight’s battery weight hidden under the rear seat for a low centre of gravity.
You’ll be wanting to use the previously noted Sport mode for such situations, but don’t expect to manually row a gear lever through stepped intervals to so, because you won’t find any such thing. Instead, the Insight lets you swap “cogs” via much more engaging steering wheel paddles, while using Honda’s pushbutton gear selector for PRND, complete with a pull switch for reverse. It looks clean and elegant, plus saves airspace above for uninhibited access to centre stack controls, yet leaves more than enough room nearby on the lower console for stowing a large smartphone.
The latter includes a rubberized tray, plus a couple of USB charging ports and a 12-volt charger just ahead, these items forming the base of the centre stack that continues to be well organized and filled with plenty of useful features, such as an attractive dual-zone automatic climate control interface, integrating a strip of quick-access buttons for the three-way heatable front seats and more. It’s all topped off by the same big 8.0-inch touchscreen Civic owners will be all too familiar with, incorporating attractive, colourful, easy-to-use graphics that are laid out in a convenient tile format, with functions such as Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone connectivity, an accurate navigation system in my Touring trimmed tester, and an engine/battery power flow indicator that can be fun to watch.
For those unfamiliar (which would include those trading up from a base second-gen Insight, or those still driving base Civic Hybrids from the same era), the display works like a smartphone or tablet, letting you tap, pinch, or swipe to perform various functions, while Honda has also lined each side with some quick access buttons. On the left is a one for the home screen, plus another for the return or back function, one for swapping between day and night screens, two more for scrolling between radio stations or tracks, and lo and behold an actual volume knob that I used more often than the redundant one on the left-side steering wheel spoke.
Honda lights up the name of each feature so they’ll be easy to see at night, but this caused me to press the name instead of the little black button below when getting acclimatized, my mind seemingly pre-programmed for touch-sensitive controls these days. Some will be ok with this unorthodox analogue setup, while others, like yours truly, will wonder why Honda didn’t choose larger buttons with integrated backlit names, but being that this was my only criticism after a week on the road, I say they’re batting 300.
The primary instruments are fully digital, with those on the right housing a speedometer and gas gauge, and the left portion of the cluster featuring a multi-information display filled with helpful hybrid info, including a battery charge indicator. Switchgear on the steering wheel spokes control the MID, and I must say they’re very well made and ideally fitted in place, just like all the buttons, knobs and rockers throughout the rest of the cabin. These include controls on the overhead console too, which houses a set of incandescent reading lights, an emergency assist button, a HomeLink garage door opener, and a rocker switch for the regularly sized powered glass sunroof.
Following this high-quality theme, the Insight’s interior comes close to Acura ILX levels of fit, finish, and materials quality. The dash top, for instance, consists of a really impressive soft-touch synthetic surface treatment, while a padded and French-stitched leatherette bolster ahead of the front passenger continues over the entire instrument panel all the way down the side of the centre stack, which made it a shame that Honda didn’t finish the driver’s area to the same impressive level. Each side of the lower console is done just as nicely, however, matching the sliding centre armrest. Additionally, the front door uppers receive the same high-quality treatment as the dash top, while the door inserts get a similar stitched leatherette to the instrument panel bolster. It all looks very upscale, with refinement that’s on an entirely new level for Honda’s compact offerings.
The driver’s seat is up to Honda’s usual high standards too, with plenty of support and good adjustability, while the tilt and telescopic steering column provides ample reach and rake, not always the case with some competitors regarding the former. I couldn’t make mention of the steering wheel without adding that it’s thick, meaty, and shaped like it came out of a performance car, or one of Honda’s impractical two-seat electrified sport coupes (I know I’m going to get hate mail from all those CR-Z fans out there, but don’t slay me for pointing out the fact that an otherwise good car wasn’t exactly a runaway sales success).
Much like the spacious front seating area, the rear passenger compartment is roomy and comfortable, seemingly on par with the regular Civic. Likewise, the trunk could also be from a Civic, and even includes storage space under the cargo floor for random items. Honda stows the car’s tire repair pump in this location, a requirement for fixing flats as no spare tire is included. The segment’s usual 60/40 split-folding rear seatback configuration expands the trunk’s usefulness when needed, growing it from 416 litres (14.7 cu ft) to who knows how much (but ample for skis and boards) when lowered.
Yes, the Insight is a spacious, comfortable four-door sedan with a very practical, secure trunk, plus a good performance and fuel economy compromise, along with an impressively crafted interior with excellent electronics, and in my opinion, very attractive styling. If rebadged with the Civic Hybrid name, I think it would sell better than it does, simply because everyone knows someone with a Civic. This said, don’t let any negative connotations about old Insights dissuade you from buying the current model. In fact, if you can get one for the right price, I’d highly recommend it, and I’d also recommend that Honda get even more practical with future hybrids, like possibly a CR-V Hybrid for the Canadian market?
It’s hard to understand why Honda allowed others to hybridize the SUV segment before they got around to it, but unfathomably there’s still nothing in their Canadian lineup to compete with electrified versions of the Toyota RAV4, Hyundai Tucson, Ford Escape and others, an especially odd predicament for the Japanese brand to find itself in when considering the CR-V is built right here in Canada.
The problem is reportedly due to Honda’s inability to build an electrified version in its Alliston, Ontario plant, and unwillingness to procure one from its U.S. manufacturing division (according to multiple sources quoting Honda Canada VP of marketing and sales, Jean-Marc Leclerc, selling a CR-V Hybrid here would simply not be profitable). They don’t seem to be having much trouble selling CR-Vs as it is, but the latest RAV4 has taken over top spot in the segment, possibly due at least partially to its past regular hybrid and current plug-in Prime variants.
Until the powers that be at Honda choose to take on hybrid challengers within Canada’s fastest growing compact SUV segment, the only two electrified vehicles in the lineup will remain this Insight, the larger mid-size Accord Hybrid, and the brand’s rather unusual looking Clarity Plug-in Hybrid (good luck trying to find one of those on the road). All three are sedans, with the latter two approximately the same size and therefore somewhat redundant (I’d argue they would have done better with an Accord plug-in). Again, Honda’s electrification strategy remains a mystery. At least the Insight and Accord hybrids are straightforward in design and four-door functionality, with either being a good choice for those desiring a sedan body style. If only there were more buyers for this type of vehicle these days.
To wrap it up, as of April’s close, Honda has delivered a grand total of 15,629 CR-Vs so far this year, which sounds quite good until noting Toyota’s 23,585 RAV4 sales total, of which I’m willing to guess (again) about 25 percent were hybrids (electrified vehicle sales have been surging in Canada over the past two years, and RAV4 Hybrid sales were already at 22 percent in 2019). Canada’s third best-selling vehicle is Honda’s Civic, by the way, with 10,884 units down the road so far in 2021, while the previously mentioned Corolla is a close fourth at 10,788 YTD sales to its credit.
Even if the Corolla Hybrid only managed 15 percent of that model’s total sales, it would have achieved more than 1,500 deliveries since the beginning of the year, which totally destroys Insight deliveries of just 132 units over the same four months, and sadly that’s after seeing 1.5 percent year-over-year sales growth. It can’t be the styling, as it’s easily as attractive as the current Civic sedan, and more so in my opinion, so therefore, while my argument for name recognition might factor in to some extent, it probably has everything to do with acquisition costs from Honda’s Greensburg, Indiana plant, the same facility that makes the CR-V Hybrid.
This results in a starting price of $28,490 plus freight and fees, which is $3,400 more expensive than Toyota’s Corolla Hybrid that begins at just $25,090. Ouch! The Touring trimmed model I tested is even dearer at $32,190, and this car isn’t much better (if at all) than a top-level Corolla Hybrid with its Premium package, that will only set its owner back $27,090 (plus destination and dealer charges). That’s $5,100 more affordable than the Insight, hence the lost sales numbers. No wonder Honda isn’t willing to add its U.S.-made CR-V Hybrid to the mix, as there’s obviously a serious problem making a business case for U.S.-produced hybrids in Canada.
Moving forward, Honda Canada will need to address this issue, at least with the models it can. By rejigging their Alliston assembly plant, they should be able to sell many more CR-V Hybrids than any other electrified model currently on offer, although the business case for doing so may not make sense in a market that’s only about 10 percent of America’s size.
Such a scenario might be justifiable if they chose to produce the Insight right next to the Civic, that’s also built in the Alliston facility, or even better, create a new Civic Hybrid model that doesn’t require the extra expense of unique body panel stampings. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time Honda offered a Canadian-specific Civic, although that model was under the Acura EL nameplate.
No doubt Honda’s Canadian division has thought through numerous hybrid and electric strategies, as choosing the right one will be critical to its future success. Waiting for a fully electric alternative will put them at risk of losing ground in Canada’s electrified car industry overall, which really isn’t an option considering that the HEV, PHEV and EV industry is growing faster north of the 49th than it is south of the border, and also factoring in that all of its competitors are already selling or in the process of ramping up multiple hybrid and pure electric production vehicles. As it is, Honda Canada is only discussing the possibility of a CR-V Hybrid, and then only as part of the model’s upcoming generation.
Yes, even after all these years, Honda’s global electrification strategy is anything but cohesive. Nevertheless, the Insight is a very good car that could provide you with a lot of happiness behind the wheel. The automaker is attempting to sweeten the deal with incentives up to $1,000 on 2021 models or $1,600 off 2020 models (yes, there’s no shortage of new 2020s still available), but this is countered by Toyota’s factory leasing and financing rates from 0.49 percent on the Corolla Hybrid, with average CarCostCanada member savings of $1,937 when factoring in the knowledge gained by their dealer invoice pricing advantage.
Make sure to find out about every CarCostCanada membership benefit, plus remember to download their free app from the Google Play Store or the Apple Store, and choose your next car wisely. You could do a lot worse than purchasing a new Honda Insight, although the asking price might be a bit steep despite its exclusivity.
Review and photos by Trevor Hofmann
Honda Canada’s Civic sales have been crashing recently, down more than 20 percent throughout Q1 of 2021 compared to the same three months last year. Reasons for the downturn are likely varied, from…
Honda Canada’s Civic sales have been crashing recently, down more than 20 percent throughout Q1 of 2021 compared to the same three months last year. Reasons for the downturn are likely varied, from the health crisis to a 25-plus-percent increase in CR-V deliveries, the latter thanks to changing consumer tastes from cars to SUVs. Additionally, some of the slowdown is probably due to fewer Civics in dealership inventories, which makes sense now that we’ve learned a totally redesigned model is on the way later this year.
Honda took the wraps off its all-new 2022 Civic sedan this week, and at first glance it appears as if the design team wanted to take it back to the more conservative stylings of earlier iterations. Considering how well Honda has done with its current 10-generation model, which arrived six years ago for the 2016 model year, deviating from its ultimately angled look to a much more rounded, minimalist design may be seen as a risk, although it will certainly be a positive for less progressive buyers.
As for the new 11th-generation Civic, other than what little information the single frontal photo provides we know very little about it. Then again, if the Civic Prototype that debuted (on video game platform Twitch no less) in November is anything to go by, and both cars look very similar from the front except for lower fascia details, its rear design should include a smart set of LED infused taillights that come to a point that’s kind of reminiscent of those on the eighth-gen North American sedan at their rearmost ends, albeit much narrower. That was a particularly good-looking car for the era, while the current model’s C-shaped lenses have been amongst its most controversial styling elements.
We won’t delve into expected content, other than to say it will likely be filled with standard advanced safety kit in order to help keep its occupants safe, and score well in safety tests, while its cabin will no doubt come standard with a large centre touchscreen and offer a fully digital gauge cluster, at least as an option. More detailed information will arrive later this month, which we hope to include more photos, including at least one of its backside plus with a plethora of interior shots.