If any company was to take a fresh approach to the midi-MPV you’d expect it to be Honda. And when you first set eyes on the new FR-V, that appears to be the case.
It’s an unusual-looking car. From the front there are shades of the new Accord, which is a good thing. Aft of there, things get a bit more unusual, although it’s at least distinctive. The FR-V follows the Fiat Multipla by opting for two rows of three seats to make it a six-seater – halfway house between the excepted trend of either five or seven seats.
Both seats in the middle of each row slide back and forth; the rear seat slides into the boot space to free up extra legroom if required and the front moves back to gain extra shoulder room – it can also be folded flat to form a table-top. If load carrying is more important than passenger capacity the rear seats fold flat. The great advantage of a six-seater is that even if the car is fully laden with passengers, the boot space remains clear for their luggage, a capacity that is greatly reduced if you use all seven seats in a traditional MPV.
Honda has aimed at the premium end of the sector occupied by cars such as the VW Touran. To achieve this, it’s worked hard on the quality of the FR-V and in the most part succeeded. The dash is a lot more exciting than the VW’s, with a complex-looking central pod that houses most of the switchgear. Some of the materials used don’t quite feel up to the standard you’d expect, and the high vehicle sides – although imparting a feeling of security – coupled with the dark fabric will make the interior a bit claustrophobic for some.
It feels strange at first, sliding behind the wheel of the FR-V. You sit far over on the right-hand side of the car, and a glance to your left reveals not only the unbroken run of two further seats, but that the left-hand door seems an awfully long way away. Once underway, however, the FR-V is as easy to drive as you’d expect from a Honda.
Yet anyone expecting a slice of Type-R madness to have crept into their sensible MPV will not find the FR-V a sporting drive. The 148bhp 2.0-litre four-pot (entry-level is the 1.8-litre 123bhp engine and Honda’s excellent 2.2-litre 138bhp diesel will arrive later) is typically Honda, from the eerily quiet idle to the aerobic way it climbs the rev range. Certainly the FR-V feels rapid for this type of car, although with only 140lb ft at a relatively high 4000rpm you won’t be surprised to learn that it requires enthusiastic use of the throttle and gearlever to make spirited progress.
With a platform based on the CR-V’s, a wide track and a wheel-at-each-corner stance, Honda has been able to make the FR-V stable yet sufficiently soft-riding, even if there is some choppiness over poor surfaces. There is some initial body roll, but it soon settles on its springs and remains more composed than a Renault Scénic. The steering is ideally light for manoeuvring, although the absence of feel removes the fun from driving at speed.
Although it doesn’t have quite the van-style practicality of a traditional MPV, the FR-V offers an appealingly different take on this busy market sector. With prices starting from £14,750 – this 2.0-litre Sport is £16,400 – it’s comparable for price and equipment with its premium MPV rivals. Sounds like a group test is on the cards.