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Former crossover hatchback pioneer makes a comeback bid - but is success within the HR-V's grasp, and does it do enough dynamically to stand out?

Given the history of the Honda HR-V nameplate, it’s a wonder that the brand hasn’t fashioned a bigger presence for itself in the lucrative compact crossover market.

The original HR-V, based on the platform of the Honda Logo supermini, was launched in 1999 – well before European manufacturers cottoned on to the idea – and was immediately marketed as a ‘Joy Machine’ for a young, activity-minded demographic, even if those people weren’t, ultimately, its core buyers.

The original Honda HR-V helped to invent the compact crossover niche

It sat below the larger, Civic-based Honda CR-V, came with a downsized engine, could seat four, was available with two-wheel drive or with four driven wheels and had the high-riding style of an SUV.

All the makings of a hit, you might think, given the march it stole on the rest of the market. Instead, the HR-V proved to be a side note – marginally ahead of its time, yes, but also cramped in the back, hindered by the absence of a diesel engine and ultimately canned without follow-up. 

In Japan, Honda nominally replaced it with the Crossroad, a three-row, seven-seat oddity it wisely decided to keep to the domestic market. Only now, almost 10 years later, has the manufacturer opted to return the HR-V badge to the UK.

Unsurprisingly, the intervening decade makes it look late to the party, and the compact crossover has since become more popular with European small families than a loaf of stone-baked organic bread. The car itself prudently sticks to the now well-established formula that its forebear pre-empted, being based on the Jazz supermini, powered by small engines (a diesel, too) and remaining strictly front-wheel drive no matter which one of the four trim levels you opt for. 

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Now that there is a discernible message, the new HR-V appears to be on it – which is useful, because Honda could use the line-up heft of having a sales volume-generating crossover in the range, given that it now only sells the Jazz, Civic and CR-V in the UK. We tried the 1.6 i-DTEC diesel in SE Navi trim.


Honda HR-V 2015-2020 First drives