The new Sport version of the HR-V is Honda's fastest SUV. Does that make it the family model of choice for keen drivers?

What is it?

The ramp-up of Honda's sporting trim continues. We’ve had the Civic Sport and, last year, the Jazz Sport as an unlikely entrant into the warm hatch sphere, and now it’s the turn of the Honda HR-V

The Japanese firm is introducing the range-topping Sport variant not long after the HR-V was given a mid-life fettling - one that was almost entirely focused on gently moving it closer to the latest Honda CR-V visually. But Honda is treating the Sport moniker more seriously than some car makers, having given the car a performance upgrade to suit.

The recipe is simple on paper: take the already fine-driving HR-V and squeeze the 179bhp 1.5-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol motor from the Civic Sport under its bonnet. This has turned it into the fastest SUV Honda makes - although the relatively small and low-slung HR-V stretches that definition a bit.

Engineers didn’t just shoehorn a gutsier motor under the bonnet and send it on its way, however. The Sport introduces what Honda calls synaptic damping control - a fancy phrase for uprated dampers aimed at sharpening the car’s body movements without ruining the ride. There’s also retuned variable-ratio steering alongside the improvements to the noise insulation and the active noise reduction system found in the regular HR-V.

163085 2019 Honda hr v

What's it like?

The B-segment crossover sector isn't one that driving enthusiasts flood to. That’s reflective in the products on offer, the majority of which are best described as dynamically insipid.

But the HR-V Sport is surprisingly likeable. The standard HR-V is among the better cars in its class to drive, so Honda had a decent base to improve on.

We know how willing and flexible the new engine is from its placement in the Civic, and the HR-V’s similar kerb weight means near-identical performance. While there’s a little lag to deal with, it pulls strongly from around 2000rpm and only starts to get slightly breathless and strained above 5500rpm. It’s not as torque-rich as some similar turbocharged units, meaning you’ll be switching ratios to keep it on the boil, but that’s no hardship, thanks to a nicely short-of-throw and mechanical gearshift.

The Sport also adds a bit more aural appeal in the form of an artificial sound generator. We know how contrived these systems can be (Peugeot 308 GTi, we’re looking at you), but Honda’s manages to enhance the engine’s naturally rorty note without becoming overbearing. The additional sound insulation means it’s no longer drowned out by road noise, too. 

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The standard HR-V’s controlled, neutral handling characteristics are improved on by the chassis alterations, although not to the degree that this is in any way a hot hatch baiter. Nevertheless, there is some degree of fun to be had from the positive turn-in, steering that’s more natural-feeling and precise than the standard car's and decent grip levels. 

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The so-called performance damping has introduced a taut, sometimes firm edge to the ride, but it’s sophisticated enough that bumps are merely noticed rather than felt to an unacceptable degree. That’s good, because cars like this will find themselves pottering around town more than they are likely to be attacking a challenging B-road with gusto. 

The familiar traits of the HR-V remain intact, with a nicely trimmed and user-friendly interior marred by decidedly sub-par infotainment (Honda representatives themselves admit it’s in need of an overhaul). It’s roomy, too, with a decent boot and Honda's trademark 'magic’ fold-up rear seatbases that are now sorely absent from the Honda Civic

Should I buy one?

Here’s where the problems start to emerge, in case you were wondering why a review with plenty of praise doesn’t merit a higher star rating. 

In isolation, the HR-V Sport is a pleasant and vice-free alternative to high-spec crossover rivals. But its ambitious pricing (nearly £28,000 in manual form and well over £29,000 with the optional CVT automatic ‘box) can only result in us drawing parallels with models from different segments.

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Not only is it nearly £5000 more expensive than a top-drawer Mazda CX-3, it’s also more expensive than the identically powered Civic Sport. And if it’s a sporty yet practical SUV you’re after, the substantially larger Seat Ateca is available for significantly less.

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Worse still, some of the best hot hatches on the market, namely the Volkswagen Golf GTI and Hyundai i30 N, are within reach, and in some cases cheaper. For those not solely after outright performance and not blindly tied to the idea of a crossover, a well-specced Ford Focus is more accomplished in pretty much every area.

Clearly, the HR-V isn’t capable of matching these despite a decent kit list, whether you’re comparing in terms of driver appeal, performance or even interior quality. Fundamentally, it’s a small crossover with the same underpinnings as the Honda Jazz, and it’s out of its depth at this end of the market. 

It’s hard to work out who the HR-V Sport is aimed at, then, because traditional HR-V buyers, as in the ones looking for a sensible, reliable and spacious crossover above all else, are also better served by a middling non-turbo petrol model for a far more reasonable outlay.

Honda HR-V 1.5 VTEC Sport 

Tested Lisbon, Portugal Price £27,840 On sale Now Engine 1498cc, 4cyls Power 179bhp at 5500rpm Torque 177lb ft at 1900-5000rpm Gearbox 6-spd manual Kerb weight 1340kg Top speed 133mph 0-62mph 7.8sec Fuel economy 42.4mpg CO2 151g/km Rivals Mazda CX-3, Peugeot 3008

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judyotham 7 October 2019

A good attempt at restyling

A good attempt at restyling the lineup from Honda. It’s not bad to look at how I can observe visual changes attract new people. For example, in studies, when students study and they have difficulties with any of the writing, they seek help. I myself went through this, for example, the http://www.ibuyanessay.com/ site was previously small, it offered several options for writing help, now it is an advanced service with a beautiful design.

xxxx 27 March 2019

what £28k can buy

That's pretty much the starting price of a XC40 only a bit quicker but smaller, also, way higher than a T-Roc 1.5 4 pot. As I've said before some companies have insane pricing

scotty5 26 March 2019

Just avoid it.

We bought a brand new HRV in Nov 2015. It lasted 7 mths before having to be recovered to dealership (twice), then the electrics went. Car spent a total of 13weeks at dealership - problems could never be traced. Honda not interested in swapping car like-4-like or for me contributing to a new one. Anything above 50mph on an undulating road turned the car in to a rollercoaster with very poor steering. Despite being a diesel, it's the only car I've ever owned (including 0.9tce petrol) that I've had to change down a gear trying to maintain 70mph uphill on a motorway. The car will not retain it's previous settings therefore you need to go thru a checklist each time you turn on the ignition for it to operate the way you want it to. And whilst the stereo sound well enough for a std system, the infotainment system ergonomics is about as bad as I've seen on any car. And despite the software supposedly being based on an Android system  (albeit an ancient version), it wouldn't integrate very well with any Android phone, and when it did, the functionality was extremely limited.

There are a few good points about the HR-V  ( it's tardas-like, those magic seats can be useful) but overall and despite being a 3-time brand new Honda buyer, I'll never again enter another Honda showroom in my life - an awful company to deal with. The only way to get rid of our heap of rubbish which was definitely not fit for purpose was to either take the supplying dealer to court (expensive option with no guarantee of winning) or cut our losses and sell it. Yes I lost a fair few quid on the deal but I've never been so glad to see the back of a car in my life.

Honda famed for reliability? And then I read that UK HR-V's were built in a Mexican plant which itself had major issues. If you are considering this car, go look at Haymarket magazine's latest reliability survey  -  a very un-Honda-like result for the HR-V.

Einarbb 26 March 2019

Not had any problems with my Honda so far

admittedly not exactly same model, however the Civic utilizes the same technology, exact same engine as in that specific car tested - automatic instead of manual transmission, leather seats given it's executive spec. Never had this problem with car's systems, settings not holding. The chaccis is set lower than the HRV hence not much of a roll in corners. Very stable and comfortable long distance cruicer. 

Boris9119 26 March 2019

Just Goes to Show....

Just goes to show scotty5 how a lot might be down to the dealership more than the build quality? We have owned 5 new Honda's since 2005 and all have performed faultlessly with the eception of the Pilot having a duff battery after 2yrs. Had the dealership diagnosed and fixed your vehicle right the first time, looked after you, free loan car, comped some free servicing, you might still be a Honda ciustomer? There again we have not owned a HRV, only CRV's and Pilots so could be a HRV issue.