hen Honda introduced the first generation of its HR-V model, its high and wide stance and excellent practicality made it stand out from the crowd.
But these days that crowd has grown and the latest generation of HR-V finds itself with a lot more competition – some of it very good.
Compared to some earlier versions the HR-V has lost some ground. For a start it is only available as a hybrid, with a 1.5-litre petrol engine and two electric motors giving it a total of 129 bhp.
Also, some of the practicality has gone. Rear legroom may be generous but rear headroom isn’t, and if you are unlucky enough to have to sit on the raised middle rear seat the headroom problem is worse. It is fine for children but adults won’t want to spend too much time there.
On the plus side, the HR-V does get Honda’s much lauded Magic Seats, in which the bases can be flipped upwards to create a cavernous space for bulky objects.
Boot capacity of 319 litres, or 304 in the range-topping Advance Style trim level, where the upgraded sound system has nibbled away a bit more of the boot space, is just about the smallest in the class. This might not matter to everyone but it will to some. Fortunately the rear seats fold flat, providing a level loading area.
Elsewhere in the cabin it’s a story of good news and bad news. The instruments in the electronic dashboard are well laid out but the infotainment system is a bit slow and there is quite a lot of hard scratchy plastic alongside the soft-touch materials. Storage is reasonable but nothing to write home about, although heating and ventilation controls have good old-fashioned knurled metal knobs which are attractive and pleasant to use.
On the road it is not a ball of fire, but then it is not meant to be a sports car, so performance is adequate. The main problem is the engine noise. At low speeds it’s fine but it makes a terrible wailing din if you ask it to accelerate, rather like with a CVT gearbox. The electric motors spend most of their time charging the battery, although they can drive the front wheels when extra power is required.
Two areas where the HR-V does score highly are safety equipment and fuel economy. Despite finding myself in some epic traffic jams it refused to drop below 52.7mpg while in my hands. Standard equipment is good and included blind spot awareness, lane-keeping assist, heated front seats and automatic phone-charging.
Its styling is pretty decent, with a high waistline, sleek headlamp design and smart, body-coloured slatted grille.
The biggest problem this car faces is the opposition. This is now a fiercely contested section of the market and, priced at between £19,810 and £30,725 for the range topper I was testing, it looks quite expensive.
I could find no area where it could claim to be the best in class, and in certain ways such as boot capacity it is left for dead by the opposition. There are some wonderfully practical alternatives, such as the Nissan Qashqai, Hyundai Tucson and Skoda Karoq, and being at the small end of the family crossover market it even has cheaper vehicles such as the Ford Puma nipping at its heels.
This third-generation HR-V is a good car, and worthy of consideration, but there are plenty of competitors which offer greater practicality and are more fun to drive.