The Historic Columbia River Highway in northern Oregon is home to spectacular scenery like 600-foot waterfalls, sky-scraping pine trees, and hiking trails that overlook the mighty Columbia itself. Since this picturesque setting is less than an hour from Portland proper, it’s an easy escape for families wanting to get out of the city – and that’s obvious by the number of smallish crossovers clogging up each parking lot.
But behind the wheel of the 2023 Honda HR-V, I feel right at home. Based on the same platform as the 11th-generation Civic, this new HR-V is perfect for small families and long weekends. It has the Civic’s upscale interior styling and likable driving dynamics, which makes it a great SUV to pedal around, with the added benefit of more cargo and passenger space than your average sedan. That means you can easily pack up luggage, grandma, and the dog and get out of town.
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Gallery: 2023 Honda HR-V First Drive Review
Insert Generic Crossover Here
Even in these crowded parking lots, though, nobody stops to look at the new HR-V. The 2023 model blends into the crowd, with no defining cues or distinguishable features to set it apart from the alternatives. It’s basically a blob of vaguely familiar styling elements mushed into one nondescript package. The previous model, polarizing as it was, was at least recognizable.
The $395 Nordic Forest paint job is one of the few highlights, adding some panache to the otherwise drab design. And if you opt for the Sport model, you have the option to spice up the exterior with 10-spoke black wheels, matching black badges, and other gloss black accents.
The HR-V’s cabin, on the other hand, is fantastic. It’s clean, refined, and of a higher quality than what’s typically common for this class. Textured soft plastic covers the dash and center console, while high-end leather adorns our EX-L tester’s seats and door panels, with only a few obvious hard plastic touch points throughout the entire vehicle.
And everything just feels solid. Considering the HR-V’s cabin is a near-identical carryover from the Civic, that type of quality isn’t unexpected. It’s not surprising, either, to see the Civic’s honeycomb fixture across the HVAC vents, the same clicky metallic knobs for AC controls, and the optional 9.0-inch touchscreen atop the dash. All of it carries over, and all of it is great.
Models below the top-end EX-L make do with a standard 7.0-inch touchscreen display, but the larger 9.0-inch display has big, easy-to-read icons and responds with smartphone-like quickness. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard, with wireless available exclusively in the EX-L model, as well as a Wi-Fi hotspot and wireless phone charging.
Moves Like Civic
The new HR-V packs a naturally aspirated 2.0-liter engine good for 158 horsepower and 138 pound-feet, which marks an increase of 17 hp and 11 lb-ft over its predecessor. That additional oomph pairs to a continuously variable transmission, with standard front-wheel drive, and all-wheel drive available on the top-end model.
From the moment you hit the throttle, the HR-V feels speedier than its predecessor. Torque arrives at a more generous 4,200 RPM – as opposed to 4,300 – with the four-cylinder providing more push on its way to 60 and just beyond. The HR-V is zippy around town and able to get up to highway speeds with no issue.
The CVT is entirely inoffensive, too. Honda implemented fake “Step-Shifts” into this refreshed transmission making it feel more like a traditional automatic, and it “shifts” with respectable quickness. Better yet, there’s no more annoying droning at low speeds.
Higher up in the mountains, though, the non-turbocharged four-cylinder and the faux automatic didn’t exactly jive with the extra altitude. Although the 2.0-liter engine was still able to deliver enough power at these peaks, it took moving the shifter to S (for Sport) and burying the gas pedal deep into the footwell to keep the crossover at speed. And still, the HR-V wasn’t happy about this additional pressure, wheezing and whining its way up the mountain. Shoehorning in the Civic’s turbocharged 1.5-liter engine would be an easy fix here.
Dynamically though, the HR-V is an Olympic skier in a class of novices (except maybe the Mazda CX-30). Boasting the new Civic chassis underneath – which also underpins the awesome Integra – the HR-V has a stiffer overall structure and a new multi-link rear suspension that makes it markedly more dynamic, as opposed to the torsion beam rear axle of the previous model.
With that suspension, the HR-V was eager to dive into the twisty mountain roads north of the Columbia River. Its nondescript nose pointed exactly where I wanted it to, and the fully independent suspension kept body roll to a minimum. Just like in the Civic, the steering is sublime: quick, responsive, and perfectly weighty. Even with an electronically assisted rack, the steering wheel never feels overly boosted. Again, only the Mazda CX-30 gives the HR-V a run for its money in this respect.
More Room, Less “Magic”
When you’re not forcing it up and down a mountain pass, the Honda HR-V is a more than pleasant highway companion. Apart from a slightly more rigid ride, a small downside of that improved handling, this compact Honda is quiet, comfortable, and spacious.
The 2023 HR-V is 2.6 inches wider than its predecessor and stretches a hearty 8.7 inches in length, putting it at 179.8 inches overall. The wheelbase, meanwhile, is nearly 2 inches longer than on the previous version; 104.5 inches versus 102.8. And that means more cargo space than before, with 24.4 cubic feet behind the second row and 55.1 cubes with it folded flat.
But here’s the bad news: the new HR-V loses the beloved “Magic Seat” function – its once highly configurable rear bench – as a result of switching from the versatile Fit platform to Civic underpinnings. But Honda made sure to keep some of that same usability intact. With a bit of purposeful dead space beneath the second-row bench – enough to stick your arm into – the rear seats fold almost entirely flat. And thanks to the larger rear hatch opening, loading and unloading even oversized pieces of furniture should be a cinch.
Here’s a quick demonstration of how that works:
Honda Sensing comes standard across all HR-V trims, adding traffic jam assist and traffic sign recognition for the first time. That’s alongside all the same features that carry over, like automatic emergency braking, lane-centering, adaptive cruise control, and more.
Even through the twisty mountain roads, the adaptive cruise system allowed me to move in comfort while enjoying the scenery. The lane-centering tech kept the HR-V put in the lane while the distance control maintained a healthy pace to the vehicles in front of it, applying throttle and braking inputs as needed.
Priced To Fit
Although the 2023 Honda HR-V grows in size and makes gains in the tech and safety departments, this small SUV is still priced competitively. The base LX model with front-wheel drive starts at $24,895 with the $1,245 destination fee included. And even the top-end EX-L model tested here with all-wheel drive costs $30,195 before options.
Some of the smaller, more poorly equipped alternatives are more affordable than the HR-V, sure. The Nissan Kicks starts at a cool $21,285 with destination and the Hyundai Kona is $22,595. And returning 28 combined miles per gallon in front-wheel-drive form, and 27 combined with all-wheel drive, the HR-V isn’t the most fuel-efficient option of the bunch, either.
But what the HR-V does offer is a top-end driving experience, a high-quality cabin, and more room than before – meaning you’ll be able to load up the boot with lots of luggage. Considering the Civic was already a standout, it’s no surprise that the 2023 HR-V feels like another winner from Honda.
HR-V Competitor Reviews:
- Chevy Trailblazer: 8.0 / 10
- Ford Bronco Sport: 8.7 / 10
- Hyundai Kona: Not Rated
- Jeep Compass: Not Rated
- Kia Seltos: 8.1 / 10
- Nissan Kicks: 8.7 / 10
- Mazda CX-30: 8.3 / 10
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