THE new Honda HR-V is a step-change for what is generally regarded as a conservative car-maker.
While its head-turning but now discontinued NSX and stillin production hot Civics stand out from more run of mill models in showrooms, they made progress with the new Jazz but have really ramped up styling in the new HR-V launched last autumn.
It's bigger than the last generation and there is much more room inside the cabin and luggage area which are also much better equipped and have higher quality features, notably the sound system. But they have also cut some corners as we will explain later.
The engine has been given 25 per cent more battery power for its electric mode and with software retuning of the petrol engine it has respectable performance unless heavily laden or pushed very hard.
You have eco, normal and sporting modes available behind the single-speed gear selector feeding to the front wheel drive transmission and I found it really paid to judge what would be needed on twisting and hilly main roads. Starting off in eco mode you can flick to normal for long gradients and into sport for steeper climbs or winding roads and this instantly produced much sharper responses.
Tackle a motorway and the petrol engine was perfectly happy pulling you along at normal speed if you are not carrying a lot, but it tended to run out of puff uphill when four were in the car and some bags were in the back.
Cruising along it was quiet too, but ask more of it or go cross country on A and B class roads and the engine noise became more intrusive.
However it was driven, the smoothness was remarkable and the responses were very good and we achieved close to 50mpg at times.
For the driver, the steering column could do with more vertical adjustment but the major and minor controls were well positioned and easy to use with a particularly smooth footbrake, good progressive assistance and an effective parking brake as well.
I liked the large instruments infront of the driver and their changing displays as mode and menus were selected with clear markings always present.
Thankfully, the climate control display was separate to the main large central infotainment touchscreen panel which can be distracting when driving and which worked hooked up to a mobile phone for the navigation so you need a Smartphone to get the full benefit of the system.
Audio and media playback was excellent with crisp and comprehensive output and ours had wireless charging
The interior was kept well ventilated by the system with excellent output, control and distribution, backed up by powered windows. I wished that this family car had more oddments room, particularly in the rear.
Inside, access was very good and room plentiful for four or five, even in the rear, with well shaped front seats but less figure-hugging back seats. The HR-V retains Honda's brilliant magic-seats with their folding arrangements to dramatically and gradually increase volume. It was a very comfortable car.
Our model came with a bootfloor liner and we would recommend this for better location of luggage and protection but noticed a lack of sensible hooks or nets for shopping or other small items such as de-icer/scraper. With the liner removed a deeper compartment is beneath but there's no spare wheel & tyre.
The HR-V was a typical higher riding family car so vision to sides and front was good with a low waistline but the c-pillar thickness restricted over the shoulder sight and you really depended on the vey clear rear camera and all round sensors when parking or turning.
The higher specification car had truly powerful intelligent self-adjusting headlights with a wide long beam and effective wipers/ wash system for poorer days.
On the road it handled well, very safe and surefooted for a front wheel drive car, with no bad manners displayed but the road rumbles from the tyres and the way it bumped over some potholes were disappointing. It also tended to be very sensitive to changing lanes and traffic ahead, which was a bit off-putting when the systems cut in.
Wind and other mechanical noises were very low, which probably explains why the constant rumbles and occasionally busy engine note seemed louder the cabin.