2023 Honda HR-V Review: An elevated compact experience
The Honda HR-V compact crossover has been completely redesigned for 2023. It's pretty good. Mostly.
Words and photos by Mitchell Weitzman
2023 Honda HR-V EX-L AWD review
What is it?
Honda's HR-V, a compact crossover SUV from the Japanese manufacturer. The first-generation HR-V has sold tremendously well in the United States, being a top choice for those wanting to spend under $30,000 on an economical vehicle, but want to sit a little higher. In fact, HR-V literally means 'high-rider revolutionary vehicle.' While not quite a revolution in all sense of the word, the evolution that has occurred here elevates the HR-V to among the cream of the crop for small crossovers. It also buries Toyota's new Corolla Cross into oblivion.
Wearing a completely new face and clothes from top to bottom, inside and out, this is an automotive glow-up done right. While the nose is undeniably similar to Ford's Escape, it's nipped and tucked here to bestow some elegance in an affordable car. Trust me, it looks better in person verse the original press photos. The original HR-V always was renowned for generous interior space front and rear despite such diminutive exterior dimensions, and the new model goes further, with extra room throughout courtesy of a 10" stretch to overall length, now at 180-inches. In fact, that's only two inches shorter than the larger CR-V. Okay, so it's not quite exactly compact anymore, but the price certainly is, with this well-optioned EX-L AWD model coming at $30,590 as-tested. For those wanting to spend less, the base model starts under $25,000.
The interior sees a complete overhaul, drawing inspiration and themes from the excellent new Civic sedan. In fact, it really just does feel like a Civic inside, and that's a good thing. While I won't call this luxury, materials are soft throughout and all seems screwed and glued together to a very high standard. The seats on this EX-L are leather, as is the steering wheel, and both are comfortable and feel quite nice. Toyota's new Corolla Cross, even in comparable trim, is downright destitute in comparison, with cheap and grungy materials and a dour design motif. For the same price, this larger HR-V is a revelation. Don't even think about Toyota's weird CH-R. Just don't.
Of course, this new HR-V has all the niceties you could hope for, like active safety systems, LED lights, wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and heated seats to name a few. There really isn't much this doesn't have, and it should satisfy legions of casual car buyers. This example has a 9" touchscreen that is easy enough to use, though the standard 7" would be tough to picture here after using the bigger unit, as it'd look downright wimpy and disappointing in stature.
On the road, the HR-V is typical Honda: confident. The steering is direct with a chassis that responds to inputs in a way that resembles a sports car relative to the bloated and blunt SUVs and crossovers of yesteryear. Body control impresses as does the ride quality, likely owing thanks to the complex multi-link rear suspension. Look, you ain't carving canyons in an HR-V, but if you're out in the wilderness and bit by a rattlesnake, you can hustle this thing harder and faster to a hospital than you'd think possible. The surprising part is that the HR-V seems willing for it, too; only its all-season 215 tires really let it down. Whereas a Corolla Cross felt wayward, as if steered by a rudder, the HR-V reminds that Honda knows how to make a car drive well. All-wheel drive here will help in the snow and rain, but most will likely not need it. As good as it is, Mazda's compact CX-30 remains the benchmark for driving dynamics and athleticism in this class.
Improvements are needed here:
While the pros to this car are abundant, there are issues that can be improved upon. Under the hood is a 2.0-liter inline-four making a modest 158 horsepower, being straight lifted from, you guessed it, the new Civic. This is an increase from the outgoing model's 1.8-liter and 141 horsepower. Is it fast now? No. If anything, it's slower than before. 0-60 MPH takes a long nine seconds, and throttle response from slow speed is gigantically glacial, not helped by a CVT transmission that is programmed for smoothness rather than performance. There was a point where I pulling onto a moving 45 MPH crossroad from a stop sign. I had misjudged the oncoming car's speed, but I was already committed so I planted my foot to the floor and the result was so mundane I thought the car was in a limp mode. I had passengers in the car and when I told them I was floored, they nearly didn't believe me - There was just zero urgency flooring it from a walking pace. Oh, and also, when you do 'nail it' (with more of a mallet than a hammer, really), the motor is far too loud and sounds like an old and struggling electric toothbrush when it finally winds up, and that's not a good thing.
The other glaring issue is the resulting fuel economy with the increased-capacity engine and body. During my time with the HR-V, I averaged only 26 MPG, which isn't good enough in 2022 for a car of this size. One of my best friends has the last HR-V, with front-wheel drive, and she regularly averages 32 MPG in hers. This new model with FWD will certainly fare better, maybe 28 MPG, but even with AWD, 26 disappoints. However, for comparison's sake, Toyota's next-size-up RAV4 can average a great 28 MPG on its own, but their lollygagging Corolla Cross also only did 26 MPG despite being the smaller and slower car. Huh. Meanwhile, Honda's CR-V Hybrid averaged 32 MPG in my hands while the RAV4 Hybrid pushes that to 36.
Get a better engine in there, Honda. That is all.
So okay, the engine is a letdown, but for the average buyer and target market of this vehicle, they really won't care. 26 MPG overall isn't taking home trophies, but it's still fine enough for most; I'd happily trade an MPG or two for the fine handling/road manners and upscale interior of this Honda any day. The core strengths are certainly there and the HR-V is legitimately a nicer car than almost all its competition and more spacious. I'd love to see Honda use their superb 1.5-liter turbo engine instead here, that would give it the spunk it needs and, if anything, might get better gas mileage to boot.
2023 Honda HR-V EX-L All-wheel drive
Price as-tested: $30,590
Pros: Great interior quality, spacious, drives really nice
Cons: Slow and unimpressive fuel economy
Others to consider are the Mazda CX-30, though while smaller on the inside, can be highly optioned with a gutsy 227 horsepower motor and an even nicer interior (for a premium). Also think of the Hyundai Kona and Kia Soul, which drive nice, but their interiors are not up to the standard of the HR-V and are a foot shorter in length. Definitely skip the Toyota Corolla Cross. VW's Tiguan is can be had for cheap and is a similar size, but much more cheaply made and put together except when spending at least $35,000. The small VW Taos was a disappointment. $30,590 for this HR-V, though fully-loaded, isn't a small amount either, and you're not far from stepping up to a decent CR-V Hybrid even at that point.