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Plenty of room, too little vroom: 2020 Honda HR-V subcompact crossover

2020 Honda HR-V

What changes will make the 2020 Honda HR-V different?

Probably not much after a model-year-2019 refresh that tweaked styling, updated safety and connectivity features, and added sport-themed and flagship trim levels. As a follow-up, however, we urge Honda to equip every 2020 HR-V – not just the most expensive models – with a full suite of safety features.

The ’19 changes were the most notable for Honda’s entry-level crossover since its model-year 2016 debut. They’ll see it through to its next full redesign, likely for model-year 2022.

Available with front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive (AWD), this five-seater competes with other subcompact crossovers like the Subaru Crosstrek, Chevrolet Trax, Jeep Renegade, Hyundai Kona, Toyota C-HR, and Ford EcoSport. One of the first vehicles built at Honda’s then-new assembly plant in Mexico, the HR-V shines for efficient use of interior space but suffers slow acceleration and a lack of refinement uncharacteristic for a Honda.

Still, with the brand’s excellent reputation for reliability and resale value behind it, HR-V has been a popular entry in an ever-growing segment. Demand fell a startling 9 percent in 2018, but it still finished fourth in sales among some 16 entries in the competitive set (the class enjoyed a 36-percent surge).

Perhaps spurred by the refresh, HR-V sales rebounded during the first quarter of 2019, up 3 percent as the segment grew another 11 percent. Competition will only get tougher, though, with new entries such as the Hyundai Venue and Mazda CX-30 due for model-year 2020, Toyota’s off-road-oriented FT-4X in the works, and the likely model-year-’21 intro of a new Volkswagen subcompact crossover tentatively called the Apollo.

Note that driving impressions and other subjective conclusions in this review are based on test drives of the 2019 Honda HR-V. In areas where the ’20 might be different, we will reserve judgment.

Should I wait for the 2020 model or buy the 2019?

Under the unfortunate but realistic assumption that Honda won’t make its full suite of safety features standard across the board for 2020, we’d recommend buying a 2019 HR-V. The ’20 won’t be materially different, although it’s almost certain to cost more.

It’ll also carry over the 2029 lineup, starting with the LX model and ascending through the Sport, EX, and EX-L grades, to the top-line Touring trim. The Sport and Touring were new for ’19 and the Touring is expected to again be the only 2020 model to come standard with AWD.

That expansion of the HR-V line for 2019 was interesting considering a report that, by 2025, Honda will cull the number of trim levels it offers by two-thirds. The HR-V was not specifically mentioned in the report by industry publication Automotive News (the Civic and Accord sedans and the CR-V compact crossover were), but it’s a safe bet its roster will shrink, as well. That’s likely when the next-generation version arrives, probably in 2021 for the 2022 model year.

Will the styling be different?

No, because Honda updated it for 2019 with changes that’ll continue for 2020. The most apparent was to the front end, which got a new bumper, headlights, and grille. The Sport grade introduced exclusive blackout trim and specific 18-inch aluminum wheels. The Touring became the first and only HR-V with LED headlights and fog lights and body-colored lower body trim.

Dimensions were unaltered and the HR-V will remain smack dab in the middle of its competitive set for wheelbase, length, and height. Overall, it’s an inoffensive if not a pretty little crossover. It lacks the polarizing look of the Renegade or the off-road flare of the Crosstrek, and avoids the odd proportions of the Trax and the flamboyant lines of the C-HR.

The 2019 refresh brought a host of updates to the interior, including a new instrument cluster. For ’20, EX and higher models will again include a configurable liquid-crystal-display cluster.

All ’20 HR-Vs will return with an infotainment system updated to include a genuine volume knob in place of a finicky touch-sensitive slider. The ’20 LX will again have a 5-inch touchscreen infotainment system; all other grades will return with a 7-inch screen with support for Apple CarPlay and Google Android Auto. Imbedded GPS navigation that doesn’t require a cellular data signal should remain exclusive to the Touring.

All 2020 HR-Vs will continue with impressive passenger and cargo space. Rear-seat legroom is a highlight. At 39.3 inches, it’s outstanding for the class and allows even tall adults will to be comfortable behind a big front-seat occupant.

Carrying capacity is another selling point. It’ll again vary slightly, with front-wheel-drive HR-Vs at 24.3 cubic feet behind the rear seatbacks and 58.8 cubic feet with them folded, and AWD versions at 23.2 and 57.6, respectively. All these numbers are at the top of the class and enhanced further by the versatility of Honda’s “Magic Seat.” This is a 60/40 split rear bench that flips and folds in various configurations, including one that creates a tall, full-vehicle-width space behind the front seats. The front-passenger seat also reclines to accommodate long items while still allowing the rear liftgate to close.

Any mechanical changes?

No, so unfortunately for manual-transmission fans, the six-speed stick discontinued for model-year 2019 won’t return. (It had been available on the front-drive LX and EX.)

All ’20 models will continue with the only engine the HR-V has ever had, a 1.8-liter four-cylinder with 141 horsepower and 127 pound-feet of torque. It’ll again link to a continuously variable transmission, or CVT, which plays the role of a conventional automatic but without stepped gear ratios.

The ’20 HR-V’s horsepower and torque will again be below average for the class, but this will continue among the lighter subcompact crossovers, most trims at less than 3,000 pounds with front-wheel drive and under than 3,100 with AWD. So the ’20 HR-V will again be able to get around town well enough, but almost certainly will feel underpowered at higher speeds. Merging with fast-moving freeway traffic, as a prominent example, will continue to require considerable forethought. Part of the blame rests with the CVT, which saps a lot of response from the engine, making this crossover feel even slower than it is.

Once underway, the ’20 HR-V will again exhibit the athletic road manners for which most Hondas are known. Steering feel is solid and direct, and there’s little body lean in fast turns. Like other Hondas, ride quality is on the firmer side of the spectrum. Bump control is fine, you’ll just feel more of them here than you would in rivals such as the Trax or Nissan Rogue Sport.

As with the lion’s share of subcompact crossovers, AWD HR-Vs are not intended for off-roading but rather for a measure of all-weather traction front-drive vehicles can’t match. The system normally operates in front-drive and automatically shuffles power rearward when sensors detect front-tire split. Honda says 2019 changes to the system make the HR-V more responsive in low-grip environments such as snow, but any difference wasn’t apparent in our tests.

One of our biggest criticisms of the 2016-2018 HR-V was its lackluster suppression of noise, vibration, and harshness. For ’19, engineers retuned the CVT and added sound-dampening material to the fenders and floors. They also include as standard on all but the LX active noise cancellation, which uses the audio system to counteract unwanted frequencies emanating from wind, road, and mechanical sources. Indeed, tire roar and wind rush are much less prominent than on earlier HR-Vs. But expect the ’20 to still suffer intrusive engine noise, especially during rapid acceleration, when the CVT allows the four-cylinder’s rpm to race ahead of actual vehicle speed.

Will fuel economy improve?

Unlikely. Expect the 2020 HR-V to reprise the model-year ’19 EPA ratings, making it again one of the more fuel-efficient subcompact crossovers and taking some of the sting out of the lackluster acceleration.

Barring changes caused by an adjustment in the EPA testing regiment, all front-wheel-drive 2020 HR-Vs should again rate 28/34/30 mpg city/highway/combined. With AWD, expect the ’20 LX to again rate 27/31/29 mpg city/highway/combined and the other models, which weigh slightly more, 26/31/28 mpg. All 2020 HR-Vs would continue to use regular-grade 87-octane gasoline.

Will there be new features?

Don’t expect any new features, per se, but we hope Honda sees fit to equip all versions of the 2020 HR-V with its Honda Sensing safety suite. It will again include autonomous emergency braking designed to automatically stop the HR-V to mitigate a frontal collision. Also included is lane-departure warning with lane-maintaining automatic steering correction and adaptive radar cruise control to maintain a set distance from traffic ahead.

For 2019, Honda Sensing was standard on the EX, EX-L, and Touring models and unavailable on the LX or Sport. Even in this budget-sensitive segment, many rival automakers make systems comparable to Honda Sensing standard, or at least available, on a wider range of their subcompact crossovers.

Otherwise, the 2020 HR-V feature set should repeat unchanged.

In addition to items mentioned earlier, the LX should return with a multi-angle rearview camera; LED brake lights; cruise control; and power windows, mirrors, and locks among its standard equipment. Expect the 2020 Sport to again build on that with the larger infotainment screen with CarPlay and Android Auto, throttle-quickening Sport button, leather-wrapped steering wheel with paddle shifters, roof rails, fog lights, extra USB port, unique wheels, and gloss-black lower body extensions.

The ’20 EX should again delete the Sport’s wheels and body kit but add Honda Sensing, Honda’s Lane Watch blind-spot camera, heated front seats, power sunroof, keyless access, pushbutton engine start, and satellite radio.

Expect ’20 EX-L grades to include all that, plus leather upholstery, auto-dimming rearview mirror, and an upgraded audio system. The range-topping Touring should again get LED headlights and fog lights, body-color lower extensions, power driver’s seat, imbedded navigation, and built-in garage-door transmitter.

Will 2020 prices be different?

They’ll probably be higher but not a whole lot, although inclusion of Honda Sensing as standard on 2020 HR-V LX and Sport models would boost their price of entry by a greater percentage.

For reference, here are base prices for the 2019 HR-V, including Honda’s $1,045 destination fee. Per Honda custom, there will again be no factory standalone or packaged options for the 2020 HR-V.

With front-wheel drive, the ’19 HR-V LX started at $21,565 the Sport at $23,265, the EX at $24,765, and the EX-L at $26,365. AWD added $1,400 to those base prices. The AWD-only Touring was priced at $29,585.

When does it come out?

Expect a 2020 Honda HR-V release date in the fall of 2019.

Best competitors

Chevrolet Trax, Fiat 500X, Ford EcoSport, Hyundai Kona and Venue, Jeep Renegade, Mazda CX-3 and CX-30, Mini Countryman, Mitsubishi Outlander Sport, Nissan Kicks and Rogue Sport, Subaru Crosstrek, Toyota C-HR and FT-4X

About Chuck Giametta

This nationally recognized, award-winning writer brings to Carpreview.com two decades of automotive testing and reporting for newspapers, books, magazines, and the Internet. The former Executive Auto Editor of Consumer Guide, Chuck has covered cars for HowStuffWorks.com, Collectible Automobile magazine, and the Publications International Ltd. automotive book series. This ex-newspaper reporter has also appeared as an automotive expert on network television and radio. He’s a charter member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, the president of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Media association, and a juror for the annual Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year awards. Chuck writes from Colorado Springs, Colo. If you have a question for Chuck, write to him at [email protected]