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Good, but good enough to stave off new rivals? The 2018 Honda HR-V faces new challenges

2018 Honda HR-V

2018 Honda HR-V

What changes will make the 2018 Honda HR-V different?

Nothing, most likely, for Honda’s newest nameplate. The HR-V was introduced for model-year 2016 to do battle in an up-and-coming automotive segment: subcompact crossover SUVs. This four-door, five-passenger wagon is based on Honda’s sporty and versatile Fit subcompact hatchback. It’s 8.1 inches longer than the Fit, and 3.2 inches taller. And unlike the front-wheel-drive-only Fit, the HR-V is available with a choice of front- or all-wheel drive. Like its platform-mate, though, the HR-V combines good road manners with a spacious interior.

It quickly surpassed the Fit in sales, registering a 96-percent increase in 2016, versus a 7-percent bump for the Fit. That’s just one bit of evidence of the rapid growth of the subcompact-crossover segment, a class virtually non-existent five years ago. In 2016, they blossomed into a segment worth nearly half a million units sold. The Jeep Renegade claims nearly 20 percent of the market, followed closely by the Subaru Crosstrek. HR-V ranks third, just ahead of the Chevrolet Trax and its upscale sibling, the Buick Encore. The competitive set is about to get even more, well, competitive in the next 12-18 months with arrival of the 2017 Nissan Rogue Sport and 2018 Ford EcoSport and 2018 Toyota C-HR.

Why should I wait for the 2018?

Maybe to see how the HR-V stacks up dynamically against the arguably more stylish EcoSport and C-HR. Mechanically and otherwise, though, the ’18 HR-V will be a rerun of the 2016. And year-over-year inflation means it’ll almost certainly cost more; Honda raised 2017 HR-V prices about $450 on vehicle unchanged from the ’16 HR-V. Furthermore, the ‘18’s styling feature set will have a relatively short shelf life because a freshening is on tap for model-year 2019. A fully redesigned second-generation model is likely for 2021.

Like most rivals, this Honda is aimed at urban-dwelling singles and empty nesters who want a small, nimble vehicle but with an SUV look, feel, and available all-wheel-drive capability unavailable with a traditional subcompact car. Against the current competition, HR-V delivers class-leading passenger and cargo room underpinned by Honda’s reputation for reliability, resale value, and high customer-satisfaction ratings.

Should I buy a 2017 model instead?

If you need a subcompact crossover now – and aren’t interested in the coming alternatives from Ford, Nissan, and Toyota – there’s no compelling reason to wait for the 2018 HR-V. A 2017 model will grant you an extra year before the styling and feature set are refreshed. And you’ll probably pay a bit less for it than you would an ’18. The 2017 model lineup should also be the same as the ’18’s: base LX trim, volume EX, and top-line EX-L Navi (navigation). All models will continue with front-wheel drive standard and all-wheel drive (AWD) optional.

Will the styling be different?

Only by a new color choice or two — maybe. The only change for model-year 2017 was introduction of Lunar Silver metallic in place of Alabaster Silver. The ’18 HR-V should retain the look it debuted with. Tidy exterior proportions belie a cabin approaching the feel of the brand’s larger CR-V crossover. Doors open wide, ingress and egress are simple, and there’s plenty of headroom and legroom for both front and rear occupants.

Cargo capacity is outstanding. The 58.8 cubic feet available with the split rear seatbacks folded is more than in the compact-class Jeep Cherokee. Those seatbacks belong to Honda’s nifty “Magic Seat.” It can fold forward and the lower cushion can hinge rearward to accommodate wide and long items impossible to fit in other crossovers with similar exterior dimensions. Materials quality is appropriate to the price. But where HR-V’s cabin falls short is small-items storage. The glovebox and center-console bins are undersized, and the door panels accommodate only beverages.

Any mechanical changes?

None anticipated. The ’18 HR-V will continue to offer only one engine: a 1.8-liter four-cylinder with a class-competitive 141 horsepower and 127 pound-feet of torque. Front-wheel-drive versions of the LX and EX models come with a slick-shifting 6-speed manual transmission. A continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) is an $800 option on those models and is standard with all-wheel drive and on the EX-L Navi model. Expect AWD to again add $1,300 to any CVT-equipped HR-V.

On the road, expect versions with the manual transmission, unburdened by roughly 200 pounds of CVT and AWD hardware, to again feel borderline lively. More than 90 percent of buyers opt for the CVT, though, and more than half of those add AWD, as well. With AWD (and the CVT) an HR-V accelerates well in undemanding situations, but you’ll be pressing your foot to the floor during highway passing and merging maneuvers. A throttle-sharpening Sport button and steering-wheel paddle shifters on EX and EX-L Navi models help only a little.

Once up to speed, the HR-V handles well. It reacts quickly to steering inputs and is composed and confident when you change direction. The downside is a taut suspension that doesn’t absorb bumps as well as the class comfort champ, the Chevy Trax. Traction-enhancing AWD is a worthwhile investment if you live where it rains or snows a lot. But with just 6.7 inches of ground clearance — only about an inch more than a car — you won’t be doing much exploring off the beaten path. Subcompact crossover buyers should consider a Jeep Renegade or Subaru Crosstrek if their wanderlust is more than fleeting.

Will fuel economy improve?

With the ’18 HR-V expected to be a carryover model, EPA fuel-economy ratings should be unchanged. It should again run with the subcompact crossover pack — not a bad thing because ratings are quite good, especially for a vehicle with this much versatility. With manual transmission and front-drive, the ’18 HR-V should again rate 25/23/28 mpg city/highway/combined. With front-wheel drive and the CVT, expect a 28/34/31-mpg rating repeat. AWD would again reduce ratings slightly, to 27/31/29 mpg. All models would continue to use regular-grade 87-octane fuel.

Will it have new features?

We doubt Honda will tamper much with the ’18 HR-V’s feature set, especially since a refreshed model is due for model-year 2019. All ’18 HR-Vs should continue standard with Bluetooth connectivity and a multi-angle rearview camera. EX versions would again add heated front seats and exterior mirrors, keyless entry with pushbutton ignition, automatic climate control, and Honda’s LaneWatch blind-spot camera. Expect the EX-L Navi to gain include standard leather upholstery, satellite radio, and in-dash GPS navigation.

Honda might find a way to make the HR-V compatible with Apple CarPlay and Google Android Auto connectivity. Absence of those features is a deficit these days, and notable because the HR-V EX and EX-L Navi models have the same infotainment interface as Honda’s Civic compact car, which does support these features.

Similarly disappointing has been the HR-V’s lack of driver-assistance technologies. The Honda Sensing safety suite, which the company offers on most of its vehicles, has note been available here. The package normally includes valuable aids, such as lane-departure warning with automatic steering correction, plus radar-based adaptive cruise control that can maintain a set following distance from traffic ahead.

Foremost, Honda Sensing includes autonomous emergency braking that can automatically stop the vehicle to mitigate a frontal collision. Without that, the HR-V is ineligible for Top Safety Pick status from the influential Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The only subcompact crossovers to receive this designation for 2017 are the Fiat 500X and Mazda CX-3, with the CX-3 earning the IIHS’s highest honor, Top Safety Pick+. Honda Sensing probably won’t be available on the HR-V until its 2019 refresh.

How will 2018 prices be different?

They’ll probably be a bit higher than they were for 2017, but remain more than class-competitive. Estimated base prices in this review include the manufacturer’s destination fee, which was $940 on the 2017 HR-V.

With front-wheel drive and manual transmission is, estimated base price is $20,500 for the 2018 Honda HR-V LX and $22,550 for the EX. Expect the continuously variable transmission to reprise its $800 price tag. The ’18 EX-L Navi will again have CVT standard and carry an estimated base price of about $26,000 with front-wheel drive. All-wheel drive would likely continue as a $1,300 extra for all models.

Honda does not offer traditional factory options, either a la carte or in packages. Any extra-cost functional or cosmetic upgrades would come in the form of dealer-installed accessories.

When will it come out?

Expect the release date for the 2018 Honda HR-V to be in the fall of 2017.

Best competitors

Chevrolet Trax, Ford EcoSport, Fiat 500X, Jeep Renegade, Mini Cooper Countryman, Mazda CX-3, Nissan Rogue Sport, Subaru Crosstrek, Toyota C-HR

What change would make it better?

Honda Sensing as a standard or optional feature would be most welcome, along Apple CarPlay and Google Android Auto compatibility. HR-V’s lack of these features doesn’t appear to be hurting it too much with buyers, but making them available will only add to this otherwise exceptional crossover’s appeal.

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]