Drive Life

A while after the latest generation HR-V was released, Honda added an AWD (All Wheel Drive) version to the range. It was surprising that Honda didn’t release an AWD version from the outset, but perhaps this was all part of the plan.

Now, the CR-V isn’t the only AWD SUV option in a Honda. Is the HR-V AWD a good choice over the 2WD version? Honda sent us one to find out.

The Range

Pretty easy choice here; the AWD comes as either AWD or the AWD Mugen version. You would think (hope) the Mugen version adds some go-fast goodies, but it doesn’t. It adds front, rear and side skirts, a Mugen Aero Grille, wing spoiler and badge as well as unique 17” ‘Mugen XJ Black Metal Coat Alloys. The AWD is $35,600 and the Mugen $42,600. That’s quite a price jump for only adding go-fast looks.

You lose a lot of kit when you get the AWD version. Compared to the Sport 2WD version at $39,990 that I tested last year, the AWD seems pretty cut down. That’s not to say it’s sparse, but I get the feeling that the AWD has sucked lots more out in trim, as well as getting a smaller engine.

While the 2WD gets the 1.8 Earth Dreams engine, the AWD has a 1.5-litre version. Feature-wise, it looks like the AWD comes between the base L model and the S model of the 2WD range. The mid-point of those two models is $34K, so the AWD hasn’t added too much cost ($1,500) to the price, but it does feel a little under-equipped on the inside for the money.

What do you get, as well as AWD? A tailgate spoiler, proximity entry and keyless start, front fog lights, auto LED headlamps (but not wipers), leather steering wheel, cruise control, the Magic Seat system, hill start assist, electric park brake with Brake Hold, and 16” alloys.

Media-wise, you get three options with the AWD; the Honda G5 with navigation which is standard equipment (7”), or a Pioneer CD/DVD (6.2” screen), or a Pioneer Premium which we tested (7”). The Premium version is the only one that has Android Auto and Apple Car Play capability, but it doesn’t have built-in SatNav, instead relying on your smart phone’s SatNav.

Both Pioneers have Spotify and Pandora, but blowed if I could find how to start either on the unit. Perhaps you can only run it through Apple Car Play or Android Auto. The HR-V AWD came with a separate manual for the Pioneer Premium sound system, but it didn’t mention either of these apps.

If you want the Pioneer CD/DVD option that will cost an extra $300 while the Pioneer Premium option is $800 extra.

First Impressions

It was a bit of a déjà vu moment for me with the HR-V, as I tested the 2WD Sport version almost exactly a year ago. 

Our test car was finished in Cinnamon Bronze, and it was a love/hate thing for most people who saw it. Most who saw it in the flesh liked it, but in photos – not so much. I didn’t mind it, and at least it wasn’t grey or silver. In some light it looks quite stunning, but it is very much a personal choice sort of colour.

Although the AWD has a stiffer chassis over the 2WD, it looks exactly the same, bar a boot badge. In the original review, I quite liked the shape of the HR-V but wondered if it was because it was an all-new model. Twelve months on and I still like it – although now it does seem to blend in a little with smaller Kia and Hyundai SUVs on the road.

The interior is as it was – still a little dark, especially with that high waistline at the rear. The high centre console still grabs your attention first, and always brings comments from passengers. It looks like it belongs in an aircraft. Not really practical in some ways (the USB and HDMI posts behind it are hard to access) but looks seriously cool.

The Interior

I spent a week and over 600km with the HR-V, and the interior is a nice place to be. One surprise was the seats – the 2WD were pretty good but these ones seem to have much better side support, and overall were very comfortable.

Sitting in the driver’s seat, the steering wheel controls are unchanged, but on the AWD version you don’t get any phone control, that’s all done via the Pioneer touchscreen. You do get audio and cruise control buttons, and they are excellent to use. They become second nature really quickly and it’s a mindless task to change a track for example.

Still in the driver’s seat, the padded leather on the door armrests is a quality touch, nice and soft and classy. In fact lots of the plastics used as well are soft-touch, with very little hard plastics used that you could reach from the driver’s seat. The leather wheel has a great feel to it.

I did say it is a little dark inside and this is true for a quite a few of the smaller SUVs. The HR-V does have beige pillars and headlining, so that lightens it up a little.

Rear legroom is the same – excellent. It’s like a limousine back there. Honda has retained the fuel tank under the front passenger’s seat and this makes for a comfy rear seating area. Naturally the Magic Seat system is in place and is just as simple yet effective as ever.

Magic Seats are great!

I have really mixed feelings about the Pioneer Premium audio option. As mentioned, there are three different options and our test car had the top of the range option. Sound quality was superb – crystal clear in the high frequencies, and the bass was excellent. One day I cranked it up to half volume and then chickened out. This thing has some power. It has a motorised front to load CD/DVDs or access the SD card slot, and there is a display off button right on the front of the unit, which is where I like it.

That’s the good parts about the audio system done, now the not so good parts. You use the buttons on the media screen to adjust the reversing camera, so you can make it wide angle – I couldn’t find this anywhere on the menus. Speaking of the menus, they look really old fashioned – most car manufacturers have far better and more modern looking designs than this. There are very few icons, and sometimes I touched an icon thinking it would do something, and it didn’t.  

The whole menu system is clunky and old school. I think I would have liked to have tried Honda’s standard audio system to see what the menu system was like for that – if past experience can be used, it would be much better than the Pioneer system.

The physical buttons on the front of the screen are really small and tricky to use, especially while driving.

Also, in another old school throwback, there is an external mic installed up by the inside mirror – weird. I am guessing the Pioneer does not integrate with Honda’s built-in mic. Also there’s another external pickup of some sort on the central console right at the front. I thought it may have been the pickup for the remote control (which this audio system comes with) but in saying that, it was a button that you push – so I did. Nothing happened. It was like something out of the Lost TV series. I still have no idea what that bit does.

Back to the good stuff about the audio system – Apple Car Play works a treat and you should just use this and ignore the Pioneer’s menu system. Ditto Android Auto. It did take me three days to work out how to get Car Play to appear – in the end I had to navigate to one of the Pioneer menu options, and there was a smartphone option there I needed to enable.

The LH exterior mirror on the AWD has a tiny mirror on it that’s focussed down on the road, to make it easier for parking. This means the total space for your ‘normal’ left hand mirror is cut down some, but it’s still very usable. The thing is the parking mirror is really small. I didn’t bother using it and it’s a bit pointless, showing a small image of the curb – but it’s too hard to see what you are looking at from the driver’s seat.

Yeah, Nah.

There is no indication on the inside of this car to show it’s an AWD. You don’t get any low range or selectable drive options.

The boot is the same as the 2WD model, lots of space here. The Magic Seats system is a differentiator for the HR-V range – no other manufacturer has this, and I expect once people see it, it would influence their buying decision quite a bit.

The Drive

When I picked up the AWD HR-V, I thought it had the same engine as the 2WD, the 105Kw 1.8 Earth Dreams motor. In fact I thought it went better than the 2WD model I tested last year. After 2 days I read that it is fitted with the 96KW 1.5-litre Earth Dreams motor. Yup, I was pretty shocked. That’s not to say it’s a rocket, but for a normally-aspirated 1.5, it copes really well.

While the 2WD weighs in at 1278Kg, the 1.5 AWD is 1270Kg, so a small win there when you include the extra weight needed for AWD. I didn’t get to try the AWD all loaded up, which would be interesting.

But, that CVT. Still not a fan. Lots of revving and what feels like not much forward motion. There’s no manual mode to speak of, other than chopping it down to S or Low to keep the ‘ratios’ lower. Speaking of revving, this 1.5 is noisier than the 1.8 2WD. Not badly, but it was quite noticeable on acceleration, especially up a hill. I had noted this down three times over my week.

Chip seal does bring more road noise than I would like, but at all other times the road noise is really well controlled. Wind noise too is pretty good and one surprise was the ride. The AWD has been stiffened in the chassis department and it shows – this is one nice-riding small SUV. Well done Honda.

As always, Murphy’s Law came into play when I picked up the car. For weeks before hand, we had had atrocious weather, storms and lots of rain. Perfect to see how good this AWD was. Then the whole time I had the HR-V, no rain. Typical. I did try chucking it around a few favourite roads, and it handles well, but doesn’t feel that much different on the corners to the 2WD – perhaps a little less body roll from memory. It does respond well to a punch of the gas pedal coming out of a bend, which straightens the body up nicely.

Brakes are another highlight, with excellent feel and an easy ability to modulate them just right. The AWD is fitted with the same electric park brake as the 2WD and also has Honda’s excellent Brake Hold system. I wish all cars had this. It means that you can take your foot off the brake at the lights (or wherever) and as long as you have come to a complete standstill, all four brakes are locked on until you touch the gas pedal. Saves any creeping forward and is so much safer.

I hate to say ‘but’ again, but I’m going to. The HR-V is fitted with an auto engine stop feature but it’s not integrated with Brake Hold. Picture this: you come to the lights to a stop, the engine stops then you take your foot off the brake to let Brake Hold do its thing, and the engine starts again. Honda is not the only manufacturer to have this fault. It just all seems a bit pointless. In the end I turned off engine auto stop as otherwise it would stop for half a second, then start again. I didn’t think that was good for the car.

The other small problem with Brake Hold is that you have to turn it on every time you start the car. It would have been nice to have an option to have it on all the time.

Fuel economy for my 600km was 8.3l/100km for a solid 50/50 mix of motorway and city driving. The stated combined is 5.3l/100km, so I was a fair whack over that. Thirsty for a 1.5? Actually what I achieved is almost exactly the same figure I got a few weeks ago for the 2WD 1.4-litre Hyundai iCross.

The Competition

I really struggled here. Want a small SUV that’s AWD? Slim pickings. The review a few weeks ago of the 2WD iCross had 11 in the table.

Brand / Model Engine Power

Kw/Torque Nm

Fuel L/100km

(combined rating)

Price Highest to Lowest
Ford Kuga Ambiente EcoBoost Wagon 5dr SelectShift 6sp AWD 1.5 litre, 4-cyl, DOHC VVT turbo 134/240 7.4 $41,140
Subaru Forester  2.5i Wagon 5dr Lineartronc SLT AWD CVT 2.5 litre, 4-cyl, DOHC 126/235 8.1 $39,990
Mazda CX3 GSX Wagon 5dr Sports Auto 6sp 4WD 2.0 litre, 4-cyl, DOHC VVT 109/192 6.7 $36,595
Honda HRV AWD CVT 1.5 litre, 4-cyl, DOHC i-VTEC 96/155 5.3 $35,600
Suzuki Vitara JLX Allgrip Auto 6sp 1.6 litre, 4-cyl, DOHC VVT 86/156 6.3 $33,990

The Pros and Cons

Pros Cons
  • Build quality
  • Brake Hold
  • Interior space
  • Magic Seat system
  • Apple Car Play/Android Auto
  • Seat comfort
  • Audio quality
  • Brake feel
  • Overall handing
  • Not great value for money
  • Media system controls
  • Dark interior
  • Auto engine off/Brake Hold integration

What do we think of it?

I struggled with this article, as I couldn’t decide if I loved the HR-V AWD or not. It has some great points (Magic Seats anyone?) but doesn’t gain a whole lot over the 2WD version with the one obvious difference.

Of course if you ski, your passengers will love all that rear legroom and having AWD is going to be great for peace of mind. On the other hand, the AWD model is pretty light in the extras department.

For some cars, the AWD aspect doesn’t come in to it, as the rest of the car stands on its own and the AWD is just like a bonus. For this car though, I think it’s going to be a choice of AWD or not; if you don’t need it, I’d stick to the 2WD version, pay a few more thousand dollars and get the Sport version, which is far better equipped.

This is nowhere near saying the AWD is a bad car – it is excellent in many ways. But so is the 2WD version.

3.0 Chevrons

Vehicle Type 5-door small SUV
Starting Price $35,600
Tested Price $35,600
Engine 1.5 litre, 4-cyl, DOHC i-VTEC
Transmission CVT
0 – 100 kph n/a
Kerb Weight 1270 Kg
Length x Width x Height 4294x1772x1605
Cargo Capacity 431/1492
Fuel Tank 40 Litres
ANCAP Safety Ratings 5 Star
Warranty 5-year, unlimited kilometres

How an earth to start this? I've been car/bike/truck crazy since I was a teen. Like John, I had the obligatory Countach poster on the wall. I guess I'm more officially into classic cars than anything else - I currently have a '65 Sunbeam Tiger that left the factory the same day as I left the hospital as a newborn with my mother. How could I not buy that car? Recently my wife and I drove across the USA in a brand-new Dodge Challenger, and then shipped it home. You can read more on www.usa2nz.co.nz I am heavily into the motorbike scene as well, and my current ride is a BMW K1200GT. There is nothing like a ride on a bike!

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