Last year, the crossover segment overtook the saloon as the best-selling class of vehicle — in fact, 2018 was the worst year in history in terms of market share for the latter. Consumer trends have changed and the trusty old saloon will go the same way as the once venerable estate — that’s right, consigned to the history books. Every carmaker has jumped on the CUV bandwagon but Honda had a rather large hole in its UAE line-up until the reintroduction of its HR-V this month following an almost two decade hiatus. In that time, the roads have become awash with similarly sized models such as the Duster, Soul, Kicks and Ecosport. It’s late to the party but can the HR-V still make an impact?

Well, there’s plenty in its locker for it to succeed, that is for sure from its bold looks, practical cabin with some nifty tech and a pretty decent ride to boot — oh, and a roomy boot. It’s positioned as a fun and sporty compact CUV and it doesn’t score too badly in terms of its aesthetics but if I was buying one then I’d opt for all of the accessories available to jazz it up a bit more; you can get running boards, an aero package that includes side under spoilers and a front and rear aero bumper and lots of chrome accents to give it a more upscale look. The exterior styling seems to have been penned with millennials very much in mind; it’s a funky little thing that features a dark chrome grille, squinty headlights, large fog light housings, and an elegant yet rugged bumper. Around the back, it packs taillights with integrated LED light bars which help to give it a distinctive look and our top spec EX trim tester (finished in a fetching Passion Red Pearl paint) rides on a set of 17in alloys which fill out the wheel arches nicely.

 

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Photos: Stefan Lindeque

The cabin boasts of a youthful vibe too packing a 6.8-inch touchscreen infotainment system which lacks sat-nav but has USB and HDMI ports allowing you to connect your smart phone and use its features to play music or make calls. The multifunctional steering wheel puts the audio and cruise controls at your fingertips, fits nicely in your hands and it looks pretty nifty with that little mesh finish. Now, anyone who knows Hondas knows about the second row Magic Seats; with a 60:40 split, they can also flip-up to hold awkward items which need to stand up straight. Potted plants or a large lamp? No problem. You can even put a bicycle back there! In fact, with a cargo space of 1,456 litres, the H-RV is one of the most accommodating compact CUVs available. It can seat five adults but four would fit more comfortably — that is if anyone can find the door handles to get in to the second row; they’ve been cleverly hidden away into the outer edges of the window frame before the C-pillars. Head and legroom in both rows is impressive and there are plenty of unique styling touches throughout the cockpit. The beige leather seats aren’t just supportive and comfortable they give the interior a more premium feel. Adding to that upscale vibe is the massive panoramic roof, push start button, electric hand brake (with an auto brake hold), automatic climate control and steering mounted paddle shifters. They haven’t skimped on the safety features either which include front side and side curtain airbags, a wide view multi-angle rearview camera, Tire Pressure Monitoring System, Hill Start Assist, Honda’s next-generation Advanced Compatibility Engineering body structure, vehicle stability assist and electronic brake distribution. My only gripes are with the side view power-folding mirrors (they’re a tad on the smaller side), the B-pillar causes a substantial blind spot when you’re looking over your left shoulder and the armrest storage space is rather limited. It can swallow a few coins and keys but not many larger items.

 

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Photos: Stefan Lindeque

Under the bonnet resides a 1.8-litre i-VTEC four-cylinder engine which produces 140 horsepower and 172Nm of torque, mated to a seven-speed automatic CVT which directs the grunt to the front. Now, since the HR-V only weighs 1,322kg, it doesn’t just display lively performance it is pretty frugal too sipping back a claimed 5.9 litres per 100km. And some words of praise for the CVT, a transmission that we usually dislike, but here, it features revised shift mapping that resembles the stepped gear changes of a conventional fixed-gear transmission. So, when you floor it, this “stepped” feel gives the HR-V a more familiar sensation and it doesn’t drone as much or sound like it’s stuck in first as other units. If you’re not trying to wring its neck it handles just fine and that’s because the chassis incorporates a centrally mounted fuel tank that concentrates the mass in the centre to provide perfect weight ratio. Gun it hard in the corners and it remains poised thanks to the amplitude reactive dampers which minimize body roll.

It’s quite decent to drive around town and as an added bonus it doesn’t get blown about on the highway by faster moving traffic. It’s very well equipped and practical too all of which makes the HR-V a pretty competent entry into the overflowing compact crossover segment.