Honda enters burgeoning subcompact SUV fray

  • 08-May-2015 01:26 EDT
2016_HR-V_095.jpg

The Honda HR-V aims to let drivers combine tidy, easy-to-park dimensions with a spacious passenger-carrying back seat and an affordable price tag.

Size creep in the compact crossover segment has seen Honda’s CR-V outgrow some of its original target customers. So, as it did when the Fit slid into the product lineup beneath the Civic, Honda has added the sub-compact HR-V to its crossover family beneath the enlarged CR-V.

This new crossover is close to the size, weight, and interior volume of the first-generation CR-V, but with slightly more horsepower, comparable torque, and a wider spread of gear ratios, so performance and efficiency are much better than that older model. Naturally, safety is hugely improved as well.

The HR-V is built on Honda’s Global Compact Series platform, with its center fuel tank and second-row fold-in-floor Magic Seat as with the Fit. Compared to a Fit, the HR-V is 9.1 in (231 mm) longer, 2.8 in (71 mm) wider, 3.2 in (81 mm) taller, and rolls on a 3.2 in longer wheelbase.

The HR-V enjoys many upgrades in comparison to the Fit, because its additional size requires more power and because the company expects the HR-V’s customers to be a bit more upscale, with greater demands for features than Fit buyers.

“If we had used only Fit technology in the HR-V, that would have been boring,” observed Naohisa Morishita, HR-V Chief Engineer and Development Leader. “We’ve taken technology from higher-class vehicles to provide value for this new segment.”

The HR-V retains the Fit’s MacPherson strut front and torsion beam rear suspension layouts, but the struts are Sachs amplitude reactive dampers that provide separate tuning for large-displacement compression and rebound events. This helps the HR-V ride more smoothly, while preserving the ability for its dampers to stiffen as needed to control big jolts.

The HR-V borrows the RealTime all-wheel drive system from the larger, heavier CR-V. Though the hardware is unchanged, its performance is improved by its application in the lighter, less-powerful HR-V, said Morishita. The maximum rear torque split remains 50%, but it will tend to provide more power to the rear more of the time than the CR-V’s system, he explained. The difference won’t likely be noticeable on dry pavement, but in slippery conditions the HR-V will feel more responsive, Morishita said.

Because the system uses the HR-V’s various sensors to determine that it is driving in snow, rather than simply waiting to react to wheelspin, it will automatically send more power to the rear wheels when starting from a stop in snow to reduce the chance of front wheel spin.

The HR-V’s 141-hp (105-kW), 127-lb·ft (172-N·m) SOHC 1.8-L four-cylinder engine comes directly from the Civic, giving the HR-V a needed power boost over the Fit. For the HR-V application, torque is optimized in the 2000-4000 rpm range, with the variable valve timing system changing from one intake valve to two for the 1000-3000 rpm range, depending upon throttle position and load. Similarly, a shutter valve in the composite dual-stage intake manifold switches from torque-fortifying long intake runners to high-flow short runners at 5000 rpm for peak power.

Available transmissions are a CVT automatic that boasts a wider spread of ratios than that in the CR-V, covering a range from 2.526: to 0.408:1. The six-speed manual transmission, which lends the HR-V a livelier feel, is available only with front-wheel drive; the CVT can be matched to either the standard front-wheel drive or the available all-wheel drive.

U.S. EPA fuel economy ranges from 25 mpg city and 34 mpg highway for the front-drive manual transmission model to 28/35 for the front-drive CVT version. The all-wheel-drive CVT scores 27/32.

Structurally, Honda’s engineers went to great lengths to reinforce the HR-V’s unibody. “One of the reasons is to improve its handling and dynamic performance,” noted Morishita. It also contributes to Honda’s expectation of maximum ratings on U.S. NHTSA and IIHS crash tests.

The HR-V’s body shell includes 27% extremely high-strength steel of 780 MPa (113 ksi) or higher, with the hardest 1500-MPa (218-ksi) steel deployed in the door sill, A-pillar, and roofline over the front door opening. The company also reinforced the attachment points for the roof pillars to add strength at the joints, but some of that improvement comes from increased material at the joint.

The HR-V’s rear hatch opening also received special attention. “It is a two-box design,” he noted, so “it can become torsionally weak. We wanted to improve on that.” To strengthen the hatch area, the HR-V uses a single stamping of high-strength steel to ring the door opening.

Inside, “it has space for your dreams, and when you put your foot down, you feel like you’ve made it,” Morishita enthused. The cabin can be configured in normal mode, with regular seating for five; in split mode, with space for a long item in the rear and one back-seat passenger; tall mode, with the rear seat bottoms flipped up against the seat backs to clear space from the floor to the roof; utility mode, which sees the rear seats folded flat for a larger cargo bay; and long mode, when the front passenger’s seatback is also folded down to permit carriage of very long objects entirely inside the HR-V. 

The HR-V comes with a high level of standard equipment, including exterior cues such as its 17-in polished aluminum wheels and cabin technology like a back-up camera. The company said it thinks this combination of affordability and amenities will attract 70,000 annual sales for the HR-V in the U.S. alone.

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