What Car? says...
The model names in Honda’s SUV range are not particularly self-explanatory, so you're probably wondering where this new Honda ZR-V fits into the family.
Well, the ZR-V is a family SUV that's slightly smaller than the CR-V (which we class as a large SUV), but bigger than the HR-V. Like those other models, it's only available as a hybrid car but it’s easily distinguishable from them, with its distinctive grille, sleek LED headlights and horizontal-style LED tail-lights.
The ZR-V shares its underpinnings with the Honda Civic family car and also the larger, next-generation CR-V. Like the Civic, the ZR-V gets a 2.0-litre petrol engine, two electric motors and a small battery. No plug-in hybrid (PHEV) version is planned.
Honda has made it less bulky on the outside and less cavernous inside than many SUVs, with the aim of attracting buyers who want to prioritise nimble handling over outright practicality. It’s an unconventional approach in the family SUV class, but one that could have merit. After all, the Civic is our current Family Car of the Year on account of its great handling and cheap running costs.
Over the next few pages, we’ll be investigating whether Honda has taken the right approach by looking at the Honda ZR-V’s performance, handling, running costs and practicality. We’ll also tell you how it compares with its main rivals, which include the Ford Kuga, the Hyundai Tucson, the Kia Sportage and the Renault Austral.
Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
There’s only a single engine option in the Honda ZR-V, but it’s a pretty good one. It shares the same e:HEV hybrid set-up as the Civic and produces a healthy 181bhp. The 0-60mph time of around 7.5sec is plenty for everyday driving, and it will accelerate up to motorway speeds with little drama, feeling less lethargic than the Austral.
Unlike with many hybrids, the engine rarely drives the wheels directly – it's usually the electric motor doing that, while the engine acts as a generator, charging the battery when needed. That means you get instant power like in an electric car without the need to worry about range or charging.
The small, 1.05kWh battery capacity means it can only do short distances in town without support from the engine. The Austral, with its 1.7kWh battery, rarely triggers its engine in town, making it a bit more frugal.
The ZR-V is hushed when driven less vigorously at low speeds, the single-speed automatic gearbox maintains smooth progress, and when the engine is working hard, the noise is not too intrusive. However, at higher speeds there’s a lot of road noise resonating around the interior, while wind noise could be better: it rushes past the front windscreen pillars and door mirrors at motorway speeds. The Austral and the Sportage are quieter overall.
In terms of ride, it doesn’t isolate you from urban abrasions quite as well as the Sportage, but it’s more settled at motorway speeds than the Austral and the Tucson. Plus, it’s more agile than those rivals in the bends, benefiting from limited body roll and well-weighted steering.
It’s just a shame that the brakes are rather weak. You have to really push them hard before they bite, but we should point out that this is only a problem when driving spiritedly. Around town, you’ll find them progressive enough – something that can’t be said for many hybrids where regenerative braking is blended into the conventional system.
There isn’t a four-wheel-drive option. There is a Snow drive mode to boost traction in low grip conditions, but if you want a hybrid with four-wheel drive, look at a high-spec Sportage.
The maximum (braked) towing weight is 750kg, which is not particularly impressive. Hybrid rivals, including the 2.0 FHEV Kuga (1600kg) and the Tucson (1650kg) can tow much more.
Strengths Decent fuel economy; tidy handling; controlled ride
Weaknesses Relatively weak brakes; lots of wind and road noise
The interior layout, fit and finish
You sit fairly low down in the Honda ZR-V, which is likely to disappoint those looking a commanding SUV driving position – the Sportage is far better in this regard.
However, because the dashboard is set quite low, you still get a great view ahead. And while the view over your shoulder is less stellar due to chunky rear pillars, all versions come with a rear-view camera, and front and rear parking sensors to help you.
Both front seats are height adjustable, with part-electric adjustment standard on Sport trim and above. There’s also a good range of adjustment for the steering column's height and reach, which is well-aligned to the driver’s seat.
LED headlights are standard. Top-spec Advance trim adds cornering lights (to help illuminate bends as you turn in to them) and an adaptive setup that can automatically adjust the lights so you don't dazzle other road users.
The interior design is very similar to what you’ll find in the Civic, so it perhaps looks a little more bland than rivals, but you simply can’t fault it when it comes to stylish build quality. There are plenty of soft-touch plastics and padded areas on the dashboard, centre console and doors, creating a suitably plush atmosphere. It’s not difficult to find hard plastics lower down, but the ones on the door are at least textured with a ripple effect and don’t look unattractive.
The knobs and buttons feel reassuringly expensive, and the honeycomb-look air vent stretching across the dashboard is a smart touch. It’s also a breeze (excuse the pun) to operate the ZR-V’s air-con system because it has physical controls close by for adjustment. That makes it far less distracting to operate when you're driving than the systems in the Ateca and Karoq.
All models feature a 10.2in digital instrument panel, which is clear enough but can't show you a full-width sat-nav map in the same way high-spec versions of the Ateca or Karoq can. The display is quite busy with information, so a more configurable screen would be better. Advance trim includes a head-up display, but it's smaller than the one in the Kuga.
All versions have a 9.0in touchscreen with sat-nav, wired Android Auto and wireless Apple CarPlay smartphone mirroring. The screen is responsive enough and the menu layout isn’t too complicated, but the graphics look a little muddy and archaic.
In terms of clarity and configurability the system in the Austral feels like a next-generation infotainment system compared to the unit in the ZR-V. There are two types of USB ports in the front, and Sport trim and above has two USB-C ports in the back.
Strengths Physical air-con controls; rear parking sensors and rear-view camera are standard; impressive level of build quality
Weaknesses Low seating position for an SUV; interior is quite dark and bland
Passenger & boot space
How it copes with people and clutter
There should be few complaints about front space in the Honda ZR-V. There’s plenty of head and leg room, and the standard-fit panoramic sunroof in Advance trim still leaves enough head clearance for a 6ft occupant. The seats are comfortable and hug you in tightly, but a lack of adjustable lumbar support might be a problem if you're prone to back pain on longer journeys.
There’s plenty of shoulder room between occupants and the only aspect where the driver might feel a little cosy is in terms of width in the upper leg area. The door-mounted armrest and the centre console are quite wide and chunky.
In terms of storage space, there’s a vast centre cubby, a couple of cupholders and a tray for a phone. On the downside, the door bins are quite narrow and not deep enough to accommodate drinks flasks.
This isn't the most generous family SUV when it comes to rear-seat space, but two 6ft occupants will have plenty of room. There's a good amount of leg room in the back and enough space for your feet under the front seats. The seat base is mounted quite low to the ground though, so your knees are slightly raised and your thighs don’t feel as well supported on longer journeys.
The contoured seat base means a middle passenger won’t be comfortable for long, but there is plenty of room for their feet, thanks to an almost flat floor. The Kuga and Sportage are better in this respect, with wider middle seat bases and more elbow room.
In terms of storage, you get a couple of cupholders in the fold-down centre armrest, a storage pocket on the back of the front passenger seat (Sport models and above have a driver’s one, too), and rather small door cubbies.
As in the Austral and the Ateca, the ZR-V’s rear seats split 60/40, rather than the more useful 40/20/40 arrangement you get in the Sportage and Tucson. Unlike in the Kuga and Austral, the rear seats don’t slide back and forth to help you juggle between leg room or a little more boot space. Sadly, you can’t get Magic Seats which flip up like cinema seats, as you can in the Honda Jazz and the Honda HR-V.
There are no handles in the boot to release the rear seatbacks, which you do get with some rivals, including the Austral and Sportage. You have to open each rear door to access the release catch on top of the backrest. That's far from a deal-breaker, though.
Outright boot space is disappointing compared with rivals in the class, including the Tucson and the Sportage. A capacity of less than 400 litres means even the smaller Audi Q2 pips it and Advance models lose a further 10 litres due to the sub-woofer that comes as part of the Bose stereo upgrade. Indeed, we could only fit six carry-on suitcases under the Honda’s tonneau cover compared to eight in the Sportage and Tucson.
There’s no height-adjustable boot floor, but there’s no load lip to speak of and the boot entrance itself is set quite low so you don’t have to heave heavy items far off the ground to get them in.
Hooks are provided on each side allowing you to hang smaller items and not have them rolling around, while Sport models and above come with a useful 12V power outlet near the tailgate entrance and a powered boot lid.
Strengths Decent passenger space; Sport models and above get a powered boot lid
Weaknesses No adjustable lumbar support; rear bench doesn’t slide or recline; rear bench splits in 60/40 ratio
Buying & owning
Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is
The starting price of the Honda ZR-V is a touch more than the Tucson, the Sportage and the Austral. And because it's predicted to depreciate at a quicker rate than those rivals, it's also more expensive on an equivalent PCP deal (finance agreements take into account the remaining value of the car). You'll be able to check the latest prices using our New Car Buying pages.
On our real-world test route, the ZR-V returned a respectable 45.2mpg which compared well with the hybrid Sportage’s figure of 43.8mpg, but wasn’t quite as strong as the Austral’s 49.4mpg on our fuel efficiency test route.
The official CO2 emissions figure of around 130g/km is not particularly low, and if you're a company car driver, a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) version of the Ford Kuga, the Tucson or the Sportage will attract lower company car tax.
The range consists of three trim levels, with entry-level Elegance coming with a decent amount of kit, including 18in wheels, two-zone climate control, heated front seats and adaptive cruise control.
Sport trim adds silver pedals, part-fabric and faux-leather upholstery, ambient lighting, and sportier exterior details, including a honeycomb front grille and matt black wheels.
The priciest Advance trim adds full leather upholstery, a panoramic sunroof, additional ambient lighting, heated rear seats and heated steering wheel. These upgrades really push you up the price list, though, which is why we say stick with Sport.
Options packs are limited to a Robust Pack and an Aero Pack that add a bit more exterior styling with items such as mud flaps, side skirts or side running boards and a body coloured rear spoiler. There’s also a Black Pack that adds black door mirror colours and black badges.
The hybrid system comes with its own five-year/90,000-mile warranty. However, you get a five-year/unlimited-mileage warranty on all Hyundais, a seven-year/100,000-mile warranty on Kias and up to 10 years/100,000-miles of cover with Toyotas.
The ZR-V is yet to be crash tested by Euro NCAP but every version comes with 11 airbags, automatic emergency braking (AEB), lane-departure warning, lane-keeping assistance, e-Call emergency response and road-sign recognition.
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Strengths Plenty of standard equipment; reasonable running costs; Honda as a brand has consistently performed well in our reliability survey
Weaknesses You’ll pay a premium over most rivals; plug-in hybrid rivals are a better choice for company car buyers
|RRP price range||£39,495 - £42,895|
|Number of trims (see all)||3|
|Number of engines (see all)||1|
|Available fuel types (which is best for you?)||hybrid|
|MPG range across all versions||48.7 - 49.6|
|Available doors options||5|
|Company car tax at 20% (min/max)||£2,354 / £2,556|
|Company car tax at 40% (min/max)||£4,709 / £5,111|