2015 Honda HR-V 1.5 i-VTEC CVT review

We've tried Honda's new HR-V in both petrol and diesel forms on UK roads, but we'd yet to try an automatic. It's time to see if the CVT is worth the extra it demands over the manual...

2015 Honda HR-V 1.5 i-VTEC CVT review

You're probably familiar with the Honda HR-V by now. We've already driven it in both petrol and diesel form in the UK, and it's proven a well-rounded addition to the uber-competitive small SUV class.

Those test cars all had six-speed manual gearboxes, though, so what about if an automatic 'box is a must? Well, Honda offers a CVT automatic exclusively with the 1.5-litre petrol (there is no automatic diesel option) and we've now had a chance to drive one.

The crucial figures are as follows: it will cost you £1100 to add the CVT 'box to your HR-V, and having one fitted will make it slower - both the 1.5's petrol 0-62mph sprint time and top speed are marginally worse. However, unusually, CO2 emissions and fuel economy are actually improved over the manual. 

What's the Honda HR-V 1.5 i-VTEC CVT like to drive?

This 1.5 is the only petrol engine in the HR-V range, and while it might not have the mid-range punch of the diesel option, it never feels downright slow. Like most small natural aspirated petrols, the bulk of its pull comes deep into its rev range.

As a result, when you want a decent turn of pace - such as when overtaking or accelerating up to B-road or motorway speeds - the CVT gearbox holds the revs at around 3000rpm in order to access its most potent band. Honda has engineered in seven ‘gears’ selectable via wheel-mounted paddles, but reputedly fuel efficiency is best when the engine and gearbox are left to do their thing.

The downside of these constantly high revs is slightly more buzz at the wheel and pedals and a coarse, boomy engine note in the cabin. Of course, at lower town speeds, when there’s no need to push beyond 2000rpm, things are more sedate and the engine and transmission feel relatively responsive to throttle inputs. Road roar from the tyres and wind noise are kept at bay, too. 

The way the HR-V handles is impressive. There's just about enough weight in the steering to give confidence when threading it along a country road - although it could do with being a little more precise - and the car's body stays nicely controlled through tight bends. 

The trade-off for such tidy handling is a noticeably firm ride. Large bumps such as speed humps feel abrupt but well absorbed, sure, but sharp-edge potholes and stretches of broken surfaces are felt and heard in the cabin too much - made worse by our EX model's large 17in alloy wheels. 

What's the Honda HR-V 1.5 i-VTEC CVT like inside?

The first thing that strikes you when climbing aboard is that you don't sit quite as high as you do in a Nissan Qashqai. Mind you, the elevated driving position still gives a good view out of the front, and you sit altogether higher than in a Mazda CX-3. 

There's plenty of adjustment in the HR-V's seat and steering wheel, so it's easy to get comfortable. The straightforward instrument dials are easy to read, and the 7.0in touchscreen and touch-sensitive climate controls keep the dash looking refreshingly minimal. There’s also a good blend of textured materials, which all feel solidly assembled.

The touchscreen remains easy to read even in direct sunlight, but it’s a shame that some icons are small and hard to hit precisely, and the integration with a Smartphone is hit-and-miss – particularly given that you can’t yet link an iPhone with the Mirrorlink system, which allows you to ‘mirror’ an app running on your phone through the car’s display.

In the back there's plenty of leg room, even for tall adults, but they could find their heads brushing the roof – particularly in our range-topping EX which has a panoramic roof fitted as standard. Overall, the HR-V isn't quite as accommodating in the back as a Nissan Qashqai or a Skoda Yeti, but far more so than a Mazda CX-3.

Still, the HR-V gets Honda’s 'magic' rear seats, which flip up cinema-style to leave enough room in the back for a bike. There's also a big boot – bigger even than a Qashqai's, although the 470-litre capacity does include some underfloor storage. 

There's masses of safety kit, too, including automatic city braking and, on SE trim and above, traffic sign recognition and a system that helps you reverse out of your driveway onto a busy road.

SE Navi is our favourite trim. As the name suggests, this is the cheapest way to get sat-nav, although all HR-Vs get alloy wheels, climate control, front and rear parking sensors, a DAB radio and Bluetooth.  There’s little need to go for this full-fat EX trim, despite the temptations of its leather upholstery and the panoramic sunroof.

Should I buy one?

The HR-V ticks a lot of boxes for the small SUV buyer. It's relatively spacious, very practical, feels good quality inside, is good to drive and comes with a generous amount of standard equipment. The only real bugbears are its jostling ride and poorer refinement in CVT guise.

Okay, so the CVT manages more miles to the gallon on paper, saves you £20 each year in road tax thanks to its lower CO2 emissions, and subsequently sits a band lower in terms of company car tax. Remember, though, that you're paying £1100 more up front for the privilege of having one in the first place.

In short, the Honda HR-V should certainly be on the shopping list of anybody in the market for a small SUV. One with a CVT gearbox fitted or in pricey EX trim, however, probably shouldn't. 

What Car? says...

The rivals

Nissan Qashqai

Skoda Yeti

Honda HR-V 1.5 i-VTEC CVT EX

Engine size 1.5-litre petrol

Price from £24,295

Power 128bhp

Torque 114lb ft

0-62mph 10.9 seconds

Top speed 116mph

Fuel economy 52.3mpg

CO2 125g/km